Movie round-up: this week’s new film releases, Apr 8-14

NEW RELEASE

Midnight Special (12A)  Following on from  Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud, writer-director Jeff Nichols returns with another enigmatic thriller that plays its cards close to its chest, revealing its hand only in the final moments, Again set in grassroots America, here the bible belt swathe, it echoes a vast array of paranormal-tinged sci fi films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Man Who Fell To Earth, Powder and, in the final scenes, even a touch of Tomorrowland, among them.

It opens in  shabby motel room, any source of light, including the door spyhole, covered with carboard. Inside are Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), childhood friend state trooper accomplice Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), an 8-year-old boy whom, it transpires, they’re accused of kidnapping from a Doomsday cult run by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), the boy’s adoptive father. As it turns out, they’re more rescuers than abducters, Roy being his real father and the boy having given up to Meyer when Roy’s ex-wife, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), ran off, unable to cope with the boy’s ‘special’ gifts. This being the fact that he emits empowering bright white light from his eyes and is given to talking on tongues, speaking numbers Meyer which has used as apocalyptic sermons about the forthcoming Rapture, but which are, in fact, heavily encrypted top secret government transmissions, hence the FBI’s raid on the Ranch and their interest in recovering the boy. To which end, they’ve enlisted rookie NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) to try and decipher the messages and track the trio cross-country to wherever they’re heading. Given Alton cannot bear exposure to sunlight, and wears blue goggles to shield his eyes, they can only travel at night, Alton devouring Superman comics in the back of whatever car they’ve currently acquired, and have only a small window in which to reach the place where Alton needs to be, reuniting with Sarah and causing a satellite to plunge from orbit along the way.

This is pretty much all the information Nichols releases until the big reveal, allowing your imagination to work overtime to piece together whatever clues might litter the journey, the film’s dominant low-light further deepening the sense of mystery. But even when the CGI-heavy climax finally arrives, it remains open as to who or what Alton actually is, underpinning the film’s theme of belief and faith, in and of whatever form that takes. There are flaws, the whole cult sub-plot is, along with Shepard and, to a large extent, the FBI dismissed once the main thrust is underway but, bolstering the intrigue with first rate performances, Shannon especially good as the devoted father, its slow burning fuse os compelling viewing. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall)

 

Couple In A Hole (12A)

CoupleInAHoleFollowing the death of their son (though this, like many other facts, is withheld until late in the film), a Scottish couple, John (Paul Higgins) and Karen (Kate Dickie) have taken to living in a dirt cave in a French forest, he foraging for food, she too traumatised to venture out of the shelter, where she sews together rabbit skins and crafts offerings for him to throw off a cliff. A spider bite forces him to break isolation and go into the village to get medicine, where he encounters Andre (Jérôme Kircher), a local farmer, who insists on offering help.

Initially refusing, John eventually begins to accept the proffered friendship, but says nothing to Karen, while Andre’s wife insists they should leave them alone, ‘as agreed’.  It soon becomes clear that there is a connection between the French couple and whatever happened, something which involves a burnt out house that John Visits, tidying away a child’s turn jumper while there.

Initially resisting explanation and keeping dialogue to a bare minimum, the film writer-director Tom Geens   slowly unfolds the backstory, revealing themes of loss, grief, guilt, isolation and the need for human company. It disappointingly ends on a somewhat overwrought note, but, until then the physical and emotional intensity of the lead performances and the enigmatic nature of their situation, keep you gripped. (MAC)

 

Hardcore Henry (18)

hardcoreOne for first-person shooter gamers only, the conceit here is that the entire film is shown from the perspective of the titular character, a newly created cybernetic super-soldier (reconstructed RoboCop style from his mangled body in an airborne Moscow lab), who sets out to discover who he is, or at least was, and, under the direction of a multi-guised manic guide (Sharlto Copley) rescue the equally robotically enhanced Estelle (Haley Bennett), who says she’s his wife, from the clutches of albino super-villain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) who, rather inevitably, has some sort of plan to destroy the world. Unfolding at hyper-kinetic pace and with female characters straight out of extreme macho fantasies, this doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together and create a spark of intellect, but, if all you want is a cyberpunk visual rush with lots of ultra-violence, essentially committed by you, then plug in and prepare for the migraine.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Huntsman:Winter’s War (12A)

huntsman 2Having it both ways, this is both a prequel and a sequel to Snow White  and  Huntsman, albeit with Snow herself relegated to a micro flashback  and then dismissed from the narrative as being unwell. However, Chris Hemsworth’s back as the hunky if oddly Scottish-accented Eric who, as we learn in the prologue bit (narration courtesy of Liam Neeson), was abducted along with other children, their families butchered, by  soldiers under the command of Queen Freya (Emily Blunt). Oh, hang on bit. She’s the younger sister of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil queen despatched in the first film, who started off all nice, but turned into a literal ice queen when her baby was apparently burned to death by her faithless lover, leading her to take off form her own frozen kingdom and raise an army of Huntsmen forbidden to ever fall in love.

