MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Mar 30-Thu Apr 5



Ready Player One (12A)

Partly filmed in Digbeth (the car chase scenes), Steven Spielberg plunges into the world of virtual reality in this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s bestseller set in 2044, a future world on the brink of chaos and collapse. Here the only escape lies in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the nerdily eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his erstwhile partner  Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) where the only limits are your imagination. When Halliday dies, Willy Wonka-style he leaves his wealth to the first person to find a digital Easter Egg he (in his Anorak avatar) has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, and which requires three keys to unlock, sparking a contest  that grips the entire world.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a  young gamer , or Gunter, who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend in an Oklahoma  city  shanty town built of high-rise stacked trailer  homes and, via his VR headset,  a regular Oasis visitor in his Parzival avatar guise, where he hangs out with  mechanical genius mechanoid best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), although neither have ever met in their real lives. He decides he wants in on the challenge  (his avatar’s name refers to the Arthurian Knight who found the Holy Grail) , which brings him into contact with  romantic interest feisty motorbike riding Art3mis (Olivia Cook), who, in the real world, as Samantha, is part of a resistance group against  IOI, the corrupt corporate run by the ruthless Sorrento (Ben Mendelssohn) who’ll stop at nothing to take them out and gain control of the Oasis for himself. At which point, it all  turns into a David and Goliath story with Wade seeking clues in the museum holding Halliday’s memories  and the trio, augmented by Japanese players  Daito (Win Morisaki) and Shoto (Philip Zhao)  as the High Five, battling Sorrento and his forces, which include amusing and somewhat neurotic bounty hunter I-Rok (T.J. Miller) with a deadpan dry delivery,  both within and without  the virtual reality.

An eye-popping hyperkinetic crowd-pleaser rush that’s stuffed to overflowing with often blink and you’ll miss it pop culture references (among them a raft of DC superheroes, Back to the Future, Spider-Man, King Kong, Freddy Krueger, Lord of the Rings, Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park, Chucky  and, playing a  key narrative function,  Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant ) not to mention an extended riff on The Shining, this may not have much by way of a soul or character depth (although it does, ultimately, have Spielberg’s trademark sentimentality), but it’s unquestionably a video game adrenaline addict’s dream.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)




Blockers (15)

The directorial debut  of  Pitch Perfect co-writer Kay Cannon,  the title a cinema billboard friendly  shortening of Cock Blockers, this slots comfortably into the same crude rude but funny box in a line that stretches back from  Bridesmaid and  Trainwreck  to  Porkys and American Pie.   Meeting on their first day at a Chicago primary  school,  preppy Julie (Kathryn Newton),  socially awkward  Sam (Gideon Adlon) and acerbic athlete Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) become inseparable friends, although their respective parents, clingy single mom (Leslie Mann), ultra-sensitive overprotective jock Mitchell (John Cena) and  disreputable absent father divorcee  Hunter (Ike Barinholtz channelling Mark Whalberg) haven’t maintained the same bonds.

Prom Night is looming and  Julie (who’s not told mom she’s moving to college in a different state) has determined to lose her virginity to nice guy boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips) and, having detailed how this is going to happen, Kayla decides she’s going to pop her cherry too, targeting the school’s gourmet drugs chemist Connor (Miles Robbins) as the lucky recipient.  Despite being secretly gay, with a  crush on Japanese lesbian, Sam signs up for the sex pact too, her prom date being her friend Chad (Jimmy Bellinger), a chubby dork in a  pork pie hat.

Unfortunately,  Julie accidentally leaves her message app running on her  tablet and all their texts  are read by her mother who immediately enlists Mitchell in her mission to prevent her daughter making a mistake she’ll regret (cue echoes of her own life). Mitchell’s wife (Sarayu Blue) tells them they should be ashamed of themselves while Hunter, who’s unexpectedly turned up for the get together to mark  the girls’ graduations, also  reckons this is a bad idea but, on learning Sam’s in on it, and aware that she’s gay, enthusiastically  tags along to stop her doing something she doesn’t want to do.

Of course daughters and parents all get to learn life lessons about themselves and each other, about responsibility, trust and letting go, but not before a series of hilarious moments that range from the parents crashing a prom party and Mitchell chugging beer through his arse (don’t ask), a disastrous car chase and  Lisa finding herself trapped in a hotel bedroom with Julie and Austin as they get frisky to Kayla  getting out of her head on Connor’s concoctions and Mitchell and Hunter caught up in Connor’s parents naked, blindfold sex  games.

