MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jul 28-Thu Aug 3

 

NEW RELEASES

The Big Sick (15)

Taking self-reflexiveness to the extreme, Pakistani-born Chicago Muslim Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, not only co-wrote the screenplay of  the true story of how he and his wife got together, but he also plays himself opposite  Zoe Kazan as Emily (here Gardner).   Working as an Uber cabbie while trying to make his name as a stand-up comic, Kumail meets the equally deadpan Emily, a recent graduate, when she heckles him at one of his shows. Although neither is actively seeking a relationship, a  tentative romance develops, albeit following the two day rule (no dates on consecutive days), and,  charted through a series of evenings watching horror B movies, all is going well until Emily discovers a box of photographs of women in his room. These, it transpires, are the girls his conservative-minded mother (Zenobia Shroff) has been having ‘drop by’ for dinner since he, like she and fellow immigrant husband (Anupam Kher) and her other son,  Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), and his wife, Fatima (Shenaz Treasury), is required by tradition to have an arranged marriage. Kumail dutifully goes along with his mother’s arrangements, but, just as he pretends to pray in the basement, it’s just a charade. When he tells Naveed he’s dating a white girl, he’s reminded that their cousin was disowned by the family for doing the same thing.

However, knowing what he risks losing whatever decision he makes, before he gets a chance to work out what to do or explain things, Emily storms out and the next thing you know, he’s getting a  call to say she’s in hospital where the doctor tells him she has a rare lung condition and they’re putting her into a medically-induced coma. Which is where she remains for the movie’s middle act, during which time it introduces her parents, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter) and the more acquiescent Terry (Ray Romano), the former understandably angry at the way he’s treated her daughter. But, as they all attend on Emily as her condition gradually worsens, the hostility defuses and they and Kumail begin to bond.  As it turns out, her parents also have a relationship problem. Given the film’s background, it’s no spoiler to reveal Emily eventually wakes up and the couple get back together, but it’s the fraught journey between those two points and the reactions of Kumail’s family that provide the poignant fuel for the third act.

Alongside all this is the subplot involving Kumail and his fellow stand-ups, CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Andy Bryant) and room-mate Chris (Kurt Braunohler) looking to be selected for the upcoming Montreal Showcase and well as  Kumail’s awkward one-man show about Pakistani culture.

Reminiscent of 2014 documentary Meet The Patels, which detailed a similar culture clash scenario (without the coma), founded on superb performances throughout (including a  brief turn by Vella Lovell as one of the potential brides who gives the view from the other side of the table), it’s confidently directed by Michael Showalter in its balance of comedy and drama. Both poignant and sharply funny (although, at times, having a touch of sitcom about it), daringly introducing terrorist and even 9/11 jokes while exploring notions of identity, family, religion, racism and integration alongside its core love story  and, if not endorsing Kumail’s parents’ traditional views, at least empathising with them. Veined with an optimism that love  actually can conquer everything and the observation that life, like stand-up, is about constant improvisation, it’s easily one of the year’s best. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Everyman; Vue Star City)

 

47 Metres Down  (15)

Director Johannes Roberts works up  a definite sense of tension, but even so this is ultimately a rather ho hum contribution to the menaced  by sharks genre, one that delivers an audacious but ill-advised (if clearly signalled) twist in the final moments. Having been dumped by her boyfriend for being too boring, risk-averse Lisa (Mandy Moore) has been taken by her free spirit sister Kate (Claire Holt) on holiday to Mexico. Here they hook up with a couple of local lads who persuade them have a go at donning scuba gear and descending into the ocean in a cage and getting up close with some great whites.

