MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Apr 7-Thu Apr 13

 

 

NEW RELEASES

City Of Tiny Lights  (15)

 

It’s been a long time since the UK produced a film noir of any note, but, in his first feature since the underperforming Dredd, director Pete Travis goes a considerable way to remedying that with Patrick Neate’s adaptation of his own novel.

Set in a grimy West London, Riz Ahmed is Tommy Akhtar, a low rent private eye who, working out of shabby office,  deals in “the lies people tell and the truths they don’t” and who tends to see the world through a haze of cigarette smoke and bourbon fumes. He’s approached by Melody (Cush Jumbo), an African hooker, who wants him to find her Russian fellow prostitute flatmate, Natasha,  who never returned from an appointment with her last client. Tracking down the hotel she used, Tommy finds the client dead, his skull bashed in and no sign of the girl. The dead man, it turns out, was a prominent businessman involved in a scheme to redevelop the area, buying up property and driving out the drug dealers,  and, more pertinent to Tommy, the business partner of Hafiz aka Lovely (James Lloyd), one of his old schoolfriends who’s gone on to make a success of himself.

Meeting up again after all these years prompts flashbacks to their shared time together (the young Lovely played by Antonio Aakeel) along with best mate Stuart (George Sargeant) and Shelley (Hannah Rae), Stuart’s girlfriend, with whom the young Tommy (Reiss Kershi-Hussain) was also in love. The date of the murder also happens to coincide with the anniversary of Stuart’s death. In making his annual visit to the grave, Tommy’s surprised to find the now grown Shelley (Billy Piper), back for the first time since the tragedy that, unfolded in further flashbacks, saw her leave, bringing with her teenage daughter Emma (Rae again), with whom she was pregnant when Stuart died.

As was the case all those years ago, there’s clearly something between her and Tommy, while things are further complicated by the fact that Lovely apparently is linked to Al-Dabaran (Alexander Siddig), the head of an Islam Youth Centre (part of the Muslim community from which  Tommy’s sought to distance himself) who may both be involved in terrorism and linked to Natasha’s disappearance. To which end, Tommy recruits Avid (Mohammed Ali Amiri), the  teenage Moroccan  street punk of the local shopkeeper (Myriam Acharki) with whom Tommy’s friends, to infiltrate and dig up information. On top of this, he’s also forcefully warned off by an American agent (Vincent Regan) who, responsible for making the crime scene disappear, is also investigating Al-Dabaran and has sidelined local cop Donnely (Danny Webb) from the case.

As Tommy gradually pieces together the connections between the players, the murky plot unfolds an assorted patchwork of guilt, betrayal, conspiracy and political corruption, during all of which the relationship between him and Shelley takes another turn.

Shifting back and forth in time, it slowly builds  the narrative tension while also addressing such issues as integration, the threat of fundamentalism, and the shady aspects of the property market, it crafts a strong sense of suspense while also deepening the characterisation of the central players and their collective responsibilities. In addition to which, Roshan Seth provides for some humour as Tommy’s ailing father, a former army officer who believes everything in life can be learned from cricket.

The hugely charismatic Ahmed is terrific while Piper carries just the right touch of flintiness and pain, but the cast as a whole, in particular those playing the younger versions of the characters are all solid. There are flaws – not least Travis’s fondness for visual flourishes – and things are possibly more complicated than need be, especially the American involvement, but, making effective use – both physically and figuratively – of the shadowy city settings, shooting extensively at night with its neon glows, this is a compelling watch.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Broadway Plaza;  Vue Star City)

 

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 and attention of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), who lull him to sleep singing Blackbird. So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less so 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 (well, waddle), talk and that he’s actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because there’s not enough love to go round and babies are losing out 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 talking 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, by way of some Elvis impersonators, 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 snappy and sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and Madagascar director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while the bookended narration by the grown up Tim’s provided by Tobey Maguire and James McGrath offers some amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It could, perhaps, have been sharper and, inevitably, it 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)

 

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 elderly retirees who, on learning their 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’s the grouch who’s always going on about how he could die at any day, and 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 loved 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 persistent, sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.

Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy dog loving 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 they 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.

Pitched at the grey pound audience, it’s all rather generic, but nevertheless quite sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads sparking 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 and the trio seem rather more sprightly than seems reasonable during the robbery, 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)

 

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. Directed by  Jeffrey Blitz from a screenplay by Mark and Jay Duplass, 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 text) 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 new (and former) girlfriend. Eventually resolved to see it through, she arrives at the swish do to find herself seated at the randoms table along with a bunch of other losers,  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 (a scene stealing Tony Revolori from The Grand Budapest Hotel), an Asian high schooler desperate to get laid.

Having milked this awkward set-up for as long as possible, including Eloise dancing with the mysterious handsome Australian  wedding crasher  (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 include 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, pulling silly faces, 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 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

 

 

Flatpack Festival Picks

Sat

The Giant (12A)

Flatpack regular  Johannes Nyholm makes his feature debut with a quirky but beguiling film about an autistic man with a facial deformity that limits his ability to communicate, but  longs to be both part of a community and independent. Despite his verbal communication problems in his mind he is a giant, able to overcome all obstacles as he searches for his birth mother and attempts to conquer the world at his chosen sport of boules. (Everyman)

Suntan (18)

Forty-something Dr Kostis is transferred to the small island of Antiparos, in recovery from some unspecified trauma. An encounter with a young woman at the surgery sparks his interest, and before long this becomes a full-blown obsession. A Greek ‘coming-of-middle-age drama’, played out against a backdrop of holiday hedonism..(Electric)

Sun

My Life as a Courgette (12A)

Oscar nominated animation about Courgette,  a young boy experiencing life in a foster home after the unexpected death of his alcoholic mother, – his only souvenir of her an empty beer can. His fellow residents are also suffering  from some kind of childhood trauma, but the film is ultimately life-affirming and very funny. (Electric)

The Other Side of Hope (12A)

It’s been far too long since an Aki Kaurismäki film played here, and this promises to be as quirky as his others, involving, as it does, a Syrian asylum seeker newly arrived in Helsinki on a coal freighter, and a poker-playing local who walks out on his alcoholic wife. Having escaped the violence of Aleppo and threatened with deportation by Finnish authorities, Khaled finds work at a ramshackle restaurant populated by others bumping along the bottom. (Electric)

 

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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Dancer  (12A)

Documentary about Russian dancer Sergei Polunin who, aged 15 and at the peak of his famer,  walked away from his unprecedentedly successful ballet career, looking at how his talent went from gift to a burden driving him towards self-destruction. (Mon-Wed: MAC)

 

Free Fire (15)

Evoking both Peckinpah’s The Wild  Bunch and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Ben Wheatley’s follow up to  High-Rise is essentially one long shoot-out, one that takes place in a single setting. It’s Boston, 1978, and an arms deal is going down in an abandoned warehouse. There to buy the guns are a pair of IRA members, the sharp-witted Chris (Cillian Murphy) and his grizzled superior, Frank (Michael Smiley), with the rather less intelligent Stevo (Sam Riley) and his mate Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) along as hired hands. Also accompanying them is Justine (Brie Larson), the chilly businesswoman who’s arranged a meeting with cool and casual middle-man Ord (a bearded Armie Hammer) and the gun-runners, weaselly and somewhat crazy South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his crew, Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), and the volatile Harry (Jack Reynor).

Things don’t go well from the start, Vernon’s consignment not being the weapons Chris is expecting.  Negotiations on a compromise are tense, but eventually settled. But then, as the weapons are being transferred and the money handed over, things kick off when Harry recognises Stevo as the guy with whom had a run in the previous night, whips out his gun and shoots. The two sides take cover and the film becomes a lengthy exchange of both gunfire and insults as the assorted characters pop up to let off a round or two. Minor wounds are inflicted, but nothing fatal, a rather more realistic scenario than the average Hollywood fire-fight. And then two new sharpshooters enter the fray, both sides assuming they’ve been engaged by the other. Naturally, double-dealing is involved, though between and by whom is teasingly withheld until an unexpected turn of events just as everything seems to have settled down.