Hopping between parents and daughters, there’s some unnecessary vulgarity, scrotum  clutching included, barfing but also considerable more sweetness and observations about parents’ paranoia  about their daughters’ sex lives and the need to let them make their own decisions. The leads are all terrific, Mann getting to show off her physical comedy skills. And there’s real chemistry between the three girls but, a combination of some of the best line, her delivery, timing and facial expressions, it’s  Viswanathan  who steals the film and clearly has a very bright comedy future ahead of her.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Duck Duck Goose (U)

Named for an old children’s game and sharing its title with a couple of horror movies, not to mention a London Cantonese restaurant, this is a middling Anglo-Chinese-American animation  for the Easter toddler market. Peng (Jim Gaffigan) is a Chinese goose with a superiority complex who refuses to conform with flock rules (“do we always have to fly in a V formation” he demands), not least practising for the upcoming annual migration, which ruffles the feathers of the flock leader, who also happens to be his girlfriend’s dad, who consigns him to guiding the junior geese.

While showing off his speed and stunts, he accidentally hits a flock of duckling, separating brother and sister Chao and Chi (Zendaya) and ultimately damaging his wing. Unable to fly, reckoning they’ll be  a distraction for any potential predators, he offers to guide the ducklings back to the others en route to Paradise Valley, embarking on a long journey in which, pursued by a psychotic schizophrenic cat (Greg Proops), he’ll naturally learn lessons about unconditional love, responsibility and family.

Routinely animated and lurching from one slapstick moment and fart gag to another, it has its mildly amusing moments,  but lacks any sense of ambition or, ultimately, charm. Stephen Fry and Craig Ferguson voice a couple of supercilious flamingos, veteran actor  Carl Reiner  is a turtle and Jennifer Grey a mother hen, but there’s little here to stop your mind turning to phrases like ‘a l’orange’. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)

Isle Of Dogs (PG)

Nine years on from Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson returns to stop motion animation for what is arguably his most ambitious film and very definitely among his very best. Despite the certificate, this is probably not for younger audiences (especially the hand-drawn kidney transplant), aimed more at the over 10s and adults, especially those with a high level of knowledge regarding Japanese cinema and culture, influences and references being abundant. Putting the pup into puppets and bookending with Taiko drumming, Anderson offers paws for thought about such themes as friendship, prejudice, social outcasts, refugees (“Everyone is a stray in the last analysis”), government corruption, the environment and animal cruelty all tied up in what is basically a familiar boy and his dog story.

Following a  Noh-theatre like prologue detailing the war between dogs and humans in the period before the Age of Obedience, the story unfolds in a future Japan where dog flu and snout fever  threaten to cross species and infect humans,.  With elections looming,  Kobayashi (co-screenwriter Kunichi Nomura), the tyrannical  and corrupt cat-loving mayor of Megasaki, has exiled all dogs to a rubbish dump island and plans to eventually exterminate the entire species, ruthlessly disposing of  Science Party political rival  Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) who is seeking  a cure.

However, piloting stolen plane, the mayor’s orphaned young nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), bravely comes in search of his personal bodyguard pet, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and joins forces with a canny canine crew comprising Rex (Edward Norton), former baseball mascot Boss (Bill Murray), one-time pet food commercials star King (Bob Balaban), gossipy Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and, although initially reluctant, scrappy stray Chief (Bryan Cranston), in a search to find him and, ultimately, foil the mayor’s plot.

Narrated by Courtney B Vance, the voice cast  that also includes Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg, a former show dog and  Lauren Bacall-like romantic interest to Chief’s Humphrey Bogart,  who is instrumental in prompting  his  eventual bond with Atari, alongside  Greta Gerwig as Tracy, a human American exchange student heading up the protestors, Tilda Swinton as psychic pug Oracle, Harvey Keitel as the leader of a pack of supposedly cannibal dogs, and even Yoko Ono as a lab assistant  called, er, Yoko Ono. Save for the parts translated by official news commentator Frances McDormand, the human dialogue is all in unsubtitled Japanese, although the dogs’ barks are translated to English.  With a fine score by Alexander Desplat and music that also includes Prokofiev’s Troika (which Greg Lake also borrowed for I Believe in Father Christmas), it’s playful (the end credits list Anjelica Huston as Mute Poodle), waggishly witty, brilliantly animated, hugely detailed (stop-motion sushi making!),  thrilling and at times very  touching, this is an absolute mutts see  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Midnight Sun (12A)

There’s not been a Nicholas Sparks  adaptation for some time, but this affords a useful surrogate for those in need of a cheesy tragic teenage love story.  Xeroderma pigmentosum is a rare but real immune-deficiency condition by which exposure to sunlight can be fatal, but that’s the only thing that rings remotely true in this mawkish and bland  rework of a far better Japanese film, Song to the Sun.

