Movie round-up: this week’s new film releases Apr 1-Apr 8

NEW RELEASE

Eddie the Eagle (PG) The British do love an underdog makes good story and, in 1988, there was no bigger underdog in the kennel than Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, an amateur skier who became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. He came last in both the 70m and 90m events (though he did set a new British record), but became internationally famous as a heroic failure and his perseverance in the face of no funding and the hostility of the British Olympic Committee, who saw him as an embarrassment.

Now his story has been turned into a film which, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton (from Kingsman) with Hugh Jackman as Eddie’s fictional coach, Bronson Peary, a former ski jump champion with a drink problem and in need of redemption after being canned by the American team in disgrace, is set to be the feelgood movie of the year.

Charting young Eddie’s early ambitions to be an Olympian – alongside his ineffectuality as an athlete (much to the irritation of his dad, played by Keith Allen, who wants him to join him in the building trade), it follows his rejection as a skier by the establishment (represented here by Tim McInnery as snooty British Olympics executive Dustin Target) for not being the sort of chap the Committee wants, and his decision to switch to ski jumping, since there were no other British participants for selection. Self-training in Germany, much to the disparagement of the Swiss and pretty much every other skier, he seems destined for further failure until his refusal to give up in the face of everything eventually persuades Peary to become his coach. Now, with all the odds against him, he heads to Calgary and the 1988 Winter Olympics to prove he can truly fly.

Warm, funny and inspirational, with Jo Hartley as Eddie’s loving, supportive mom, Christopher Walken as Peary’s grouchy former coach and ski jump legend Warren Sharp, a cameo by Jim Broadbent as an excitable BBC commentator, and driven by an irresistible open-hearted performance by Egerton and a nicely tuned comedic turn from Jackman, this soars on wings of sheer joy. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Marguerite (15)

marg2Typical, you wait ages for a film inspired by Florence Foster Jenkins, and then two come along at once. Jenkins was an American socialite in the early 1900s whose ambition to be an opera singer was undeterred by her lack of pitch, tone and total inability to sing in key. Needless to say, she became a huge hit, performing at Carnegie Hall, age 76, by public demand and releasing nine recordings on five 78s, variously compiled on the albums The Glory (????) of the Human Voice and Murder on the High C’s. A comedic biopic, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Meryl Streep, opens later this year, but first up is the French tragicomic offering by writer-director Xavier Giannoli which, set in 20s Paris, channels Jenkins’ life into the character of Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot), a wealthy woman in a stale marriage who regularly entertains friends (and sends children scurrying under tables) by singing at private recitals. Oblivious to her own shortcomings (she regards a review describing her as sounding like someone trying to “exorcise an inner demon” as high praise) Dumont’s delusions are fostered by the obsequiousness of her audiences and a husband, Georges (Andre Marcon) who, while regarding her as a freak, is also determined to protect her from humiliation and, where possible, keep her from being exploited by opportunists such as an anarchist poet who gets her to singe La Marseillaise at a protest performance.

With Dumont determined to give a public recital, Georges, with the help of blackmailing devoted (though he’s also taking photos to cash in later) black butler Madelbos (Denis Mpunga) persuades a gay singing tutor (and his deaf accompanist) to give her lessons, though ultimately the threat of exposure is nothing compared to having to suffer her voice. However, it is in one of these sessions that Marguerite suffers a problem that will eventually lead to her being awakened to the reality of her screeching and the film’s tragic denouement.