Co-written by Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, there’s huge swathes of black humour and wisecracking dialogue, giving  the now clichéd set up a very different, more playful almost Looney Tunes spin, however bloody it may get – and get bloody it definitely does.

Characterisation is pretty basic, Hammer the unflappable voice of reason, Copley the unpredictable lunatic, Larson the icy professional, Riley and Raynor the out of control stooges, and so on, but that simply adds to the shambolic but expertly choreographed fun with its bad fashions and an inspired soundtrack in which John Denver plays a crucial part. With even the characters admitting they’re confused about what’s going on, it’s best to not look for any deep allegorical meanings. but just go along with the ride, enjoying the tension and comedy until the final reveal and payoff. Bang on target. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza)

 

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, West Brom; 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; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Following Peter Jackson’s bloated 2005 remake, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts takes another swing at reviving cinema’s most famous ape. And  knocks it out of the park.

Clocking in at a tightly packed two hours, it 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.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; 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.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; 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, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

LoveTrue (15)

A  genre-bending documentary following the real-life relationships of three people in vastly different American landscapes. Alaskans Blake and Joel pursue a promising romance, in spite of physical limitations and her stripping career. In Hawaii, free spirit Coconut Willie discovers another side of true love after discovering he’s not his son’s biological father and singer/songwriter Victory muses on faith and faithfulness as she, her siblings and her father perform in the streets of New York City. (Thu: MAC)

Personal Shopper (15)

Having played  personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s actress in  Olivier Assayas’s last film. The Clouds of Sils Maria, this time Kristen Stewart takes centre stage as Maureen, the introverted personal shopper to demanding  German supermodel/designer Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). She’s in charge of selecting and collecting the clothes, shoes and jewellery for her client’s appearances at assorted high profile events, but is under strict orders not to try anything on. She does, of course, both borrowing the items and staying in Kyra’s plush apartment whenever she’s out of town.

In addition, she’s also trying to make contact with her dead twin brother Lewis, who was also a  medium and with whom she shares the congenital heart defect that killed him. They vowed that whoever went first would try and make contact with the other, which she’s trying to do in the decaying  old Parisien house where he died, as well as seeking to rid it of any lingering spirits so his former girlfriend  (Sigrid Bouaziz)) can sell it and move on.

She senses a presence, although, as a subsequent scary scene reveals, it’s not that of her brother. But this isn’t the only tension at play. Midway in, Maureen starts getting texts from an unknown caller, who creepily seems to know her every move as well as her fears and desires, providing her access to a hotel room where they never meet. And then there’s a murder to add another level of intrigue, though this and the killer’s reveal seem almost like a shrug in the narrative.

Weaving between states of mind and shifting genres, psychological or supernatural horror one moment, Hitchcockian thriller the next, the film  is as enigmatic and hard to read as its central character, who may or may not be psychotic, consumed by guilt or riddled with a dark desire to be something or someone she is not. Stewart delivers a compellingly blank performance, one which makes the emotions all the  more powerful when they actually surface even when the film is frustratingly ambiguous, as for example, whether the mysterious texts are, as she messages at one point, from the living or the dead.

Even if does deliver the ectoplasmic  shock audiences expect, it is, as you might surmise, all rather arty and experimental, exploring notions of dislocation, physically and psychologically, as well as fetishism and auto-eroticism,  summoning an air of dread and foreboding, not least in a scene where doors open automatically to let through, well, apparently nobody . Its frequent fades to black and the open-ending won’t satisfy those who like things neatly tied up, but for those willing to succumb to its guile it has many rewards. (MAC)

 

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; Odeon 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)

 

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

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY