MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 9-Thu Jun 15

NEW RELEASES

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Directed by Roger Michell, this is a handsome rework of the Daphne Du Maruier novel about obsession that originally saw big screen life back in B&W 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This time round, it’s Rachel Weisz (who, as synchronicity would have it appear in the Mummy films with Brendan Fraser) who is Rachel, the Anglo-Italian widow of Philip (Sam Clafin), a young and frankly rather dull 19th century Englishman whose adult cousin Ambrose was both his guardian and her husband.

The film opens with him having received a letter rom his late cousin describing how his wife was terrorising him and driving him to his death. Understandably then, he’s not ready to welcome her with open arms when he learns she coming to visit the farm that, since she wasn’t named in the will, he’s now inherited. He determined to give her the cold shoulder and, on the day of her arrival, takes off leaving instructions that she’s not to be bed until he returns. However, arriving home late at night, he learns she’s taken to her room, already charmed the servants, won over the dogs and politely  invited him to call on her after he’s eaten.

The moment he sets eyes on her, he’s a lost cause, initial fascination giving way to an obsessive love, falling totally under her spell, to the extent that he has his uncle Nick (Iain Glen), who’s managing the estate until he comes of age, to sign  the document he’s had drawn up assigning everything to her from the moment he turns 25.

The question is, of course, whether Rachel is truly the grieving widow who takes a shine to her cousin marriage or a scheming and free-spending manipulator who, in cahoots with her Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), is conspiring to get her hands on the estate and  inheritance and poisoning him with her herbal teas, or whether Philip is just a jealous paranoid.

It’s all beautifully shot  and  the supporting cast features notable turns from Holliday Grainger as Louise, Nick’s daughter and Philip’s childhood friend with the secret crush and Tim Barlow as his manservant Seecombe (who gets to deliver the film’s single expletive); however, while a subtly nuanced Weisz is as mesmerising as the role requires, there’s not enough of the enigma about her character to give it the edge of menace it needs,  nor (save for one of Philip’s feverish dreams in which she seems to be being rogered by the vicar) her  much talked about ‘limitless appetite’. With an unnecessary coda that might compound the tragedy, but blows the ambiguity, it’s well made and absorbing, but all a  little too chaste and a little too tame for its gothic nature.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Levelling (15)

The feature debut of writer-director Hope Dickenson Leach, and the second film this week to feature  Game of Thrones star Ellie Kendrick, this bleak, depressing drama is set in Somerset following the floods of 2014 as veterinary student Clover (Kendrick) returns to the family fairy farm after her younger brother Harry (Joe Blakemore in flashbacks) apparently accidentally killed himself after putting a shotgun in his mouth. There’s clearly history between her and her gruff widowed ex-army father (David Troughton), who didn’t invite her to the party to celebrate Harry taking over the farm and where the shooting too place, and, with the insurers unwilling to pay out after the floods, the mood isn’t exactly light. As the film unfolds, it explores why Clover, who’s as stubborn as her father,  who she only ever refers to by his first name, has distanced herself from a family almost literally struggling to keep its head above water, and the truths she comes to uncover about what led to Harry’s death. Although well reviewed and despite picking up an awards at last year’s LFF, it has had a very limited release with almost no profile. (Mon/Tue: MAC)

The Mummy (15)

Universal launches its Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc) in inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out is the ancient prison in which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener. holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could me mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the hood man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (15)

It may well have been hailed as one of Richard Gere’s finest performances, but this somewhat cumbersomely-titled drama addressing themes of anti-Semitism and stereotypes  is getting a very limited and low key release. Gere plays Norrman Oppenheimer, the president of a New York consultancy agency mostly dealing with American-Israeli business and politics. It’s not as swish as it sounds, his office basically being his cell phone and his satchel and the connections he claims to have are usually non-existent Basically, he’s a liar, manipulator and bit of a con artist who relies on someone buying into his story so he can built the network he supposedly already has. When Eshel, an Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi), is elected Prime Minister, Norman finds his star elevated and moving in the same circle as others looking to also make the most of the opportunity, among them Eshel’s ambitious nephew (Michael Sheen), a rabbi (Steve Buscemi), a tycoon (Harris Yulin) and his assistant (Dan Stevens) and an embassy official (Charlotte Gainsbourg), not to mention Hank Azaria as another fixer. However, when a political scandal blows up, Norman’s career seems set to implode. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park)