Although what initially appears to be a subplot involving young Conservatoire graduate and a reporter fizzles out, Frot is terrific as a delusional, but generous and charming woman who seeks to escape from her loveless marriage and the disappointments of life through her passion for music and costumes. A bittersweet affair with a poignant resonance, there’s a certain irony that, in the age of auto-tuning, the director manipulated Frot and a professional opera singer’s voices to sound bad. (MAC)

A Warrior’s Tail (PG)

warrior 3Based on a Russian fairy tale, this animated family feature (made in Russia and dubbed into English) tells of Savva (voiced by Milla Jovavich), a young boy who lives with his mother in a village once protected by talking white wolves. However, a curse, means they have now been banished, leaving it defenceless against the multi-coloured hyenas who abduct the villagers to become slaves for Mama Zho Zi (Whoopi Goldberg), the vain three-headed ruler of the monkeys, apes and gorillas, In order to save the village and rescue his mom, Savva sets out to find the magician that cursed the wolves. He’s aided in his quest by a white wolf (Will Chase) and other odd characters, including a pink, long-eared, er, powederpuffy something (Sharon Stone), an enchanted swordsman prince turned into a mousy type creature (Geoffrey Cantor) by a witch and cursed to carry an annoying farting mosquito (Joe Pesci) on his shoulder, and a tribal princess, all of whom have their own reasons for helping him. Clearly influenced by the Wizard of Oz (though the songs aren’t in the same league) with a touch of Lord of the Rings in the big battle sequence, it’s no masterpiece, but it is enjoyably bizarre. (Vue Star City)

NOW PLAYING

10 Cloverfield Lane (12A)

10-cloverfield-lane2A successor to 2008’s alien invasion found footage disaster blockbuster in name only (the setting is Louisiana not New York), director Dan Trachtenberg’s debut is a far more compelling and human affair. The scale’s different too. This is a three-hander chamber piece with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) in a breezeblock bunker, sealed off from the outside world, which, according to survivalist Goodman, has been devastated in a mass chemical attack, from which he rescued Winstead after her car crashed (the last thing she remembers before she woke up chained) and brought her here. Outside, the air is, he says, unbreathable and they might be the last of humanity. That there’s no cell phone reception makes it difficult to be sure. Fortunately, he’s got in enough provisions to sit it out until it’s safe to leave.

However, while there seems to be evidence that what Howard claims is true (a couple of blistered dead pigs can be seen through the door’s small window along with a later jump shock) , it’s also possible, as Michelle begins to think, that, given his rants about Russia, North Korea, al-Qaeda, and aliens, he may be a paranoid, delusional conspiracy nut. Which, given his controlling behaviour and simmering rage, is why she feels she needs to escape. Whatever may be outside the door.

After Room, this is another claustrophobic piece, thick with an air of menace and psychological tension as Trachtenbergh ratchets up the pressure cooker to a point about which it would be unfair to say more. Suffice to say, compellingly filmed and featuring outstanding turns from both Winstead and a multi-layered, complex Goodman, it burns a slow fuse to a last act that is as unsettling as its is brief. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (U) The fourth outing by the helium-voiced animated furry trio of Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney), a misunderstanding leads them to believe Dave (Jason Lee) is going to propose to his new girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Worse, her mean teenage son Miles (Josh Green) convinces them they’ll then be dumped back in the forest. Since none of them want this marriage, they join forces to stop it happening and head for Miami. Cue gratuitous musical numbers, the Chippettes as judges on American Idol, and an overdone running joke involving buffoonish air marshal (Tony Hale) and, of course, some fart gags. Slung together with little care, commitment or craft, the whole thing reeks of lazy filmmaking. Under 10s will love it, parents will wish it was titled Road Kill. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (12A)

Batman-v-SupermanBut, despite a somewhat messy plot that has to shoehorn in some backstory and teasers for the Justice League movies (cue brief cameo appearances by The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg), this should more than satisfy the fans. Following a prologue detailing Man of Steel’s final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod, with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing in from Gotham in time to see one of his buildings collapse, crushing the legs of an employee (Scoot McNairy), things fast forward 18 months and, while a hero many, others, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) included, regard him as a potential super-powered alien threat.

Wayne is one of those who reckons such power should not be allowed to go unchecked, while, over at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is having concerns over Batman’s increasingly brutal vigilante actions in Gotham. Someone else who’d like to see an end to Superman (for reasons that probably won’t be clear until; the extended cut DVD) is billionaire industrialist Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s got his hands on a chunk of kryptonite and persuaded the authorities to give him access to Zod’s downed ship. It’s his intention to turn the tide against Superman and to manoeuvre Batman into taking him down.