Given the low rent nature of  both their adventure operator (Matthew Modine) and his ramshackle boat, it’s no surprise when the winch fails, sending the two girls plummeting 47 metres to the ocean floor, putting into motion a  race against the clock to get rescued before the air in their tanks runs out. Roberts, who also co-wrote the screenplay,  manages to drag this out  for a decently tense hour, mining the silent dark of the underwater location and with judicious use of the sharks as an unseen presence and the shock value when they do appear (particularly effective when suddenly illuminated by a red flare). Unfortunately, the girls’ faces and expression largely hidden by the masks,  the time’s also filled with long bouts of dialogue that with lines that rarely go much beyond “it’ll be all right”, “don’t leave me alone”, “the shark almost got me!” and, inevitably  “I’m almost out of air” and “I’m so scared we’re going to die down here.” Given the already two-dimensional  characterisation,  it might have been a much better idea had their radio mics malfunctioned too. It does the job well enough, but this is no Shallow Water. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Captain Underpants – The First Epic Movie (U)

Having bonded over hearing the word Uranus as tots, first graders George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are firm friends with a mission to enliven school boredom with wild pranks. However, finally caught in the act by joyless principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), they face being put in separate classes to end their friendship. To prevent this, George uses a toy hypno-ring  from a cereal box to make Mr. Krupps think he’s really Captain Underpants, the decidedly dumb superhero character in red cape and white pants with a “Tra La Laaaa!” catchphrase in the comics they create together. Naturally chaos follows as he keep switching and forth between nice and nasty (the change triggered by splashes of water. However, with the arrival of their new Einstein-lookalike mad scientist teacher (Nick Kroll),  who, with the help of humour-challenged (“Like a chair, or a supermodel!”) class nerd Melvin, is determined to ride the world of laughter after being ridiculed because of his name, maybe, together, they can save the day and transform Krupps (whose really just lonely) into a more pleasant person as well.

The fact that Kroll’s character is named Professor Poopypants should tell grown ups not familiar with Dav Pilkey’s best-selling books what to expect from this animated big screen adaptation. The better news is that, although clearly aimed at the immature humour of  seven-year-olds with its giant robot toilet  with a smattering of subversive  adult jokes, it’s also  an enjoyably good-natured silly gigglefest about the power of friendship and laughter.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Girls Trip (15)

At times feeling like an exercise to prove that  a film about African-American women getting together for a riotous weekend can be every bit as filthy – yet also poignant – as Bridesmaids or the Hangovers  series this brings together Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and newcomer Tiffany Haddish as four college friends back in the 90s (somewhat stretching credibility given the age differences), the infamous Flossy Posse, who have not seen each other for five years, having lost touch as they’ve followed their separate lives and careers. Ryan Pierce (Hall) has become a best-selling self-help author in partnership with her a retired NFL hero husband Stewart (Mike Colter), former top Times journalist Sasha (Latifah) now runs a failing scandal  blog after a business partnership with Ryan fell through when she got into bed with Stewart instead,  Dina (Haddish), a  libido-rampant hot-head with no filters,  is recently  unemployed after assaulting a co-worker for using her cup, and, once a wild child,  Lisa (Pinkett Smith) is now a divorced romance-challenged mother of two nurse who lives with her mother.

The four are reunited when Ryan invited them to join her at at the upcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans where she’ll be  the keynote speaker on female empowerment  and where her agent, Liz (Kate Walsh) is looking to close a deal that will set up her and Stewart with a lucrative product line and talk show. Of course, this is being sold on her You Can Have It All ethos and her perfect marriage. Except Sasha has a paparazzi shot of Stewart cheating with Instagram model Simone (Deborah Ayorinde), an affair Dina can’t stop herself revealing to Ryan. As it turns out, she’s aware of it and argues that the pair of them are working things out, so why let it spoil their weekend, although Dina’s haranguing of Stewart has got them thrown out of their five start hotel and shacked up in a cheap flea pit  where some leary old bloke in search of his regular hooker flashes himself at the window. That’s just the first of many many moments involving male genitalia, either in reference in the flesh or though Dina’s simulation of the, ahem, grapefruit technique (if you don’t know, don’t ask).

Essentially a vulgarity-enhanced black riff on Sex and the City, although intermittently taking time out to address friendship bonds, relationship cracks and lost self-belief, the bulk of  this wildly overlong (and seemingly never-ending film) largely entails moving from one crude or rowdy sequence to the next. Some of these, such as the girls tripping on absinthe at a nightclub, are hilarious, others, such as Pinkett Smith abandoning any sense of dignity in urinating on a crowd while hanging from a  trip wire between a New Orleans street are decidedly not.