Ok, back to Eric. He grows up to become her top Huntsman, alongside deadly archer Sara (Jessica Chastain), leading her troops to conquer all the territories up north, only for the two of them break the rules and secretly get wed. Well, not so secretly it turns out, with Freya having Sara killed before Eric’s eyes, and him tossed into a river.

So, on to the sequel bit. Seven years later  turns out that the magic mirror, containing Ravenna’s essence  has gone missing while being transported out of harm’s way to somewhere called Sanctuary and Eric’s enlisted to find out what happened and ensure it gets there. So, off he duly sets, accompanied by Nion (Nick Frost), the dwarf from the last film and a second dwarf sidekick, Gryff (Rob Brydon), to provide the comic relief. They in turn are augmented by two further dwarves, both female, Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and Mrs Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), allowing for yet more bickering banter (it’s apparently a courting ritual for male and female dwarves to hurl insults  at each other).  Along the way, Eric’s also reunited with Sara, who turns out not to be dead after all, but who thinks he ran out on her.

Coming upon the slaughtered party transporting the mirror, they track it down a goblin forest recover it (after the inevitable battle), only to have Freya turn up and, in another turnabout of events, make off with it, apparently leaving Eric for dead. We’re still only about halfway in, and the actual sequel still hasn’t kicked off. That comes when Freya resurrected her sister, expecting the two of them will work together to conquer the remaining lands, only to find Ravenna is about to share or take order from anyone.  Meanwhile, Eric (not dead, surprise), Gryff and Mrs B are sneaking to Freya’s castle to try and put an end to things once and for all. But nothing’s ever that easy.

Padded out as it is, it’s an uneven, at times lumpy and overly busy affair with far too many misdirects and seeming double crosses for its own good, the middle-section feeling especially redundant, serving only to justify the pretty nifty Goblin King. The visual effects are impressive, even if the lurking naked fairies are never explained, other than to conveniently provide a couple of rideable yaks, and the action sequences are well handled. Hemsworth looks buff  and smiles nicely, even if there’s a serious lack of chemistry between Eric and Sara, but, in the scenes where Theron isn’t devouring things wholesale, it’s the dwarves (Smith especially) who steal the film. Lets hope they don’t give it back. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Man Who Knew Infinity (12A)

the_man_who_knew_infinity_a_lGiven a cursory limited and largely unpublicised release, writer-director Matthew Brown offers a biopic of Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a name that will mean bugger all to the vast majority, but make the pulses of mathematicians beat faster. Growing up poor in Madras, self-taught he earned a place at Cambridge in 1914 and, under the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy, became a pioneer in mathematical theories, something to do with the  negative values of the gamma function, apparently, which he said came to him from God. Not as sexy a story as that of fellow troubled mathematicians Alan Turing or John Nash, it’s still an earnest and absorbing maths bromance with Dev Patal as Ramanujan and, on a bit of renaissance at present, Jeremy Irons as the martinet atheist Hardy, alongside a brief Stephen Fry cameo as civil engineer Sir Francis Spring  and Toby Jones and Jeremy Northam as Hardy’s fellow Dons,  John Littlewood and Bertrand Russell, respectively. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Showcase Walsall)

 

Victoria (15)

VICTORIAUnfolding in Berlin between 4am and 6am, shot on a hand-held camera in real time in 22 locations in a single two-hour take (the last of three is the version here) with mostly improvised dialogue, German director Sebastian Schipper’s debut feature is as impressive technically as it is narratively compelling. Leaving a club, Victoria (Laia Costa), recently moved from Spain,  hooks up with a group of young men for a drink, subsequently going on to open up the cafe where she works. The boys leave her and steal a car, but, with one of them too drunk to drive, she’s enlisted and, the youths pressured by a gangster who protected  one if them in prison, finds herself caught up in a  bank robbery. It doesn’t go smoothly.