Directed by Zack Snyder, although sometimes hard to keep up with the narrative tangents, it basically sees a soulful Superman questioning if it’s possible to remain good in the face of evil and an obsessed Batman shedding any scruples about taking lives. Just as it takes a while to see the fully cowled and caped crusader, so the film holds back the appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) until the final battle as Luthor unleashes his hybrid monster, Doomsday on the world. Interestingly, Wayne identifies her and the other future JLA alumni as meta-humans, a phrase familiar from The Flash TV series. Balancing the action with more intimate moments, including more sage wisdom from Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and a contrived ghostly Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Cavill again does sterling work as Superman while Affleck proves the best Batman this side of Christian Bale, and an even better Bruce Wayne. Gadot makes a suitably dramatic appearance and, for a moment at least, even eclipses her macho co-stars, while Jeremy Irons provided a world weary turn as Alfred and Amy Adams serves as the usual woman in peril Lois Lane.

The fact that the big showdown fizzles out when both protagonists realise their mothers have the same name (had someone been listening to Rupert Holmes?) may induce more mirth than poignancy, while the already announced JLA roster rather undercuts The Force Awakens style shocker here, but, while it doesn’t scale the same heights as The Avengers: Age Of Ultron it’s definitely on the same playing field. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

The Boy (15) Yet another in a long line of possessed doll horror movies, this sees Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) bailing on a bad relationship by landing a job as nanny for a wealthy elderly couple at a remote English estate. However, she’s understandably taken aback to discover their 8-year-old ‘son’, Brahms, is actually a life-size porcelain doll. It seems their actual son died 20 years earlier in a fire following a girl’s murder in the woods, and the doll is their way of coping with the grief. Greta’s expected to care for it as if it were a real boy and given a whole list of rules (never cover his face, never go in the attic, etc) she’s told she must, under no circumstances, break. At which point the pair take off, leaving her alone with the doll save for occasional visits from Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who delivers the groceries. Naturally, Greta reckons the rules are ridiculous and quickly dispenses with them. Which is when strange things start to happen. Like the doll inexplicably moving from where she left it.

It’s a well worn premise and plays out the scenario with all the usual bells and whistles, including strange noises, windows that don’t open, vermin infestations and dream sequences. So, is Greta going nuts or is it all for Chucky real? Effective enough as creepy goes, but the last act twist (a touch of Phantom of the Opera perhaps) is less of a surprise than it thinks and makes what’s gone before even more implausible. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Chronic (15)

chronicTim Roth delivers an intense and compelling turn as David, an end-of-life caregiver whose sense of compassion leads to him getting too close to his patients, shutting out their own families, in this detached, sombre look at how someone deals with their own emotional trauma. (Fri-Sun: MAC)

Daddy’s Home (12A) The pairing of Will Ferrell as insecure but steady nice guy stepdad Brad competing with Mark Wahlberg as the kids’ unreliable Alpha male biological father, Dusty, suddenly back in their lives after several years absence, is a bland sub-sitcom as the latter seeks to undermine and embarrass the former at every opportunity, Brad becoming ever more erratic in his attempts to measure up. In-between predictable knockabout slapstick there’s the equally predictable genitals size comparisons gags and assorted other obligatory raunchy banter (mostly from Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss) as well as tired racist misunderstanding set-ups. Avoid. (Vue Star City)

Deadpool (15) This latest addition to the Marvel movie universe has proven itself the polar opposite of Ryan Reynolds’ last outing as a superhero, Green Lantern, which gets an amusing reference here. Following an experiment to give him superpowers (by triggering his mutant genes) after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, former urban mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) dons the black and red spandex and sets out for revenge on the equally enhanced sadist (Ed Skrein) and his superstrong sidekick (Gina Carano), who left him hideously scarred, determined to have the process reversed so he can get his life and his girl (Morena Baccarin) back.