The plot is as formulaic as the characters are generic (Haddish is basically the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis’ overbearingly annoying and irresponsible character in The Hangover who turns out to be the most loyal of all), but the four leads give a cocktail of ebullient and nuanced performances above and beyond such tired clichés (there’s even a dance off), Pinkett Smith especially good, while Larenz Tate is nicely soulful as Ryan’s bass playing old flame.

En route to its sentimental happy ending, it’s symptomatic of the film’s ‘noise’ that director Malcolm Lee feels the need to stuff it to overflowing with mostly self-playing cameos from the likes of Common, Sean Combs, Mike Epps,  Ne-Yo, Morris Chestnut and, clearly with more tolerance than The House filmmakers, even a  brief glimpse of Maria Carey.

Some it works, a lot of it doesn’t and you have to ask whether a comedy  with a  white director and cast could ever have gotten away with the liberal use of the N word like this does and, a mark of its uneven nature,  it undermines its feminist principles when it seems to say that all women need to get them out of a funk is big dick. Still, cheaper than a pair of Manolo Blahniks I guess. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Last Word (12A)

In a change of pace from previous thrillers Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies, director Marc Pellington wallows in sentimental cross-generational female bonding dramady in which Shirley Maclaine delivers an irrepressible turn as Harriet Lauler, an impossibly wealthy but  curmudgeonly octogenarian divorcee, once the head of a powerful LA ad agency,  who, impressed by the way she can the most loathed sound beloved and saintly, enlists Anne (Amanda Seyfried), the obituary writer on the struggling local paper to write one for her. Except she wants it written while she’s still around and duly furnishes a list of names for quotes.

Inevitably, other than her long suffering ex (Philip Baker Hall), no one, not even her former priest, has a good word to say about her. Thereby prompting the film to set off on its journey to fulfil what she’s indentified as the four constituents of a good obit,  loved by family, admired by co-workers; having  touched someone’s life for the better and  a wildcard achievement, It’s  a legacy makeover which entails getting back in touch with her estranged and equally intransigent daughter (Anne Heche) and becoming mentor to Brenda (Ann’Jewel Lee), a feisty at-risk the 9-year-old  from the projects, not to mention landing a gig as drive-time radio DJ (she’s a big fan of The Kinks- cute Waterloo Sunset for that tissue moment) and fixing up the station boss as Anne’s  potential boyfriend.  Harriet’s transformation from dragon to nurturing angel is as predictable as you’d expect, but at least Maclaine’s  acerbic, caustic comedic turn makes it easier to endure the mush. (Showcase Walsall; Mon-Thu; MAC)

A Man Call Ove (15)

As chance – or programming – would have it, this Swedish comedy-drama follows pretty much the same arc as the Maclaine film. Based  on a  Swedish best-seller, it concerns the titular Ove (Rolf Lassgård), a grumpy, tightly regimented old coot who gives everyone in the community where he lives – and was the association’s president until his now incapacitated friend was voted into his place – a hard time. Recently widowed and sacked from his job of  43 years, he decides to end it all, but his attempts are constantly interrupted by the  neighbours. Not least, a couple of gays and the new arrivals, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars),  a pregnant Iranian refugee, her husband and two kids, who insist on trying to be his friend.

As with Pellington’s film it follows a predictable route, but does so in a less manipulative and endearingly quirkier manner (the Saab/Volvo rivalry that ends a friendship is inspired), Ove’s gradual warming to the friendship on offer punctuated by flashbacks to his youth  (here played by Filip Berg), the meet cute and courtship of his future wife , Sonja (Ida Engvoll), and the tragedies that strike both her and his father, all of which serve to explain why and how he has become the sort of man he is with his distrust of bureaucracy and insistence on the rules. It may well serve as a metaphor for Sweden’s transition into the modern era, but it’s as a gentle celebration of humanity that it scores highest. (Fri-Sun:MAC)

The Wall (15)

