MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Apr 14-Thu Apr 20

 

NEW RELEASES

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

The franchise has come a long way since that first film when an undercover cop became seduced by the street racing world he was supposed to take down. One is was just about fast car rivalry, now it’s about saving the world. It opens with a prologue involving  a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning home from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde woman (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) when he’s approached to go on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) and more recent recruit, hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), duly recruited, next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off and split up, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight sequence between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal some all powerful surveillance doohickey called God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise in store for all concerned.

Suffice to say, this is, not only a sort of  Mission Impossible with drag racers, but also  by far the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and more automobile destruction than the rest of the series combined, a sequence that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart (cue all those messages about family) to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the bickering between Roman and Tej,  the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the gang ribbing of the dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy, delivering the lines and her steel gaze with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With F&F9 in pre-production and a 10th  instalment announced (with Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 The Handmaiden (18)

Loosely adapted from Sarah Waters bestseller Fingersmith, co-written  by South Korean director Park Chan-Wook of Oldboy fame, this adopts a Rashomon structure, dividing the film into three chapters, the first two offering two different sides to the events with the third bringing them together for a convoluted but cleverly engineered payoff in the grand tradition of The Sting and other such con movies.

Set in Japanese-controlled South Korea in the 1930s, the first part is told from the perspective of Sook-Hee (Tae-Ri Kim), an accomplished  pickpocket who’s recruited by a con artist calling himself Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become the handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). An orphaned Japanese heiress, she  lives in a remote sprawling mansion with her uncle by marriage, Kouzuki (Jin-woong Cho), a sadistic pervy book collector who intends to marry her and forces her to give readings to a select audience of fellow Japanese ‘connoisseurs’ from his collection of Japanese porn. Sook-hee’s job is to get her new mistress to falls for the Count instead, who’ll then marry her, take control of her fortune, have her declared insane and split the takings with  Sook-Hee and her fellow pickpockets.  However, in the course of events, Sook-hee develops a real affection for Hideko which prompts her conscience, before the ending. delivers a wholly unexpected double cross twist in the final seconds

Part Two then retells everything from Hideko’s perspective, offering a very different take on what you’ve just seen, unravelling an even more knotted plot. Then comes Part Three that puts the pieces into place along with a some genuinely disturbing insights into her uncle’s cruelty and perversions, the terrors of ‘the basement’ and a gruesome torture sequence.

A lavishly designed triple-cross  psychological thriller with strong Hitchcockian overtones, it’s also highly erotically charged, a sequence in Part One where Sook-hee demonstrates  what Hideko can expect on her wedding night restaged in even more explicit  intensity in Part Two. Awash with fetishism (check out the tooth filing scene), carnal lust and duplicity, it also has  a vein of  wry humour, albeit incredibly dark, at one point quite literally of the gallows variety. The central performances are outstanding, Tae-Ri Kim making the naïve Sook-hee as funny as she is sexy, Min-hee Kim bringing complex layers to Hideko, Jung-woo Ha’s smooth and slippery as Fujiwara and Jin-woong Cho creating one of  cinema’s most twisted and terrifying monsters in human form. The film clocks in at 145 minutes, but there’s also an even longer 167 minute director’s cut. Given what’s on screen in the normal version, the mind boggles as to what the extra 22 minutes may have to offer. (Electric; Sat/Thu: Extended Cut; Cineworld 5 Ways; Everyman)

 

Mad To Be Normal (15)

During the late 60s/early70s, no self-respecting student would be caught without a copy of either Knots or The Divided Self, the first a collection of poems, the second an account of schizophrenia by noted Scottish psychiatrist and counterculture icon R.D.Laing. From 1965 until 1970 he also ran a controversial psychiatric community project at Kingsley Hall in London’s East End, where patients and therapists lived together, rejecting the use of the drugs (and, naturally, electroconvulsive shock therapy) usually used on mental patients in the prison-hospital system of the time in favour of  the then radical idea of talking to them,  allowing them to open up and be themselves, although he did experiment in the use of LSD, for medical purposes.