With cameo appearances by a couple of X-Men (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) trying to keep him in line, it’s not only viscerally ultra-violent and peppered with inventive sexually explicit dialogue, but knowingly self-aware, Deadpool constantly stepping out of the action to address the audience and acknowledge they’re watching a movie, poking fun at the superhero franchise conventions as he goes. Blackly comic and explosively entertaining, with Reynolds letting rip with razor sharp timing and inspired repartee that references everything from Sinead O’Connor to, well, Ryan Reynolds, it’s like a Grindhouse Guardians of the Galaxy on ecstasy with the dial turned up to 11. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Dirty Grandpa (15) Robert DeNiro hits an all time low in this crass, crude Judd Apatow knock-off as a horny widower who, the day after his wife’s funeral, persuades his grandson Jason (Zak Efron) to go with him to Daytona Beach so he can bed potty-mouthed college girl Lenore. With scenes of DeNiro’s character (aptly named Dick) jerking off to porn, regularly prodding Efron in the balls and backside, and Jason being constantly mistaken for a lesbian and penises in the shape of a swastika drawn on his forehead, this surely has to be the worst things you’ll see all year. (Vue Redditch, Star City)

Disorder (15)

disorder 3Matthias Schoenaerts return to a more physical brooding role as Vincent, a Special Forces soldier recently returned from Afghanistan and suffering PTSD, who moonlights as part of a private security team. Following a job protecting an upscale party at the sprawling residence of a Lebanese businessman involved in the illegal arms trade, he’s asked to stay on and guard the man’s wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and her young son.

Vincent is prone to paranoia, a feeling intensified in the way director Alice Winocour slowly cranks up the air of dread, both through the camera and sound design, and becomes convinced someone is after them, his paranoia is justified when Jessie and the boy are subject to an attempted abduction . On top of this there’s a growing attraction between him and Jessie as her world continues to disintegrate, or perhaps that’s only in his mind.
It eventually erupts in a home invasion as any number of armed masked killers have to be taken out, but it’s at its best cranking up the existential thrills and tension. On the downside, Kruger’s role is underwritten and the chemistry between her and Schoenaerts never ignites as it should. Narrative demand also means several holes in the s logic regarding Jessie’s responses to what happens, while those who like neatly tied up endings will be frustrated by the film’s ambiguous and unresolved final scene. Even so, the edginess is palpable. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (12A) The first of the two part conclusion to the post-apocalyptic saga has proven a box office washout as it picks up events following the end of Insurgent, wherein Tris (Shailene Woodley) overcame Jeanine, opening the box to reveal that Chicago and the Factions system had been an experiment devised by a group beyond the wall and of which the Divergents were the successful result. So, she, brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), action man boyfriend Four (Theo James), ever unreliable Peter (Miles Teller) and underused token black buddy Christina (Zoe Kravitz) escape over the wall and head out into the devastated toxic world beyond. Here they’re picked up by forces working for David (Jeff Daniel), who heads The Bureau of Genetic Welfare which originally established the population of Chicago and has been monitoring it, and Tris especially, in an experiment to cure the ‘damaged’ and make them ‘pure’. Naturally, there’s more to this than meets the eye, as the storyline wends its laborious way to inciting a civil war between Four’s rebel leader mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), and her followers and the Allegiant forces. All of which also involves some sort of memory wiping serum.