No previews were available, but director Doug Liman’s work is usually well worth a  look. This is a claustrophobic chamber piece set during the Iraq War, in which two Army snipers, Matthews (John Cena) and Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), are given the job of  scouting a pipeline where workers  have been killed  by an expert sniper dubbed “Juba” (Laith Nakli). Inevitably, they too become targets, Matthews critically wounded and left bleeding in the open field with  Isaac hit in the leg and forced to take cover behind a crumbling brick wall near the pipeline. With Juba having hijacked Isaac’s radio frequency, the film becomes a  tense game of cat and mouse, as Juba proceeds to taunt his target while Isaac has to tend to his injuries, look after Matthews, and find a way to take the sniper down. Confined to just two men and a single location, with a screenplay that addresses  the moral and personal issues prompted by the War, and war in general.  (Vue Star City)

Wish Upon (15)

No previews were available, but this sounds like yet another variation on the horror genre concept explored by the likes of Hellraiser, Final Destination, Ouija et al. in that it involves premonitions and a box (here a musical one promising to grant seven wishes) which, when opened, unleashes all manner of terrors. Discovered in a  dumpster by her dad (Ryan Phillipe), high-schooler Clare (Joey King)  uses it to take revenge on a school bitch and get the boy she fancies to fall for her. Her wishes come true, but there are consequences for others, the inscription finally being translated as “When the music ends, the blood price is paid.” Don’t rush. (Cineworld NEC; Vue Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

All Eyez On Me (15)

On September 13, 1996, aged 25, Tupac Shakur, actor and a rap superstar, was gunned down in his car while waiting at an intersection. His killers have never been found and his story has already been told in numerous documentaries, most notably Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac which charted the friend to feud relationship with Biggie Smalls, himself gunned down.

He’s also figured in assorted rapper biopics, among them The Notorious B.I.G and, more recently, Straight Outta Compton, F Gary Gray’s film about N.W.A. He now gets his own, named after his fourth album, directed by Benny Boom and starring convincing lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. But, despite a solid lead performance,  Boom is no Gray and this is no Compton.

Much is clunkily recounted through flashbacks during a 1995 TV interview while he’s doing time after being  convicted of the illegal touching of a woman who claimed he and members of his entourage raped her,  essentially serving up a wedge of exposition that begins with his East Harlem childhood, the son of Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira),  her fellow activist Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector)  being his stepfather. A series of further flashbacks take us through his growing up, his  distancing from his mother as she descends into drug addition, his platonic Baltimore School of friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) , his initial exploration of rap poetry, his emergence onto the scene via the Digital Underground and his breakthrough with 2Pacalypse Now.

It’s all rather rote in both the way it unfolds and is told, charting his ascendency to the superstar ranks, his embracing of the hedonistic lifestyle that goes with the territory, his ill-advised signing with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) after his release from prison and the feuds with Biggy  (Jamal Woolard, who also played the character in Notorious) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis).

But, given the huge amount he packed into a short life, the film ends up feeling just like a series of visual sound bites, checking off  assorted incidents and episodes (and missing out a  fair few too, like his first prison sentence and marriage), while ensuring to keep the hagiography glowing even while acknowledging Tupac’s more negative traits, not least a  somewhat combustible temper.  The recreations of the videos and live shows are first rate and a soundtrack that rolls out such hits as Hit Em Up ,Who Shot Ya? and the crossover breakthrough California Love ensures its always pumped, but, while it may be true, it’s a familiar and much told story, but messily,  sketchily  and uninspiringly delivered here with little of the passion or insight it needs and deserves.   (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Baby Driver (15)

His first film since polishing off the Three Cornettos trilogy with World’s End in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright turns his attention to lovingly subverting the car chase/heist movie with what he’s described as  “a car film driven by music”, the scenes built around the songs rather than the songs added later.  It hinges on a gimmick with a plot that puts a spin on the familiar one last job scenario and stars Ansel Elgort as man of few words Baby who, thanks to an ill-advised car theft,  now finds himself in debt to  acerbic, smooth criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s enlisted his skills behind the wheel to serve as his regular getaway driver for whatever bank job his ever-changing gang are pulling off.