The Shack (12A)

When his youngest daughter is abducted and murdered during a camping trip, church-going Orgeon father of three  Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) sinks into depression and crisis of faith. Then he finds a mysterious note in the mailbox signed Papa (his dead daughter’s name for God), inviting him to the shack  in the mountains linked to her death, ‘borrows’ a friend’s van and takes off. About to shoot himself in the cabin in his anguished grief, he’s distracted and, venturing outside,  meets  a stranger who invites him to follow him, the woods inexplicably transforming from a snow covered landscape into a lush, sunny paradise. Entering a well-appointed Laura Ashley-like cottage, he finds himself in the company of no less than a multicultural Holy Trinity in the form of God aka Papa (Octavia Spencer), the dude-like  Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Japanese pop star Sumire Matsubara), the Holy Spirit, (who collects tears in bottles), who have tasked themselves with bringing him inner peace.

Narrated by Mack’s neighbour (Tim McGraw), much of the interminable two plus hours is spent in Phillips hanging out with them, sharing dinner, accusing God of not caring and being cruel to allow such suffering and God telling him how much he/she loves all his/her children, showing his various visions, leading him to a chat with Wisdom (Alice Braga) and eventually, now taking the form of an elderly Native American (Graham Greene), telling him that, while he may still have anger, he needs to forgive the killer. Oh, yeh, he also gets to meet his dead dad and find redemption for having poisoned him when he was a kid for being an abusive wife beater.

Ponderously scripted and directed with a  warm self-help homespun Hallmark fuzziness that wanders from earnest spiritual crisis to Mack and Jesus playfully running  hand in hand on water, it’s shallow, bland and dreary. Worthington does what he can with the material but at one point understandably asks ‘why am I here?) in deadly serious mode, but Radha Mitchell is utterly wasted as his wife and, while Megan Charpentier does get a poignant moment as the couple’s equally grief and guilt-wracked other daughter, a warm and open Spencer is the film’s only redeeming grace. It’s heart is in the right place, but it’s brain is clearly absent. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Whisky Galore (PG)

Starring James Robertson Justice, Joan Greenwood and Gordon Jackson, the comedic tale of a bunch  of Scottish islands who salvage a cargo of whisky froma  shipwreck under the noses of the customs officers during WWII,  Alexander Mackendrick’s 1949 film is one of the enduring Ealing classics. A rather twee story and very much of its time, remaking it seems something of a pointless exercise, but, even so, Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon has delivered a very enjoyable, amiably amusing piece of family fluff that’s a whole lot more fun than last year’s Dad’s Army.

When their rationed whisky supplies run out, the inhabitants of the remote Scottish isle of Todday are bereft, having to resort to drinking tea. Macroon (Gregor Fisher), the local Presbyterian widower postmaster has his hands full trying to deal with his two daughters, Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) and Peggy (Naomi Battrick) and their respective engagements to nervous school teacher George Campbell (Kevin Guthrie), much to the disapproval of his dour Calvinistic mother (Annie Louise Ross mother), and recently returned soldier Sgt. Odd (Sean Biggerstaff). The crux of the plot, however, centres around a ship running aground on the rocks, carring with a huge cargo of whisky meant for export to America and, as such, forbidden to be sold or consumed on UK shores. Not that that is going to deter the islanders who resolve to salvage the crates and hid them around the island before the ship sinks. The only problems they have to face is the fact that the minister (James Cosmo) is very strict about nobody labouring on the Sabbath and that Captain Waggett (Eddie Izzard),  the pompous leader of the home guard is, in tandem with the customs and excise,  determined to ensure the whisky remains out of the islanders’ hands.