Saddled with contrived exposition and long stretches of dialogue, pretty much nothing happens until the final stretch, by which time the uneven CGI, plodding plot and the fact that Tris gets less interesting with each instalment may have you wishing you too could be affected by the serum, so you’d mercifully forget this and the fact there’s still one more to go before it’s all over. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Fifty Shades of Black (15) A hit and mostly miss parody of Fifty Shades of Grey with Marlon Wayans as super rich Christian Black and Kali Hawk as the impressionable virgin who gets lured into his web and world. Jokes about hairy legs and premature ejaculation pretty much define the level of hilarity in a film that tries to wring humour out of rape gags and that classic chestnut about a bloke getting something stuck up his arse. Naturally, there’s Bill Cosby reference too. Mildly inspired touches like a spoof of Magic Mike are eclipsed by such groan-inducing scenes as Jane Seymour (playing Black’s mother) imitating talking Chinese to her adopted daughter, not realising she’s actually Korean. (Vue Star City)

The Forest (15) A clichéd, contrived and confused horror as Sara (Natalie Dormer) travels to Japan to try and find her identical twin Jesse (Dormer with a different hair colour) who’s gone missing in the Aokigahara, the so called “suicide forest”. Hooking up with a travel journalist and his local ranger mate, she’s warned not to go ‘off-path’ or believe everything she sees. Naturally she does both, prompting the inevitable screaming at figures she alone can see, one inevitably dressed like a creepy Japanese schoolgirl. Two dimensional characters, generally wooden acting and a muddled script that never fully explores the repressed memories of the childhood tragedy at the root of the sisters’ troubles suggests no one involved could see the forest for the trees (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Good Dinosaur (PG) Set in a sort of vague Prehistoric Wild West, Pixar’s latest animation skews young and low on plot in a variation of the boy and his dog chestnut, the difference being that the boy is a dinosaur trying to find his way home and the dog is the feral young human with whom he forges a bond. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull)

Goosebumps (12A) Jack Black’s best since School of Rock, he plays a fictionalised version of R.L. Stine, creator of the phenomenally successful Goosebumps young adult horror books, now hiding out in smalltown America with daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) under the name of Mr.Shivers. This is because, the monsters he created in his stories became real and he’s got them trapped inside sealed copies of the manuscripts. At least until the arrival of new neighbour Zach Cooper (Dylan Minette), the son of the new high school principal(Amy Ryan), who, thinking Hannah’s in danger, breaks into the house with nerdy new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee) and accidentally unleashes the Yeti. Shivers manages to get him back into the book, only to find he’s not the only one to have escaped. So too has his evil alter ego, Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Black), who, out for revenge, releases all the other monsters, among them a bunch of homicidal garden gnomes, and destroying the books so they cannot be sucked back in.

What follows is your usual trash the town monster mash fare, but director Rob Lettermen infuses it with a gleeful exuberance that rattles things along in hugely entertaining manner, throwing in gleeful self-awareness and a moving twist along the way. Simultaneously intimidating and droll, Black is terrific, while Minnette, Rush and Lee are engagingly likeable support with Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund a very funny double act of a couple of local cops. The final scene sets things up for a sequel, the first Jack Black movie in 13 years where that’s actually a welcome proposition. (Vue Redditch; Star City)

Grimsby (15) Jaw-droppingly gross and crude, but also, at times, leg-wettingly funny, Sacha Baron Cohen’s spy spoof is stuffed to overload with Viz-like humour involving sex, sperm and jokes about being gay, fat and yobs. He plays Liam Gallagher lookalike Nobby, a Northern layabout father of innumerable kids who’s spent the last 28 years trying to find Sebastian (Mark Strong), the brother from whom he was separated when they were orphaned. He does so just as Sebastian, now a top MI6 agent, is about to foil an assassination attempt.

Things go pear-shaped, and, forced to go on the run he’s suspected of having gone rogue, Nobby takes Sebastian back to Grimsby. From here, with a psycho MI6 hitman in pursuit, it’s off to South Africa to track down the real killer and foil a plot involving philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) to dramatically reduce the world’s underclasses, a plot that largely exists to facilitate a scene involving the pair hiding inside one elephant’s vagina and being rammed by another’s penis. A moment that makes an earlier scene of Nobby sucking Sebastian’s testicles seem positively subtle. On the downside, the supporting cast that includes Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, and, as a lovable paedophile, Ricky Tomlinson, have almost nothing to do and, while there’s some satirical one-liners, this is ultimately lazy, juvenile vulgarity and far less scabrously inventive than Borat or Bruno. (Showcase Walsall; Vue  Star City)

High-Rise (15)
high riseDirector Ben Wheatley follows up Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England with an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian tale of life in a modern tower block running out of control, a story inspired by the brutalist towerblocks of post-war urban planning as experiments in social engineering. Set in the 70s, Tom Hiddleston is Robert Laing, an ambitious young doctor who moves into a small apartment on the 25th floor and soon discovers the building is something of a class divide.