Directed by Robert Mullan from a screenplay by himself and Tracy Moreton, the film is a biopic focusing on that period with David Tennent giving a mesmerising performance as the hard-drinking Glasgow-born Laing, treating the residents with understanding and compassion, clashing with his traditional-minded peers and struggling with a private life that includes two daughters from a broken marriage back in Glasgow (one of whom has a terminal illness)  and an increasingly fraught relationship with Angie Wood (Elizabeth Moss) an admiring American student (based on Laing’s girlfriend Jutta Werner, but essentially a composite figure as he had six children by four different women), who becomes his lover, wife and, eventually, victim of his self-absorption.

Following a linear narrative, it has a tendency to wander at times and it ends rather than concludes, wrapping up loose ends with captions. However, within this it effectively interweaves a series of stories involving Laing and his ‘patients’, among them a  troubled young black who hears voices, a mother suffering post-natal depression and a man with a Messiah complex. The main focus though is on the elderly Sidney (Michael Gambon), traumatised by a horrific childhood event we eventually see in a black and white LSD flashback, and, in a terrific turn from Gabriel Byrne, the volatile Jim who, also hearing voices, initially appears quite a sadly gentle soul, but gradually becomes increasingly unstable, threatening the safety of Angie and her new baby. However, it’s arguably a scene with a young female patient  in a mental hospital in America that best  illustrates the effectiveness of Laing’s methods, ones which, while derided at the time, ultimately changed the way the profession approached mental illness, focusing on the causes rather than as symptoms of a physiological disorder.  (Fri/Sat:MAC)

 

The Salesman (12A)

No screenings were available, but this was the winner of this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, although director Asghar Farhadi was prevented from attending to collect his prize because of Trump’s ban on Muslim’s travelling from proscribed countries. Relocated to small flat after being forcibly evacuated from their home in a condemned building, teacher Emad and his wife Rana are the leads in a theatrical adaptation of Death of a Salesman. One night, as Emad stays late at rehearsal, Rema  who has returned home, opens the door when the buzzer rings, assuming it’s her husband. Instead it’s a stranger looking for the woman who previously lived there. He  attacks her, she resists and he runs off, leaving behind his truck, the keys and his mobile phone. Over the following two weeks, traumatised by what happens she’s become withdrawn and  riddled with anxiety while he’s tortured by not having been there or being able to help his wife but also persuade that the play must go ahead. Inevitably there’s s train between them, while he becomes obsessed with finding the man responsible. But what happens when he does? (Fri-Mon: MAC)

 

The Sense of an Ending (15)

Screenings were unavailable, but adapted from  Julian Barnes’ novel, this  stars Jim Boadbent as Tony Webster , the divorced elderly owner of a second hand camera store who, on receiving a letter saying he’s been named in the Last Will and Testament of the mother (Emily Mortimer) of  Veronica, a girl he dated while at University, embarks on a  reflection of the last 50 years that have brought him to where he is today.  Co-starring Harriet Walter as his ex-wife, Michelle Dockery as their pregnant 36 year old daughter,  Billy Howle as the  young Tony, an aspiring poet, Charlotte Rampling as the now elderly Veronica
Charlotte Rampling), it’s a meditation on memory, coming to terms with the past and making the best of the time remaining. To be reviewed. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

 

NOW PLAYING

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Best: All By Himself (12A)

Featuring archive footage and new interviews, Daniel Gordon ‘s documentary offers an intimate and illuminating look at football’s first rock star, Belfast-born George Best. It charts his life and career from his electrifying debut with Manchester United at 17 through his glory years when United won the 1968 European Cup, through his battles with booze  and depression, and his scandalous romances to his death in 2005 when around a quarter of a million people lined the route of his funeral cortege. (Tue:MAC)

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Get Out (15)

Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re  like part of the family.  Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield)  of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’

It is, of course, rather too late for that  and  it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and  discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