The twist is that, as a result of the car accident that killed his mother when he was a kid, Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, which he drowns out by constantly listening to music on his headphones, and which he synchronises to the time taken for his manoeuvres. This is, however, really just an excuse for Wright to serve up his answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tapes since listening to the music has nothing to actually do with his driving skills and,  in the several scenes where he doesn’t have the earphones plugged in, there’s no indication that the tinnitus affects his ability to function in any way. But, really, who cares when you’re watching him tearing up the city streets, avoiding the pursuing cops, to the strains of anything from The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and  Focus’ Hocus Pocus.

The first of the heists teams him with  Buddy (Jon Hamm), his sexy wife  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and  the surly Griff (Jon Bernthal), whose sceptism about Baby sets up the scene that lets us know he can lip read too.  The second heist introduces a new crew, among them the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) who doesn’t trust anyone, let alone some kid with an iPod, and sets up an hysterically inspired mix up involving confusion between Michael Myers and Mike Myers masks. Between jobs, however, Baby’s met diner waitress Debora (Lily James), naturally prompting burst of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, while not letting on what he actually does, the pair fall in love in the laundromat and make loose plans to hit the open road together.  He is, after all, now free of any debt to Doc. But not, it would appear of Doc who regards him as his lucky charm and insists on him doing the proverbial one last big job, knocking off a post office to steal a fortune in money orders.

For this one, he’s reunited with Buddy and Darling who are also joined by Bats and, as you’ll doubtless have guessed by now, it doesn’t go smoothly, leaving them on the run with Baby burning with rage and his, Debora and his invalided deaf foster father’s lives under threat.

Naturally, the film’s stuffed with movie homages and references (among them Heat, Reservoir Dogs and even Monsters Inc while the courtroom scene features  the voice of Walter Hill, director of 1978 classic The Driver) as well as music, but they never get in the way of the storytelling, the burning rubber thrills or the emotional heft. Hamm and Foxx subvert their usual good guy roles (the latter has a particularly inspired exit), Spacey does his familiar dry menace to perfection (but turns out to have a surprising sentimental streak) while James is just perfect as Debora, the chemistry between her and Elgort everything a meet cute could ask. However, it’s Elgort who, whether behind the wheel or dancing through the streets, carries the film, often called on to do little more than  give a quizzical, knowing look.

Arguably, the coda feels a touch tacked on, but given the unbridled adrenaline flooding the screen during the many highly choreographed car chases, the bristling tension when the gang gather in the diner,  unaware of Baby’s connection to Debora, and such idiosyractic touches as Baby recording conversations between the gang members to make mash up music mixes, you can forgive it anything. Its engines feel just great.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, , Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Beguiled  (15)

Based on Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name, Sofia Coppola’s award winning  Southern Gothic melodrama is far more restrained, atmospheric and airlessly claustrophobic adaptation, and with, inevitably, a more feminist perspective to the gender dynamics,  than Don Siegel’s 1971 version  starring Clint Eastwood.

Out collecting mushrooms in the Virginia woods, young Amy (Oona Laurence) comes upon Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), an Irish mercenary who, badly wounded, has deserted. Smooth-tongued, he convinces her to help him to the girls’ boarding school seminary at which she is one of the few remaining pupils. The place is run by headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and her teaching assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).  Persuaded that it is the Christian thing to take him in and help him heal rather than hand him over to any passing Confederate troops, Martha tends to his injured leg, washes him (with a lingering intensity) and puts him up in the music room.

Shut away from the outside world, from the start, the only male in the place, it’s clear that his presence – not to mention his good looks – is having an effect on all concerned, particularly stirring repressed, frustrated or nascent sexual feelings and desires in Martha, Edwina and precocious 18-year-old Alicia (Elle Fanning). Despite his charming, deferential manner, McBurney’s also wily enough to  use his virility and sexual magnetism to  play on both the women, winning them over to ensure they allow him to remain and heal, looking to make himself useful in the garden in the hope of sitting out the war, and particularly focusing on Edwina who patently has a strong attraction to him.  Rather inevitably, such simmering hormones in a hothouse of  desires are going to lead to tensions between the womenfolk as they battle for his favours, climaxing in a night time visit that has very dramatic repercussions and finally brings into play the solitary firearm.

Dispensing with the previous film’s flashbacks and sexualised fantasies, Coppola weaves a narcotic, dreamlike spell that perfectly echoes the title, cleverly bringing the arbiter of McBurney’s fate full circle while summoning a palpable air of brooding menace that’s further complemented by the muted lighting, colour palette, score and the moss hung, mist shrouded landscape.

Not without its touches of black humour and a brief moment of sexual violence, it’s a generally sombre and deliberately low-key affair.  The cast are impeccable, Farrell keeping you unsure as to whether he’s genuinely  attentive and sincere or a very clever conman, Dunst a complex cocktail of inferiority complex, resentment and caged longings behind her dowdy appearance, Fanning all petulance and sexual curiosity and Kidman letting just enough desire flicker behind her cool, steely manner. The younger girls too, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke and especially, Laurence  also deliver solid, confidant performances, adding further depth and resonance to this truly beguiling work. (Electric; MAC)

 

Cars 3 (U)

After the underevved Cars 2, Pixar shifts back up a gear as past his prime race car champ Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is dethroned by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), one of the new generation of faster, more hi-tech models with their number-crunching strategies. Following a nasty crash, it seems his track days are over, but, with the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonz), a young female trainer at the revamped state of the art Rust-eze Racing Centre run by his  sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion),  Smokey Yunick (Chris Cooper), the repair truck of his former mentor, Doc Hudson and the support of loyal buddies like  Luigi, Guido and goofball tow truck Mater, the humiliated McQueen trains hard to learn the tricks he needs to beat Storm in the Florida 500, getting back to his roots after a disastrous VR session, by taking part –  anonymously and not entirely successfully – in a demolition derby.

Carrying a believe in yourself message, this is very much a passing the torch story (Cruz never had the confidence to be a racer herself) and, while it lacks the emotional edge of the first film, it is sufficiently warm, funny and inspiring enough to make it to the finish line. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

The third (fourth if you count the Minions spin-off) in the animated series finds itself having to work hard to keep the spark going. Following their failure to capture  80s-obsessed washed-up Hollywood  child star turned  criminal, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker),  Gru (Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their jobs as Anti-Villain League agents and, when he refuses to return to his super-villain ways, all but two of the Minions walk out on him too. His depression’s lifted when he learns he has a twin brother, Dru (Carrell), the pair apparently being separated when their parents (Julie Andrews voices their sour mom) divorced. The super cool Dru, who wears white in contrast to Gru’s black (cue a clever Yin/Yang symbol gag) not only has blonde hair but is a fabulously rich pig farm owner, but what he wants most is to follow in his brother’s – and as it turns out – father’s footsteps and become a  villain. Seeing this as a chance to recover the world’s biggest diamond, which Bratt has now stolen, and finally capture him, Gru pretends to go along with the idea, he just doesn’t tell Lucy.

The problem is that film’s split into three storylines.  Gru and Dru’s assault on Bratt’s HQ, the quest by Agnes, the youngest of  Gru’s young foster daughter,  to find a unicorn, and the misadventures of the Minions (who wind up in and escaping from prison), as well as Lucy trying to get a handle on this mom thing, the disparate characters  finally coming together as  Bratt, in his giant size Bratt doll, seeks to send  Hollywood into space on giant bubblegum balloons. Switching between them all rather saps the film’s energy.

There’s some inspired touches, Bratt  pulls off his heists to 80s tunes by the likes of Michael Jackson and Van Halen, there’s a dose of sentiment in the scenes with the three girls, and it always looks good, but the jokes are fewer and more far between this time round. Once again, the  Minions steal the film, most notably with their gibberish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance,  and, while this will undoubtedly keep the kids amused, it may be time for Gru to retire and let his yellow accomplices take over keeping the franchise alive.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Dunkirk  (12A)

His shortest feature at a concise 106 mins, Christopher Nolan has executed a technical if not necessarily emotional triumph in his account of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940 with the help of a flotilla of small privately-owned vessels, dubbed Operation Dynamo,  following their collapse under the German offensive.