The lower floors are populated by the likes of Wilder (Luke Evans), a sexual predator documentary filmmaker, and his pregnant wife (Elizabeth Moss) and kids while the upper storeys are home to more privileged residents, like gynaecologist Pangbourne (James Purefoy) and single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller), with notorious sybaritic parties which Laing is all too happy to attend.

Then, hundreds of feet above them, is the building’s architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons) and his snotty aristocratic wife, Ann (Keeley Hawes) who have not so much a rooftop garden as palatial landscaped grounds, complete with a horse. Rather inevitably, the place seethes with a volatile cocktail of sex, alcohol, resentment and, especially for the lower orders, violent upwards mobility as the laws of the jungle gradually take hold and, sparked by a power outage and swimming pool incident, the social order starts to fall apart along with the building’s amenities and fabric in an orgy of destruction and rubbish.

Opening in the midst of the chaos with a blood-splattered Hiddleston spit-roasting a dog before flashing back to the causes, driven by another terrific atmospheric score from Clint Mansell and featuring Portishead’s deconstruction of ABBA’s S.O.S. it looks terrific, marries dark humour and potent violence and both Hiddleston and Irons are mesmerising. As an allegory of the collapse of society into savagery, there is a rather more style than substance, with a period political reference being somewhat tagged on at the end, but it’s never less than compelling. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC)

Hitchcock Truffaut (12A) A talking heads documentary as assorted filmmakers, among them Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and Mathieu Almaric discuss how Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book “Cinema According to Hitchcock” influenced their work. (Tue/Wed:MAC)

Innocence of Memories (12A) Documentary filmmaker Grant Gee takes a journey through the streets of Istanbul, exploring its people and architecture, in particular a museum where exhibits trace the tale of doomed 1970s love between the heir to a wealthy fortune and a shop girl with whom he has an affair days before his engagement to someone else. When she disappears, he’s unable to forget her and everything she ever touched is put on display at The Museum of Innocence. (Tue: MAC)

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

pandaThe third outing for the fat and furry martial arts master offers a perfect conclusion to the saga, the culmination of the journey that Po (Jack Black) began in the first film when Master Ooglay proclaimed him the Dragon Warrior of prophecy. Now it’s time to really fulfil that destiny as Kai (J.K. Simmons), a blade-wielding yak, escapes from the Spirit Realm having stolen the life chi of all its kung fu masters, returning to the world of mortals to mop up the rest
Po, meanwhile, has his own problems, having being appointed teacher to replace the retiring Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a task neither Po nor the Furious Five reckon he’s up to.

Then, who should reappear but Po’s long lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). Rejoicing’s cut short, however, when Kai’s jade zombies to attack the village and Po has to return with his father to the secret Panda village and master his own chi if he has any chance of defeating Kai. The plot pretty much follows a similar path to the first film, and again delivers a message about discovering who you truly are and believing in yourself. Terrifically animated, Black, as ever, superbly brings Po to life with all his insecurities and vanities A fitting end to Po’s journey to enlightenment, let’s not, ahem, panda to the box office and set him off on another (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

London Has Fallen (15) London’s historic landmarks get blown up, a lot of people get killed, quite a few of them by Gerald Butler. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. In London for the PM’s funeral, pretty much all the world’s heads of state get assassinated by an army of terrorists working for a vengeance-seeking Pakistani arms dealer who plans to execute President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) live on global TV. Well, not if his apparently indestructible personal bodyguard Mike Banning (Butler) has anything to do with it.