Director Rupert Sanders brings Mamoru Oshii’s cult cyberthriller creation to the big screen for its first live action adaptation. Those familiar with the Manga comic and animations will be more conversant with things, but, for newbies, this serves as an origin story, detailing how the unnamed Major (Scarlett Johansson) became a cyborg  cyberterrorism fighter, her brain – her ghost or soul – transplanted to an artificial body by Hanka Robotics. However, working for the government’s cyberterrorist division, under Aramaki (Takeshi Takano) alongside fellow agent Batou (Pilou Asbaek), she’s experiencing glitches in her programming, flashbacks to memories that don’t gel with what she knows of her past.

To put this into context, events are set in Japan in  a  future where technological advancement has allowed humans to enhance their bodies giving them, for example, cybernetic eyes and limbs, existing alongside robots in a high-tech city where giant holograms such as geishas, joggers and swimming  fish  are projected across the cityspace. It’s all the work of Hanka, whose chief scientist,  Cutter (Peter Ferndinando), headed up the project through which Dr. Oulet (Juliette Binoche) transformed the unnamed girl, badly injured in the terrorist attack that killed her parents, into The Major.

However,  when Hanka’s boss is attacked and killed by robots and enhanced  thugs while hosting a business lunch, going ‘deep’ into the deactivated geisha robot, the Major gets a look at Kuze (Michael Pitt), the person behind the attack, but the experience also causes further glitches. Meanwhile, other Hanka scientists are being targeted, all of whom turn out to have worked on a  secret project, with Dr. Oulet now the only survivor.

With the Major accused of having her programming corrupted by the terrorist network, she and her fellow squad members find themselves in a race to find and take down the cloaked Kuze, except, as the Major discovers, not everything she’s been told or remembers is the truth.

Wasting little time on exposition, the film hurtles along, Sanders dropping in visual references that fans of the 1995 animation will recognise, cramming in considerable action and ideas into the 107 minutes. The visual design is breathtaking  in its CGI, whether in the sprawling techno city, the darker, more dystopian  zone or Johansson’s costume, a sort of fleshtone body suit that enables her cyborg self to disappear into the pixels and which, as her workings are exposed, both disturbing and beautiful, conjures thoughts of Japanese body-horror movies.

Inevitably evoking  thoughts of Blade Runner, Scott’s film clearly offers the template for the film’s look as well as its themes about identity and humanity. Undeniably glossily and sleekly thrilling and with a pulsing score by Clint Mansell, on the downside, it’s singularly lacking in humour and, with rather damning irony, despite the title, it’s an entirely soulless affair. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Going In Style (12A)

A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch  always going on about how he could die  any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.

Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.

Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here.(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Clocking in at a tightly packed two hours, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts swing at reviving cinema’s most famous ape balances explosive action, breathtaking effects, throwaway humour and some respectful nods to the original (effectively recreating that iconic Fay Wray/Kong moment) to wildly entertaining effect. However, the most striking thing  is that, set in 1973, it’s essentially Apocalypse Now with a  100 foot gorilla, Coppola’s movie very clearly referenced in any number of  shots  recreating that iconic image of the red streaked sun, both with and without helicopters blaring out rock music. In Samuel  L Jackson as Lt Col. Preston Packard, the army officer who doesn’t want to the war to end, especially not in ‘abandonment’, as he terms it, it also has its own crazed Kurtz.

Opening with a brief WWII  prologue as two young pilots, one American, one Japanese, are fighting to the death after crashing on some island when two giant hairy hands appear on the cliff top, it fast forwards to Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads up  Monarch, a secret agency seeking  “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” as he convinces  a senator (Richard Jenkins) to back an expedition to a hitherto uncharted island “where myth and science meet.”

 

Requisitioning a military escort headed up by Packard and his  chopper squad (among them Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell and Toby Kebbell) most of whom serve as cannon fodder along with the assorted scientists, Randa  and his team (Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing) also recruit ex SAS officer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as their tracker  while, sensing a story, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also inveigles a place on the mission.

However, no sooner have they battled their  way through the electrical storm shrouding the island  and started dropping seismic bombs, than they’re  being swatted out of the sky by an angry Kong.

Initially separated, the film charts their attempt to survive as they head for the pick up point, Conrad, Weaver and the rest of his group encountering Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), the American pilot from the opening, who has been living with the natives ever since and warns of even more dangerous beasts, against which Kong, the last of his kind, has become the island’s protector. Which means they now have to stop Packard from blasting the monkey to pieces.   With familiar  don’t screw with nature messages and observations on how war can make a man see enemies everywhere, it wastes little time on exposition and  gets on with mounting its spectacular action, introducing docile giant water buffalos, towering killer spiders and a humongous  octopus before finally bringing on lizard-like monsters  to raise the bloody body count tally further.

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Life  (15)

The plot can be pretty much summed up as ‘omigod, we found life on Mars. Omigod, it’s trying to kill us’, directed by Daniel Espinosa it does serviceable duty here. It’s set on a manned NASA space station where, in the opening sequences, the six-strong international crew of the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission have to snag a specimen-collecting capsule as it shoots past.

Duly accomplished by astronaut Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), English scientist Hugh Derry (Arlyon Bakare), who joined because he doesn’t need a wheelchair in space, sets to work examining the micro-organisms found in the soil and, in the process, awakens a single cell from dormancy.

In a celebratory Q&A educational broadcast between the station and Earth, the organism is officially named Calvin and everyone’s very happy. But then Calvin, a sort of jelly-like squid starts growing, and,  next thing you know, it’s mangled Derry’s hands, escaped from the containment chamber and is trapped in the lab with Adams, whose attempts to destroy result in, well let’s just say viewers there for Reynolds might well leave early.

Then, when it  escapes the lab, the survivors have to find a way to get it off the ship, a task taken up by mission commander, Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya). And so, were soon down to the long-serving David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a medic who prefers the isolation of space, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) from  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in charge of security protocol, and senior crewmember, and new father, Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada). With the now even larger creature on the loose that, presumably having wiped out any original life on Mars,  they have to stop it getting to Earth. Given it can survive in sub-space, withstand fire and go for long stretches without oxygen, that might be easier said than done.

A sort of meeting between Alien and Gravity, it’s superbly designed, the station layout detailed in a lengthy single take, so you can see those hatches the crew really should keep shut but are always opening for to try and save someone or the other, something that ties in to the film’s musing on the biological imperative for the survival of the species.

Well-served by solid and effective performances, Espinosa ratchets up some nail-biting suspense, compounded by the confined spaces and the creatures ability to squeeze through small gaps, leaving audiences with a twist ending which, while it may be a touch obvious, lays the ground for a possible sequel.  (Vue Star City)

 

Logan (15)

The third and final chapter in Wolverine’s standalone  story wears its template on its sleeve in both referring to and showing clips from classic Alan Ladd Western Shane, the story of a loner drawn into a fight not of his making but which becomes inescapably personal. Not to mention Terminator 2.

Set in 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are the last of the X-Men (it’s never stated what happened to the others, but an enigmatic reference suggests a cataclysmic tragedy) and something has blocked the birth of any new mutants. The conflicted Logan is now old, grizzled, limping,  his eyesight failing, his healing powers on the blink and the adamantium in his body poisoning him. Deadening his physical and emotional pain with drink, he’s working as a limo driver in Texas, shacking up at an abandoned industrial site near the Mexican border where, along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant-tracker, he’s looking after the  nonagenarian Professor X, who, hidden in a  rusting toppled water tower and suffering from Alzheimer’s, needs constant medication to prevent his powerful mental powers running out of control and causing seizures for anyone in the vicinity.