A subplot involving a stash of government papers relating to the King’s romantic entanglements and which a Home Office agent is keen to recover never really goes anywhere, but otherwise this ambles along cosily enough, Izzard is dryly excellent form as a sort of variation on Captain Mainwaring as his Fenella Woolgar as his long suffering wife whose sympathies are more clearly with the locals. Undemanding stuff perhaps, but, played with tongues in cheeks, it’s a gentle, good-natured farce that makes a refreshing change from the  vulgar, hyperactive comedies currently foisted on audiences by the Hollyood machine, one that slips down nicely like a 12-year-old malt.  (Sun-Tue: MAC)

 

 

 

NOW PLAYING

A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Vue Star City)

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

Set 10 years after Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the Alien saga offers further insights into the creatures’ origins, although the film itself feels more like a  bridging link to the next chapter rather than a self-contained narrative in its own right.  It’s 2104 and Covenant is taking 2000 sleeping colonists and several trays of embryos to a new habitable world. The ship and its systems (Mother) are under the control of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the latest upgrade of the original David model from the last film, the latter seen as the film opens talking with his creator (Guy Pearce) in an airless, sterile white room, naming himself after Michelangelo’s statue and already displaying a sense of superiority over his human ‘father’.

Fast forward and, aboard the ship, a solar storm causes malfunctions that require the crew to be woken from their hyper-sleep early, unfortunately one of them (James Franco, seen via a home video), the husband of first officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is burned to death in his pod, leaving the faith-driven Oram (Billy Crudup) as next in charge. In the process of making repairs, they intercept a radio signal which Tennessee (David McBride) identifies as someone singing Take Me Home Country Roads.  With the signal’s source tracked to a planet that seems to be the perfect new Eden they’re seeking, Oram decides to investigate and possibly use this as the resettlement base rather than the one planned, which will take a further seven years to reach.  Daniels advises otherwise, but is overruled. So you already have a good idea of what’s in store.

Headed up by Oram and Daniels, the search team includes a clutch of assorted disposable characters, among them Oram’s own wife, and, ploughing through the cosmic storm and landing they find not only fields of wheat, but also the rusting remains of the Prometheus. With things already looking ominous, they get trouser-soilingly worse when two of the team are infected by some sort of spores and have baby aliens bursting out of their bodies, resulting in the landing ship and anyone onboard going kaboom,  leaving the survivors stranded. Clearly being hunted by the creatures, they’re rescued (but not before Walter sacrifices his hand to save Daniels) by a mysterious cloaked figure who leads them to an abandoned city full of Pompeii-like  petrified corpses. The figure, of course, turns out to be David (Fassbender again) who tells how they crashed, killing expedition leader Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in the process as well as releasing the deadly pathogens they were carrying and wiping out all life.

Naturally, that’s not strictly how it happened, David’s flashback revealing he deliberately dropped the virus and himself killed Shaw as part of his God-complex experiments on destroying and creating life, essentially an excuse for Scott to serve up several genetic-mutation variations on the familiar alien, including one of spookily humanoid form.

So, their numbers gradually whittled down, it’s up to Tennessee to rescue those left alive. However, even though  he, Daniels, Walter and one of the remaining disposables make it back aboard  the Covenant, that’s not the end of things by far, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, with two synthetic lookalikes, which on is on the ship and which is lifeless back on the planet.

Given the franchise trajectory and the in-production sequel, none of this is much of a spoiler, the real disappointment is how generic it all becomes with the assorted gun battles, acid sprays, dismemberments, face huggers and running through  dark narrow spaces pausing only for a discussion between Walter and the cool but patently deranged David on their different natures and the purpose of creation.

Fassbender does a great job in both roles, including an unsettling scene of sibling homoeroticism, Crudup layers complexity into his reluctant leader trying to do the right things and McBride gets to play the reliable man of action you need when it’s all going to hell. However,  despite everyone’s somewhat limited characterisation, it’s Waterson who is clearly the heart and soul of the film, delivering a spunky, gritty determination clearly intended to  echo  Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

Already beached at the  box office, Seth Gordon’s  big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the  fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly  soap opera  cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.

Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.