Essentially, this is more about the operation itself, and splitting the narrative into three interconnected stories (and, indeed, time frames), on land, sea and air, means there’s only limited engagement with  any of the characters involved. Unfolding over the course of a week, we’re first introduced to one of the soldiers, the generically named teenage Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he narrowly escapes German bullets (in a departure from the usual war films, the enemy are never seen other than as aircraft and two blurry figures in the final scene) to make it to the beach where the British Expeditionary Force  troops (some 400,000 in all) are awaiting a miracle. Hooking up with another soldier (Aneurin Barnard), they initially manage to get aboard a rescue ship berthed at the jetty by stretchering a wounded soldier, only for the ship to be sunk, leaving them back where they started.

Very much evoking 40s wartime features, the sea section, which takes place over one day,  begins back in England with Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a local civilian skipper, his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and, seeking to prove himself,  enthusiastic schoolfriend  George (Barry Keoghan) setting sail for Dunkirk to help with the rescue. En route they rescue an unnamed shellshocked sailor (Cillian Murphy) from  the wreck of his torpedoed ship, his reluctance to return to Dunkirk setting up a subsequent tragedy.

The air section, which covers just one hour, involves two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) as. mostly behind oxygen masks, they take on the Messerschmitts and Heinkels wreaking havoc on the troops and ships, the three time scales coming together for the final moments as Dawson’s boat heads towards a bombed minesweeper while Tommy and a fellow soldier (singer Harry Styles acquitting himself well) flounder in the sea after their appropriated trawler, strafed by the unseen enemy as target practice, sinks. Rounding out the cast, Kenneth Branagh gives a quietly impressive performance as the highest-ranking naval offer at the scene, while James D’Arcy is his opposite number in the Army

As ever, making very effective use of sound design, especially in the opening gunshot moments, and keeping the dialogue sparse and to the point, Nolan delivers massive spectacle (no less than three ships sink, spewing survivors into the waves), but without feeling the need to offer the visceral graphics of a Saving Private Ryan (indeed, there’s almost no blood to be seen), tightly winding up the tension which, even if it circumvents the heart, has a firm grip on the nerves.

The film is largely shot in 70mm which, should you be fortunate to have a cinema capable of screening it as such, gives it an extra sense of immersion and depth, but whatever the format, this is the work of a master, if perhaps slightly clinical,  filmmaker and stunning stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

The third actor to play the webslinger on the big screen, Tom Holland made his debut cameoing in Captain America: Civil War, and this latest reboot is set a few months after those events. It opens, however, in the wake of the first Avengers movie as, mid-way through salvage work, New York contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is told all such operations involving alien material now comes under Damage Control. Still, he and his crew have stowed away enough to go into the super-weapons business, which is where we pick up events eight years later (no Spidey origin stories here). On a high after helping out The Avengers, making his own web diary footage of events to revel in on playback, gawky 15-year-old Queens high schooler Peter Parker (Holland) is keen to see more action in his Stark ‘internship’, but, with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his babysitter,  is advised by Tony (a typically snarky Robert Downey Jr) to keep his super-heroing on a neighbourhood level, although he does get a  new hi-tech suit (with its very own Jarvis in the vocal form of Jennifer Connelly) to go with the job, even if he has no idea what all its powers are or how to use them.

As such, things toddle along with his handling petty crime and helping out old ladies until he stumbles on a heist with a gang using alien-technology weapons. This, in turn, leads him to track down the suppliers and run foul of Toomes who now sports a pair of armoured flying wings (he’s essentially The Vulture, but is never really referred to as such until the end), and, although warned off from getting involved by Stark, climaxes in a near disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry (in a sequence that mirrors Tobey Maguire saving the elevated train in the original movie) that requires Iron Man to come to the rescue and take back the suit.

On top of all this, Peter’s having to deal with the usual high school problems, such as the class bully, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and the senior on whom he has a crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), but is too shy to say anything. Plus the fact that he’s accidentally revealed his secret identity to science partner and equally geeky best buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and that his webslinging heroics force him to both duck out on the  Academic Decathlon (he’s busy saving the other students in the Washington Tower) and, finally going places with Liz, the homecoming ball. And now he’s stuck with his old homemade suit too.

It’s a little ADD in the early going, reflecting Peter’s uber-enthusiasm and desire to impress Stark, but it soon settles down into a solid and, importantly, hugely entertaining fanboy addition to the Marvel Universe. Although things have been tweaked, there’s still plenty of familiar notes from the comics, including a new spin on MJ (a dry, scene stealing Zendaya), a much younger Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), nods to the many variations the costume’s been through and even the theme from the animated 60s TV series, not to mention a tease of Maguire’s famous upside down kiss.

Holland brings a likeable wide-eyed boyish glee as well as a disarming vulnerability to Parker, regularly screwing up but always getting back on his feet,  while Keaton, who, like Doctor Octopus, is a human-scaled villain with mechanical appendages  and a moral ambiguity, is menacingly compelling and, essentially a victim of the Avengers fall-out himself,  comes with a truly unexpected kick of a twist. Downey Jr and Favreau reprise their familiar shtick and the film also finds room for cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and, albeit by  way of school training videos, the now disgraced Captain America. Filling out the supporting cast, Martin Starr makes the most of his scenes as the Decathlon coach and Bokeem Woodbine does duty as one of Toomes’ crew aka the Shocker. Climaxing in a mid-air battle atop an Avengers  jet, it may ultimately resort to the usual super-hero tropes, but getting there is a whole web of fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth box-office bombing  instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise  grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.

The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to  her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard  populated by, among others,  gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.

Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator,  Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a  plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.

All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on  bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally,  and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that  King Arthur – with the help of  a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon –  defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck  deal with the TRF,  are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.

Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder  it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty  street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!

There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a  film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

Following on from the Rise Of and Dawn Of  remakes, director Matt Reeves winds up the trilogy in triumphant, epic form. Picking things up after the end of Dawn, that saw Caesar (Andy Serkis) kill the human-hating Koba, he and his fellow apes, among them  sidekick orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and youngest son Cornelius, are now hiding out while being hunted down by Alpha-Omega, a rogue army of  surviving humans and renegade apes (referred to as Donkey – as  in Kong) headed up by the psychotic Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), who, shaven-headed and obsessed, patently echoes  Brando’s Kurtz  with, following Kong: Skull Island, the second ape-themed nod to Apocalypse Now this year, indeed at one point the word Ape-pocalypse Now is seen scrawled on a tunnel wall.

After having his men driven back in an assault on the hideaway, the Colonel himself leads a second incursion, this time leaving Cornelia and Caesar’s eldest son, Blue Eyes,  dead, prompting Caesar to send the others to find the sanctuary Rocket (Terry Notary) and Blue Eyes discovered while setting off on a  personal mission of vengeance. To which end, Maurice, Rocket and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) insist on accompanying him. Along the way, the small band is augmented by the addition of a young girl (Amiah Miller), the victim of a plague mutation that renders its victims mute (which itself sets up a powerful scene explaining the Colonel’s driven crusade), and, providing some comic relief, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a small, hermit zoo ape survivor of the Simian Flu outbreak who’s learned to talk  and who is persuaded to guide them to the Colonel’s base in the frozen wastelands.

The third act shifts homages to take on Biblical echoes as, discovering the clan have been captured and imprisoned as slave workers by the Colonel, Caesar now becomes a sort of Moses, delivering his people from bondage as the film builds to a full on battle spectacular as (nodding to The Great Escape) the apes sees to escape the gulag with Maurice and Bad Ape exploiting the tunnels beneath the compound.

Combining western and war movie influences and motifs, the central performances deeply weighted in character with Serkis in particular bringing huge expression and emotional intensity  to his CGI-rendered Caesar,  it’s an often dark and sombre narrative, the prison camp sequences  particularly so, and, while action scenes are visceral, these are also balanced by lengthy philosophical moments addressing  such themes as loyalty, family, freedom and, especially for Caesar,  mindful of his own legacy, the blinding nature of vengeance. While ostensibly the final film of the series, the remainder of humanity seemingly eliminated in a final avalanche, with Cornelius inheriting his father’s mantle (and linking things back to the original Planet of the Apes), given the likely box office figures, further monkey business should not be ruled out yet.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Wonder Woman (12A)

Wonder Woman (2017)
Gal Gadot

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (Vue Star City)

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