In one of his lucid periods, Xavier insists that he’s senses a new mutant, something Logan dismisses. Until, that it is, he encounters  Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse offering a considerable wad of cash to drive her and her Hispanic daughter Laura ((Dafne Keen) to Canada. However, arriving at the motel to collect them, he finds the woman dead and, on returning to his hideout, discovers the girl had stowed away in the car. Although, she says nothing, it seems she is the mutant Xavier sensed. As to her powers, they’re bloodily revealed with the arrival of  Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the cyborg head of the paramilitary  Reavers. Much to Logan’s shock, she too sprouts deadly adamantium claws and has the same fast healing abilities. It transpires that she was genetically bred, along with other young mutants, by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who runs shady bioengineering program Transigen, using Logan’s DNA. As Xavier points out, basically, she’s his daughter.

From here, the film becomes a chase road movie as the three set out to find Eden, the supposed mutant safe haven in the Dakota hills, despite Logan insisting it’s merely something dreamed up in one of the X-Men comics for which he has no time, with Pierce, Rice and the latter’s genetically created secret weapon, in pursuit.

Given Jackman’s stated this is his last outing as the character, the way things end won’t come as any real surprise. The fact that it is profoundly moving may well. Directed by James Mangold, from the opening scene as Logan slices his way through a bunch of would be carjackers, the film is spectacularly violent, both Logan and the feral Laura’s claws ripping off limbs and slashing through skulls in graphic detail. Yet this is balanced with moments of humour and  the tender ruminations on family (if Laura’s Logan’s genetic daughter, Xavier is his surrogate father), loneliness and redemption.

Giving a superbly nuanced performance, ranging from extreme rage to heavy weariness the mesmerising Jackman is terrific, as indeed is Stewart who lends the film his own imposing gravitas, while, in her debut role, an impressive eleven-year-old Keen, although wordless until the final stretch, has striking presence and a penetrating stare, something that bodes well should the Wolverine saga spin off to a second generation. In recent years, superheroes have become darker and more grown up, ending with an inspired final image this is among the best of them.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Power Rangers (12A)

 And here’s yet another revival, this time of the  mid-90s (and still ongoing) live-action TV series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers about five ‘teenagers with attitude’ recruited by the wizard Zordon to battle the evil (and risibly named) Rita Repulsa as she attempts to conquer Earth, each of them having their own super-powers and  wearing individually colour-coded spandex suits and helmets.

Directed by Dean Israelite, this latest entry takes things back to the start for an origin story that kicks off 67 million years ago as Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his team are defeated by rogue Ranger Rita (a gleefully hamming Elizabeth Banks), taking her out with him in one last act, but not before burying the Rangers’ power crystals to be found by those next worthy of using them. Cut to the present as sports star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) pulls off a high school prank involving a bull, crashes his car, is busted, thrown off the team and sentenced to Saturday detentions, where he meets autistic Billy (RJ Cyler) and cool chick Kimberly (Naomi Scott) who apparently punched some boy’s tooth out.  Jason steps into protect Billy from the class bully and  agrees to drive him out to some quarry in the neighbouring hills where it seems Kimberely goes to chill out. It also happens to be frequented by fellow screw-ups/misfits Zack (Ludi Lin), who escapes there when caring for his sick mom on the trailer park gets too much, and Trini (Becky G.), who’s dealing with her own identity issues.

Anyways, Billy sets off a charge and all five find themselves plummeting into some cavern, discovering what seems to be an alien spaceship, falling into water and inexplicably waking up back home the next day and discovering they’ve acquired superstrength. So, it’s back to the site where they get to meet a wisecracking talking robot (Bill Hader) and Zordon, or rather his essence which is now trapped in some sort of giant 3D pin-art sculpture, who informs them they’ve been chosen to be the new Power Rangers, but they have to prove themselves worthy before they can summon up the armour within them.

Which means, what with everyone having to confront their dark secrets, it’s almost 80 minutes into the two hours before the familiar red, blue, purple, blue, black and yellow suits appear and the film can get on with the action as, behind the controls of their  Dinozords, they face off against the now resurrected Rita who, with her equally naffly named creation, Goldar (yes, it’s a monster made from gold) and rock-creatures army, is destroying  the town looking for the energy source which will ensure her conquest and which just happens to be located beneath the film’s glaring product placement, a Krispy Kreme store.

With its joke about ‘milking’ a bull along with inference that Trini’s a lesbian (thus Hollywood’s first gay superhero) and the focus on her fellow Rangers’ personal issues,  this skews older than the TV series, and, while, closer to The Fantastic Four than Captain America: Civil War, despite the CGI confusion of the finale, is, as such, rather more fun than might have been expected. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; MockingbirdOdeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

After being rescued by the clutches of her creator, evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), in the last film, Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is now living back with the other Smurfs in the Smurf village, but is sad that, unlike the others, such as Clumsy (Jack MacBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello), her name doesn’t define her character. She’s just ‘nice’. Plagued by existential angst, if that’s not too deep a concept for such a trivial film, she’s led to explore the Forbidden Forest where, accompanied by Clumsy, Brainy and Hefty, who have followed her, she discovers a whole new Smurfs community, and they’re all girls and, like Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez) often warriors, with Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts) their answer to Papa Smurf (Mandy Patikin). Unfortunately, Gargamel is also on Smurfette’s trail looking to finally get his hands on the Smurfs so he can drain their essence and become a sorcerer supreme. The new Smurfs are an unexpected bonus.

Ditching the last film’s ill-advised choice of setting things in the city, this is on surer ground, with Wilson as the only non-animated character also taking on a cartoonish performance. Despite the occasional grown up joke, adults will still probably find the experience of sitting through it rather like having their finger-nails extracted, but it has to be admitted that the animation is well handled, there’s some surreal touches (luminous giant rabbits), the songs aren’t bad and the plot is easy to follow, with  messages about female empowerment, not being defined by a singular trait and finding who you are for those willing or old enough to look. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Table 19 (12A)

Whenever there’s a comedy involving a wedding and a cake, it’s a fair bet that the latter will, at some point, end up on the guests. This doesn’t disappoint. Although, over-conceptualised and underwritten to a fault,  it does so in pretty much every other respect.

Receiving an invitation to her best friend’s wedding reception, Eloise (Ana Kendrick agonises on whether to go or not. This is because she was recently dumped  by the bride’s brother, Teddy (Wyatt Russell), who’s the Best Man, and, even though she did the table planning, she’s been replaced as Maid of Honour by his rebound girlfriend. Eventually resolved to see it through, she arrives to find herself seated at the randoms table along with bickering husband and wife  diner owners Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina (Lisa Kudrow, whose  identical jacket to the caterers  provides a limp running gag), the bride’s busybody elderly childhood nanny, Jo (June Squibb), distant cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant) and Renzo (Tony Revolori), an Asian high schooler desperate to get laid.

Having milked this awkward set-up for as long as possible, including Eloise dancing with a mysterious handsome Australian (Thomas Cocquerel) who comes to her aid to make Teddy jealous, the film shifts focus on to what’s troubling her and the others at the table, a cocktail that variously includes a marriage gone stale, pregnancy, parole for embezzlement, terminal illness and a case of confused hormones and sexual insecurity.

An innocuous mess, it’s mildly amusing (save for Merchant who is excruciatingly unfunny) and vaguely  touchy-feely, but does manage to pull some genuine poignancy out of the hat in the final stretch. However, were it not for Kendrick, whose gift for physical comedy, ability to deliver a smart one-liner and tap into emotions beyond the script’s pay grade, this would be feeble stuff, all too often relying on the wedding band’s 80s covers (Heart and Soul, Hold Me Now, All Through The Night, I Melt With You) to give the emotional cues. No one expected the guests on the table to actually turn up, the same might be said of the audience. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull)

 

Trespass Against Us (15)

Populated by unpleasant characters doing  antisocial things, despite two charismatic performances, this is a very hard film to like. Directed by Adam Smith, making his feature debut after assorted BBC programmes like Doctor Who, it stars Michal Fassbender as Chad, the son of Colby Cutler, the patriarchal head of a group of travellers living on a backwoods makeshift site in Gloucestershire, from where he masterminds various robberies. Other than resenting having to pull the latest on a  Sunday, while vaguely discontented with his lot, Chad has no problem with the criminal lifestyle, but, illiterate himself, he does want his two kids to get a proper education, an issue at which he’s at odds with his father who reckons the Earth’s flat and has no truck with evolutionary theory, or indeed anyone’s efforts to better themselves.  Meanwhile, Chad’s missus, Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal), is building up a stash of money with plans to escape the life and get a proper home.

When the Sunday robbery at a stately home belonging to a  political bigwig goes belly up, it attracts the focused attention of the local cops who’ve been trying to pin something on the Cutlers for ages. But, even with a  SWAT-like dawn raid,  gathering the evidence is hard.

As such, there’s not a great deal of plot and what there is fairly clichéd and repetitive, many scenes consisting of frantic car chases between Chad and the police (largely represented by Rory Kinnear) that end up with him running off and hiding in the woods (or, indeed, under a  cow)while a helicopter circles overhead. Fassbender is solid enough while, clad in his black track suit, spouting nonsense and generally excluding menace, Gleeson is superbly unlikeable, but, while the Cutlers are apparently styled on a real life outlaw family in the Cotswolds,  they never feel more than characters on the page. It builds to a somewhat dramatic finale, but it still feels all a bit of  an anticlimax, and overly sentimental to boot, never really having got to grips with what it wants to actually be about. (Wed:MAC)

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

Anxious to divest itself a troublesome part of the Empire it could no longer effectively or economically rule, in 1947  the British government stitched up the Indian people by partitioning the country into India and Pakistan. The film, a strong comeback by director Gurinda Chadha and her writer-husband Paul Mayeda Berges after the misfiring It’s A Wonderful Afterlife  and Mistress of Spices, indicates that  it also stitched up Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), who was charged with finding a solution and overseeing the handover, unaware that a deal had already been done with Nehru by Churchill  for the creation of Pakistan.

Arriving with his wife, Lady Edwina (a perfectly accented Gillian Anderson), Lord Louis Mountbatten is to be the last Viceroy of India, his job to smooth the path to independence and self-governance, not an easy task given the  country’s in turmoil with increasing conflict between Hindus. Sikhs and Muslims, the latter wanting their own nation. As such the film follows two parallel stories. The first focuses on the Mountbattens, she the voice of reason  keen to see the people’s lot improved, he looking to maintain diplomacy while dealing with his own officials, notably Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay (Michael Gambon), who aren’t necessarily telling him everything, and the prime movers for independence, Nehru (Tanveer Ghani),  Jinnah (Denzil Smith) and Ghandi (a brief but striking turn by Neeraj Kabi), as well as Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow), the man brought in for the nigh impossible task of drawing up the actual Partition boundaries that would divide not only the country, but families and communities.

In much the same manner as the recent United Kingdom, set in the same year, all of this affords an insight into the duplicitous nature of English politics and the motives behind the way the Partition was eventually set, while, set against this, is the fictional account of  two civilians,  Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Aalia (Huma Querishi), he part of the Viceroy’s retinue, she part of his wife’s. They are in love, but he’s Hindu and she’s Muslim and has already been promised in marriage by her father (the late Om Puri), a former political prisoner who went blind, but was looked after in jail by Jeet.

Their story is a rather schematic and clichéd contrivance designed to serve the narrative microcosm  and, for all its romantic tribulations and some anguished moments, is less compelling than the account of the problems facing Mountbatten in trying to prevent the whole place descending into ever more ferocious bloodshed than it’s experiencing already.

Nonetheless, impressively mounted with some striking images and good use of original Movietone news footage, it holds the attention and casts light on a now rather overlooked period of British history, the end credits revelation of Chadha’s personal family investment in the telling bringing powerful resonance.  (Vue 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 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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