It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable  12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a  lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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.   (Showcase Walsall; 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 of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

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

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

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (PG)

Although set  only a year after Dog Days, the five-year gap between films means the young cast are now too old to reprise their characters, so returning director David Bowers, who co-scripted with the books’ creator, Jeff Kinney has opted to give everyone a new face.  So, young Greg Heffley is now played by Jason Drucker, while his here older, and rather dumber, rock drummer brother. Rodrick is Charlie Wright, although facially it’s hard to believe they’re from the same gene pool, while stepping into the slightly younger skewed mom and dad shoes are Reese Witherspoon and Tom Everett Scott. The youngest Heffley, toddler Manny, is played by twins Dylan and Wyatt Walters while Owen Asztalos makes a brief appearance as Rowley.

As the title would suggest, this is a road trip movie and, essentially, it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation but with more poop jokes. The set-up is that this year’s annual Heffley trip in the name of family time will be cross country to Meemaw’s 90th, all the luggage piled into the boat the’re trailing behind them. Needless to say, neither Greg nor Rodrick are keen on going, especially not since mom’s insisted on everyone, her husband included, checking in their cellphones, laptops, etc  for the duration. However,Greg’s persuaded that, if he can engineer some change in directions, this is an opportunity to visit a big video gamers’ convention and get to appear in the next YouTube video with his hero, Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover), which, he figures, will make everyone forget about the video of him getting a  diaper stuck to his hand at a family diner that went viral and earned him the humiliating sobriquet of Diaper Hand. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan, with Greg accidentally getting on the wrong side of  the beefy beardo father of a snotty family at one of the motel stopovers and Manny accidentally winning a piglet at a county fair, giving rise to just one of the many scatological gags.

Cast change aside, this pretty much sticks to the familiar formula with Kinney’s stickman line drawings punctuating the live action, Greg’s voiceover and  a steady stream of broad physical slapstick and getting covered in assorted liquids as its cranks out its message about the importance of family and spending time together.

It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with  a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

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

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

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

Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with  automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart  to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more   instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Vue Star City)

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

It starts brilliantly. As, hired  by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki),  the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.

Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s  bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula  (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space  and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell),  who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of  70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s  a Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.

It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed  ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.

Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child  trafficking by its leader, a cameoing  Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign.  Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

Forget what you know of the Arthurian legend, this is Guy Ritchie’s vision recast as a sort of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Broadswords, more rock n roll than troubadour. The gist is that, having defeated the evil mage Mordred, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is then betrayed by his power-thirsty brother  Vortigern (a camped up  Jude Law) who, sacrificing his own wife to do so, summons up a demon to kill both Uther and his queen, but not before they manage to send their infant son off in a boat, Moses style.

The young boy fetches up in Londinium where he’s named Arthur, raised in a brothel and  taught the art of street fighting. Grown to adulthood, Arthur (often shirtless Brad Pitt lookalike Charlie Hunnam channelling Tom Hardy)  hangs out with his fellow chancers  Tristan (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Blacklack (Neil Maskell), only to have a run in with a bunch of Vikings who’ve mistreated one of the prostitutes.  Unfortunately, they turn out to be under the protection of Vortigern, who’s now king, leading to his enforcers, the Blacklegs, raiding the brothel and Arthur having to go on the run. At the same time, the waters around the city drop, revealing a rock with a sword handle sticking out of it, prompting stories about a future king who will return, pull it out and free the people from tyranny. To which end Vortigern’s forcing all men of a certain age to try their luck, Arthur among them. To everyone’s surprise, he does, only to faint from the power surge he experiences, awakening in the dungeon where his uncle reveals his true lineage.

Meanwhile, The Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) a follower of the never seen Merlin, introduces herself to Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Uther’s former general, facilitates Arthur’s escape from execution and sets about convincing him to join the rebels, Percival (Craig McGinlay) and the colourfully named Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen) among them, and that he is the one destined to avenge his father; once that is, he’s learned to control the power of the sword, something that will entail a trip to the Blacklands to learn the truth about what happened.