Starting off slowly and gradually accelerating to a breakneck finale, it manages to find room to develop character, touch on psychological threads and explore relationships and motives, and, even if you leave feeling exhausted by the sheer concentrated intensity of the experience, this is a screen journey like no other. (Electric)

 

NOW PLAYING

10 Cloverfield Lane (12A) A 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Anomalisa (15)

anom 2Charlie Kaufman takes on stop motion claymation for this ambitious, but overstretched film about loneliness and love. In Cincinattai for a presentation, Michael Stone (David Thewlis), an English motivational guru, decides to call up an old flame (voiced by Tom Noonan, who also voices all but one of the other characters, regardless of gender) he hasn’t seen since he abruptly walked out on her many years ago. Though  now  married with a family, he still feels guilty about what he did.

The meeting does not go well, leaving Michael to return to the hotel where meets  two of the delegates, outgoing Emily and the shy, insecure and equally damaged Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who neither looks nor sounds like anyone else. He invites the latter back to his room and they end up having sex, leading to Michael’s disturbing nightmare and a subsequent melt down in the presentation.

Notwithstanding the  creepy  spectacle of claymation sex and the fact that  all the  faces are hinged (at one point the bottom of Michael’s falls off), this offers a thoughtful meditation on  loneliness, depression, detachment  and the human need to be loved; tellingly, in a world he sees as almost exclusively populated by clones  Michael’s message is about always celebrating the individual. Much is well observed, but, expanded from plans for a 40 minute short, it is sometimes as annoying as it is engaging and frequently betrays its origins as  a radio play. Fascinating but flawed.  (MAC)

 

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (12A)

superman 3Despite 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;  ; 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;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  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 Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)

 

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; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Eddie the Eagle (PG)

eddie 3The British love an underdog makes good story and, in 1988, there was no bigger underdog than Michael Edwards, 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 the hostility of the British Olympic Committee, who saw him as an embarrassment.

Now, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton with Hugh Jackman as Eddie’s fictional coach, Bronson Peary, a former ski jump champion with a drink problem and in need of redemption, his story is the feelgood movie of the year.

Charting young Eddie’s early failed Olympian ambitions (much to the irritation of his builder dad, Keith Allen), it follows his rejection as a skier by the establishment (Tim McInnery as snooty British Olympics executive Dustin Target) 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 pretty much every other skier, he seems destined for further failure until his refusal to give up eventually  persuades Peary to become his coach. With all the odds against him, he eventually heads to Calgary and the 1988 Winter Olympics to prove he can truly fly.

Warm, funny and inspirational, with Jo Hartley as Eddie’s supportive mom,  Christopher Walken as Peary’s grouchy  former coach Warren Sharp, 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)

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)

 

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-rise-socialDirector 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. (Electric)

 

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) The 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 NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)

 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (12A)

big 2Fourteen 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; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Norm of the North (U) A 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. (Showcase Walsall)

 

Truth (15)

TRUTHMary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and Dan Rather (Robert Redford) are, respectively,  a producer for CBS’s flagship news programme, 60 Minutes, its longstanding and highly respected anchorman. In the run up to the 2014 presidential election, the team (Topher Grace, Elizabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid) came across documents suggesting that George Bush, who was running for re-election, had, in the 1970s, avoided service in Vietnam and having been transferred to the Air National Guard in Alabama, he effectively went AWOL in order to attend Harvard Business School.  Working against the clock to amass evidence that Bush’s service records were false and get sources to go on record, the team aired the report only to be subsequently shot down in flames by an administration determined to discredit their finding. The crucial memos were alleged to have been faked and CBS called the  team were to testify before a supposedly ‘independent’ panel. Eventually, CBS declared the documents could not be authenticated and ordered Rather to offer an on air apology. Mapes was fired, her team dismantled and Rather forced to resign by the head of CBS News (Bruce Greenwood).

Based on Mapes’ book, James Vanderbilt’s film offers the team’s side of the story, accepting that some of the reporting was sloppy in its oversights, but detailing how sources backtracked  and how expert evidence supporting the memos was dismissed in favour of that which didn’t.

A compelling and powerfully acted  work that offers a disturbing observation on how institutional forces can interfere with journalistic investigations not seen to be in their interest, it’s ironic that where Spotlight was feted, this was virtually ignored, a reminder that . while Hollywood loves a crusading underdog, it’s when they’re winners not losers.  (Mon 11/Tue 12:MAC)

 

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. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Mon/Thu:Electric)

 

Zootropolis (U)

zootropolis 1Already 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; Electric;  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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