A follow-up to Olympus Has Fallen, it has little truck with anything resembling three dimensional characters or logic (how come no one in charge notices the entire London police force seems to have been replaced by terrorists) while the likes of Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster and Jackie Earle Haley stand around looking shocked and saying things like ‘oh, my God’. To be fair, it cracks along and there’s a particularly good chase scene through the capital, but, while he does give good tough guy, this is no Die Hard and Butler’s no Bruce. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (12A)

greekFourteen years on, writer/star Nina Vardalos gets the cast back together for a sequel. Now married (albeit with the spark faded) to non-Greek Ian (John Corbett), Toula turned into a clingy mom having to deal with acerbic 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who reckons mom and dad are just as controlling and embarrassing as Toula found her own parents (Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan). And it’s Gus and Maria who provide the latest titular nuptials after its discovered that their marriage licence was never validated before they left Greece. Gus wants to put matters straight as soon as possible, but Maria reckons this is a good time, after 50 years, to reconsider her options.

None of which is played out with anything resembling subtlety (Kazan, as ever, gives a performance even larger than her hair do), or, indeed many big laughs. The Greek gags having been largely exhausted first time round, Vardalos seems to be casting round for inspiration, leading to someone coming out of the closet and the arrival of a long lost family member so the episodic script can throw in some sitcom clichés, none of which is much helped by the flat direction. Vardolos is still an engagingly warm character, but whatever the title may say, this is thin stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Norm of the North (U) Another new animated family feature, this spin off from the TV series finds Norm (Ron Schneider), a polar bear who doesn’t know how to hunt but can talk to humans, threatened by a wealthy developer (Ken Jeong) who plans to build luxury apartments at his Arctic home,. So he and his three lemming friends head to New York where he contrives to become the corporation’s mascot in an attempt to bring it down from the inside. Featuring the voices of Heather Graham, Bill Nighy and James Cordon, be warned, this scored abysmal reviews in America, with some declaring it likely to prove the worst film of 2016. Well, that’s Schneider for you. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

The Revenant (15) Scooping Oscars for Director, Actor and Cinematography, but not Best Film, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, a real life frontiersman and trapper who, in 1823, attacked by a bear and left for dead by those supposed to ensure him a proper burial, over the course of six weeks, crawled and rafted the 200 miles back to Fort Kiowa in South Dakota before setting back out to seek revenge on the two who had abandoned him. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, this embellishes the true story by giving Glass a half-Pawnee son who is then murdered in front of his eyes by the brutal Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), thereby driving his determination to survive and gain vengeance. From the brutal ferocity of the opening attack by a tribe of Native Americans to the grizzly attack and painful, slow trek across forbidding frozen terrain, Glass taking shelter in the carcass of a dead horse, it’s a relentlessly harrowing, bleak story that was clearly just as tough to film. Diversions into hallucinatory flashbacks and present delirium underscore the film’s existential spiritual drama while the stunning photography reinforces the man vs. nature themes, but at a punishing and at times extremely graphic 156 minutes you’ll need every bit the same fortitude as Glass. (Vue Star City)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (12A) With George Lucas taking a backseat, director JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt dispel sour memories of Episodes I-III with a triumphant resurrection that may tread familiar narrative ground, but does so with a fresh heart. Set some 30 years on from the destruction of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing and the dark forces have regrouped as the First Order, its stormtroopers led by the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who possesses both the Force and a red light sabre. Built around the search for a map revealing Skywalker’s location, the film’s basically a lengthy chase between Ren and his forces and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and renegade stormtrooper Finn (BAFTA winner John Boyega) who have come into possession of BB8, a droid belonging to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot for the Resistance now headed by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), that contains the vital key.