The narrative, almost overwhelmed by the CG blitzkrieg of  giant snakes, giant elephants, thousands of virtual extras, a sort of rubbery squid-sirens version of Macbeth’s three witches and, as the Holy Grail would have, some watery tart, rattles along through a series of extravagant set pieces in exuberant but almost incoherent fashion as it borrows cheerfully from any number of sources, Robin Hood and the New Testament among them. Hunnam makes for a game reluctant hero and the rest of the cast are nothing if not enthusiastic, a cameoing  David Beckham included, and you can’t say it lacks for energy or entertaining action. However, it seems set  to be this year’s biggest blockbuster bomb, meaning we’ll likely never get to see Merlin or the Mage become Guinevere, let alone see them finish assembling the Round Table that serves for some lame gags at the end. Which, is, actually, quite a pity. (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park;  Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Mad To Be Normal (15)

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

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

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

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (12A)

After the last instalment, On Stranger Tides, it would have seemed a good idea to consign the franchise to dry dock, but no, six years on and this time with Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg at the helm, the core cast have been reassembled for a further folly. This one also sees the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will and Elizabeth, albeit only in book-ending sequences, the latter not putting in an appearance until just before the end credits.

It opens with their young son, Henry, tracking down The Flying Dutchman on which dad’s cursed to sail for eternity and promising to find Poseidon’s Trident, an artefact that can reputedly lift all sea curses. Fast forward five years and the now adult Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is still in pursuit of the trident, a quest that brings him into contact with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario),  whose skills in astronomy have seen her condemned as a witch, and who, guided by her unknown father’s diary, is searching for an unseen map to an uncharted island, though she has no time for myths or supernatural mumbo jumbo. Inevitably both their paths also cross with that of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), first seen quite literally stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  in an impressive set piece of destruction.

Now, as it happens, Henry was part of a British Navy crew pursuing a pirate ship that sailed into the infamous Devil’s Triangle and was overrun by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish former pirate hunter who, along with his mutilated crew, are cursed to live as dead men (some of them missing assorted body parts). He spared Henry to deliver a message to Sparrow with whom he has unfinished businesss (you’ve not forgotten anything, their connection is later explained in a backstory about how Jack – a CGI youthful Depp – got his surname and captain’s hat), but is unable to escape his watery prison unless Sparrow parts with his magical compass. Which, of course, he duly does, sending Salazar back to the world to resume his pirate killing spree, which, in turn, leads to him striking a  deal with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s now the pirate top dog, to get his hands on Jack.

Narratively bloated,  there’s about three different plots going on at the same time, gradually coming together as yet more backstory is thrown into the mix with, essentially, everyone, including David Wenham’s colonial naval captain, chasing Jack, Henry and Carina. All of which results into a lot of noise, action and some spectacular CGI (Salazar’s crew and zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. Thwaites and Scodelario  basically take the Bloom and Knightley roles from the first two films, and do so engagingly enough, while, as ever, Rush brings more heart and gravity  to proceedings than they warrant. Bardem makes for a driven obsessed villain, but his character and performance are eclipsed by the special effects of his seaweedy hair, squid ink blood  and ravaged face. Which brings us to Depp.  He does pretty much what he always does with his pirate parody, the drunken slurring, the sexual innuendos,  but what was once amusing is now just tediously annoying. There’s times when it captures the spark of the original, but, when  a cameoing Paul McCartney as Jack’s Uncle is one of the highlights, perhaps, despite the post credits clip,  it’s time to consign this to Davey Jones’ locker once and for all.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

A Quiet Passion (12A)
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, when Emily Dickinson died, 56 years later, she left behind almost 1800 poems, only around a dozen of which had been published, and those often anonymous and altered by the publishers. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two obsessions that also informed much of her correspondence with friends. Today, Dickinson is regarded as one of the seminal American poets, and yet, while she was part of the inspiration being Jane Campion’s The Piano, her fascinating and often troubled life and career has never been the subject of a film.
Veteran British writer-director Terence Davies puts that to rights with one of the finest films of his illustrious career, featuring witty, sharp and barbed dialogue that’s probably the finest you will hear this year. Starring Cythia Dixon looking very much like the only existing authenticated portrait of Dickinson, it opens at the ladies seminary where, as a teenager  (played by Emma Bell) she’s been sent for education, exhibiting an early streak of independence and rejection of conformity, and ends with her death from Bright’s disease (she also suffered from epilepsy).
Rescued from the bullying at college, she returns to share the family home with sister Lavinia (Rose Williams), brother Austin (Benjamin Wainwright), her sickly mother (Joanna Bacon) and unfeeling patriarchal lawyer father (Keith Carradine). Dickinson’s burgeoning feminist streak, rapier wit and attitudes to religion and gender politics are established in a series of delicious confrontations, most notably with her staunchly conservative father and aunt (Annette Badland).
Using a series of portrait sittings, the characters ingeniously morph into their older selves as the film both reinforces what we have already seen but also explores how Dickinson’s romantic hopes are constrained by both her insecurity about her physical attraction and her determination not give up her independence, her desire for recognition and her gradual slide into reclusiveness, wearing mostly white and refusing to come down from her room to meet anyone.
As well as a continuing antagonistic relationship with her father and a falling out with the condescending Austin (Duncan Duff) when he’s found to be cheating on his wife (Jodhi May), it details her friendship with the irreverently unconventional Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey) and  the close if sometimes confrontational relationship with her devoted but long-suffering (and at times frustrated) younger sister (Jennifer Ehle) who insists in seeing good in people, even if it might not actually exist.
Embracing the outbreak of the Civil War, the deaths of her parents and what would become a lifelong friendship with Presbyterian Minister Charles Wadsworth (a cause of a clash between the sisters when Lavinia believes Emily to have romantic desires for the married man), it bristles with Wildean wit and aphorisms.  “If they wanted to be wholesome, I imagine they would crochet,” snaps back at Wadsworth’s starchy wife after she’s criticised the Bronte’s in an exchange about Longfellow’s Hiawatha, while Buffam scandalously observes that “To be shocked by a book you haven’t read is like going to Sodom and Gomorrah and being offended that neither is from Philadelphia.”
Coming thick and fast, there is a slight danger of feeling like a Monty Python sketch, but the direction and performances keep things on a solid even keel, not to mention accentuating the humour. Typically, Davies’ direction is measured and unfussy, and, while there may not be a trademark lengthy long camera pan, there are still many quite moments when it simply stands back and observes, while, as ever he makes effective use of light and colour, the brightness of the early years giving way to more autumnal shades as Dickinson retreats from the world. His choice of music too is again impeccable, reaching its peak in the final moments with Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question.
The performances throughout are exemplary, but its Dixon and Ehle who provide the real anchors, both dramatically and emotionally, although the  confessional scene between Dickinson and her frail mother is movingly devastating. Dickinson’s poetry, mostly written at night,  delivered by Nixon as voiceover is sublime, the context of her life giving it even deeper resonance. Perhaps inevitably, it’s had a very limited release and, yes, it is perhaps very much for a literary-minded art house audience, but it’s also on the year’s very best. (Wed/Thu: MAC)
The Red Turtle (PG)

Featuring absolutely no dialogue,  but rather natural sound and a sympathetic score,  this collaboration between Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Dudok de Wit is a stunning animated tale, part CGI, part hand-drawn, about a man shipwrecked on a desert island who determines to escape, but finds every attempt ruined by a mysterious red turtle. Why doesn’t it want him to  leave and what’s going on when, after his attempt to kill it, he takes pity, gives it water and  the creature transforms into a woman and they have a child together?

A poetic at times surreal allegory about time, nature, survival and companionship that relies more on tone and feel than narrative, and, even if there is a particularly powerful tsunami sequence and a tense moment when it seems the man might drown, this isn’t for those who prefer their animation to be fast and funny (which rather rules out the child audience, though they’ll be amused by the supporting crabs), but it’s a gorgeous looking, thoughtful and touching work that rewards patience.   (Electric)

Snatched (15

Trainwreck, her first starring feature, which she also wrote, proved Amy Schumer could be  just as funny on the big screen as on the small one. However, the follow-up, penned by the Ghostbusters remake scribe, Katie Dippold, might have audiences revising that opinion.

Here, she’s Emily, an insecure clueless loser who, in the opening moments, get fired from her sales assistant job and dumped by the boyfriend with whom she was going on an unrefundable trip to Ecuador. Unable to find anyone who’ll go with her, she guilt trips her mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), an equally dysfunctional, security-obsessed no life divorcee who lives with her cat and needy agoraphobic nerdy man-child son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), into going with her.

Once there, Emily’s picked up by a  handsome stranger (Tom Bateman) who invites her and her mom on a trip to explore the countryside, which is, of course, just a set-up to get them kidnapped and held for ransom by notorious local gangster Morgado (Oscar Jaenada). Managing to escape, killing Morgado’s nephew in the process, they make contact with the US State Department in the person of Morgan Russell (Bashir Salahuddin) whose only advice is to get to the Consulate in Bogata. To which end, they hook up with adventure seeker Roger (Christopher Meloni) who offers to get them there. However, a vengeful Morgado is on their trail, while, back at home, Jeffrey is pissing off Russell with his constant phone calls.

Pitched as a cringe comedy with a dash of the sort of screwball for which Hawn was famous in the 80s, it aims low with its  scattershot assortment of  sniping one-liners, humiliations, bodily function jokes (admittedly the welcome/whale cum gag is funny) and gross outs (at one point a doctor lures a tapeworm out of Emily’s mouth with a piece of meat), but still falls short. It also wants to have a sentimental centre with its mother-daughter bonding and Emily discovering some self-worth and purpose, but this never feels remotely genuine or earned.

Hawn flaps around in trademark manner as the often  judgemental, scolding Linda while, fine comedienne though she may be, Schumer can’t make the tossed off lines or the lazy piecemeal plotting work,  although, to her credit,  she does dispense with any hint of vanity in her self-deprecating and deglamourised performance. And, although their attempt to help Emily rescue her mother does have an amusing payoff, the  equally cartoonish turns by fellow vacationers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic” ex-special ops  friend Barb (Joan Cusack) are essentially as pointless as they are unfunny. An accusation that can be firmly levelled at the film as a whole. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

 

Unlocked (15)

It’s not going to win any awards, but, efficiently directed by Michael Apted, this terrorist-themed thriller does a watchable enough job despite its  convoluted plot’s twists and turns and unreliable characters.

Blaming herself for not cracking the code soon enough to prevent the deaths of numerous civilians during a terrorist bombing in Paris, former CIA agent Alice (Noomi Rapace) is working for an counselling agency in London’s East End, feeding back any hints of terrorist activity to the head of MI5 (Toni Collette).

Then she’s approached by a CIA agent who says she’s needed to interrogate a courier they’ve snatched who’s supposed to be delivering  message from a local Imam suspected of being behind terrorist attacks.  They need her to unlock his message so they can switch their man to meet the mastermind behind what they believe to be an upcoming biological attack. Which she duly does, only to get a call from MI5 at a crucial moment asking her to interrogate the self-same courier. Clocking that she’s been played, she escapes and seeks help from her former CIA mentor (Michael Douglas), only for him to be gunned down,  giving her the address of a safe house apartment. However, arriving there she finds it being burgled by Jack (Orlando Bloom) who says he’s a former marine who served in Iraq and, after rescuing her from a couple of armed officers sent to apprehend her (CIA station boss John Malkovich acting on the assumption she’s gone rogue), they set off to try and track down the guy the courier was supposed to meet, enlisting the help of one of her agency’s clients in the process.

Given it’s established early on that the CIA has been ‘penetrated’, Alice has no idea of who to trust, and the audience are pretty much in the same position as characters motivations and alliances seem to switch at the drop of a plot twist hat.

Riddled with heavy handed expositionary dialogue and preposterous set-ups, it rumbles along merrily enough, punching up the tension as it goes and slotting into the recent niche of thrillers adopting cynical view about the lengths to which government agencies will go to achieve their ends.

If it’s a little hard to take Bloom as an East End macho man, Rapace delivers an  intense performance worthier of a far better film while Collette plays things with a twinkle in her eye and Malkovich adds a wry sense of fun with his dry humour and comic timing. Ultimately, though., it feels a bit like a poor man’s Spooks and the sort of B movie opportunist zeigeist thriller you’d expect to go straight to DVD or on-demand when you can use the remote to switch between plot holes as you watch.   (Showcase Walsall)

 

Wonder Woman (12A)

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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

The Electric Cinema  – 47–49 Station Street,  0121 643 7879

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich  0333 006 7777

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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