They’re eventually joined by returning legends Han Solo (a soulful Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as the plot turns into a race against the clock to stop the First Order launching planet-destroying weapon as the force also proves strong in another of the new characters. Rattling along from explosive opening to nail-biting climax by way of a stunning shock revelation and death, the force is strong with this one. (Vue Star City)

Triple 9 (15) John Hillcoat previously directed The Proposition and The Road, two powerful films, the former written by Nick Cave and the latter adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel. This is the first produced screenplay by Matt Cook and it feels like both he and Hillcoat sat in a locked room watching Antoine Fuqua films on a loop before starting work. A gang of dirty cops (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr), an ex-cop (Aaron Paul and criminals (Chiwetal Ejiofor, Norman Reedus) are blackmailed by the Russian-Israeli mafia, (headed up by Kate Winslet in another unrecognisable turn) into pulling off a robbery.

It goes smoothly, but then she demands another (part of her leverage is that her sister, Gal Gadot, is mother to Ejiofor’s son), except this one seems impossible. The only way to pull it off is by staging a triple 9, the police code for officer down, which will distract the cops. Casey Affleck, the rookie detective working with his uncle (Woody Harrelson) on trying to bring down the mafia, is the targeted to die, but inevitably things go pear-shaped, leading o a bloody finale of double crosses, shoot out and revenge. It’s intense and bloody with plenty of involving twists and action, and the performances, Affleck especially, are all solid, but, at the end of the day, everything here has been done before and better. (Vue Redditch, Star City)

The Witch (15) First time director Robert Eggers delivers an art house horror cocktail of religion, superstition, fairy tale and sexual awakening set against the early days of America’s colonisation. Ostracised from their fellow New England settlers over doctrinal differences, Puritan Yorkshireman William (Ralph Ineson) and his family take up residence on the edge of a forest which the children are warned not to enter. One day, eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya-Taylor Joy) takes young baby brother Samuel to the brook, from where he abruptly disappears, abducted, as a subsequent bloody scene suggests by a witch, the mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), blaming her daughter for the loss.

What with the young twins’ unsettling attachment to the family’s black goat and the fate of brother Caleb, it seems there may be the devil’s work afoot. Gradually the family begins to fall apart and, in a move designed to conjure thoughts of the Salem witch trials that would happen some years later, the film poses the question as to whether Thomasin may be a witch, as she is accused of by the not so innocent twins, or a victim of the devil, and whether what we see is a manifestation of real evil or shared hysteria brought on by obsessive faith. Slow and measured, relying on psychological tension and menace rather than the usual jump scares, it’s less effective in the final moments when the supernatural takes over, but even so it’s a strikingly atmospheric work that ably lives up to its Shining influences. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Zootropolis (U)

zootropolis 4Already the prime contender for next year’s best animated feature, Disney’s allegorical tale about prejudice, tolerance, stereotyping and following your dreams offers plenty of food for thought for audiences young and old to chew over while being treated to an entertaining feast for the eyes and emotions.

Predators and prey now living together in harmony, regardless of species and classifications, perky Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) aspires to become the first bunny cop in Zootropolis, the titular city with its four climate-based hubs, ruled over by preening Mayor Lionheart (J.K.Simmons). However, despite coming all obstacles to pass first of her academy, buffalo Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) consigns Judy to parking meter duty and its only through the fortuitous appearance at the station of the Mayor’s sheepish assistant Bellwether (Judy Slate) reminding him of her boss’s mammal-inclusion initiative, that she’s given the job of investigating the disappearance of Mr. Ottetton, one of several predators that have gone missing. With only 48 hours to crack the case of reign, she ‘enlists’ the help of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a laid-back con artist fox with whom she had an earlier run in. Together, and with a little help from Mr Big, the shrew Godfather of Zootropolis, they uncover a dark conspiracy causing predators to revert to their original savage nature. Brilliantly animated, it marries its noir moods and police procedural narrative with sharp humour, most memorably so in Judy’s visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles staffed by sloths. Perfectly voiced, Judy and Nick make for a classic mismatched buddy cop teaming and their shared further adventures as the Starsky and Rabbit Hutch of the animal world are something to be eagerly anticipated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

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
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 Redditch – Kingfisher Centre, Redditch 08712 240 240
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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