Bella Thorne is Katie, an 18-year-old who, on account of her disease, has to spend all day in the house with its tinted glass, where her widowed father Jack (Rob Riggle) is home schooling her, only venturing out at night.  Over the years, from her  bedroom window, she’s watched and fallen in love with super sensitive  near neighbour Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), whose once promising swimming career was scuppered in a freak accident, as he skateboards past.

One evening they meet at the train station where she goes to play guitar (as you do) to the commuters and start talking, which develops into a romance.  The big plot engine here being that she doesn’t tell him about her condition and he, inexplicably, never seems to wonder much why she’s never free in the day. Even at weekends.  There again, he’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

Dad is, of course, pleased she’s found someone, especially since, in another unlikely contrivance,  Katie’s a bad case of  Nobby-no mates, with only one friend, oddball but loyal Morgan  (Quinn Shephard,) who pops by most days to chat, but thinks her not telling Charlie is a tad unfair. Naturally, in the  film’s Cinderella midnight moment, the truth comes out and, since Katie’s fate is pretty much a given from the start, the film proceeds to load up on memorable life moments, before that poignant end credits love song strums into view

Wholesome, well-scrubbed and sanitised,  existing in a  world where terminal illnesses  come without any pain or ugliness, it’s saccharine and banal, devoid of any genuine emotional impact and with an implausible script (at one point Charlie takes her on a surprise trip to Seattle and gets her to sing to an improbably appreciative crowd) and lifeless performances that that never rise above daytime soap level. At one point, Morgan pretty much says “what would Taylor Swift do?” It’s that deep.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)



Black Panther (12A)

First seen in Captain America: Civil War, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is T’Challa, who became King of the African nation of Wakanda and took on the animal spirit powers passed down through the generations of its rulers when his father as killed during the attack on the Vienna International Centre. The world believes Wakanda to be Africa’s poorest nation, one of Trump’s shithole countries, but, hidden behind a veil of technological secrecy there exists a hugely advanced and prosperous country, a melding of the futuristic and the ancient dubbed Afrofuturism, complete with sonic-powered railways and insect-inspired aircraft, founded upon vibranium, the hardest metal known to man, from a comet that crashed to Earth  millennia ago and gave birth to the purple flower from which the potion endowing the Black Panther’s strength and speed are derived. It’s also the metal that forged Captain America’s shield. However, like his father before him, T’Challa intends to keep all this secret, protecting Wakanda from incursion and subsequent chaos by the outside world.

However, others are of a different opinion. His gutsy sometime girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), first seen rescuing kidnapped girls from a Boku Haram-styled scenario,  believes it is her responsibility to help less fortunate African countries, though nevertheless respects his wishes. But then there’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a CIA assassin from Brooklyn who, it is revealed, has personal ties to the Wakandan throne and wants to use vibranium to instigate a global race war to over throw those who have oppressed Blacks for centuries, to which end he’s struck a  deal with Klaue (Andy Serkis), the rogue Afrikaner mercenary who stole a supply of vibranium way back, from which he’s crafted his weaponised artificial arm, and has been itching to get his hands on the rest.

As such, while the basic oppositions remain true, this isn’t your usual super-hero movie, playing out more in the manner of a Greek tragedy that involves fratricide, flawed fathers, misguided nobility and betrayal alongside issues that embrace isolationism vs internationalism, racism, colonialism, refugees and the opposing policies of passive resistance and militarism that pointedly evokes the contrast in thinking between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Following the historical prologue as to the origins of Wakanda, the film shifts to 1992 Oakland as two men, both of Wakandan origin, ready plans to carry out an armed assault, only to be interrupted by “two Grace Jones lookin’ chicks”, the spear-wielding bodyguards of King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa’s father, who, to protect one of the men kills the other, his own brother, thereby setting in motion a quest for vengeance that will lead to the present day narrative.

It’s directed by Ryan Coogler who made the true-life based Fruitvale Station and Creed, the one dealing with racial tension and prejudice the other about a  young black man coming to terms with his heritage, themes which coalesce here in an Afrocentric fusion of the modern and folklore. Save for some minor extras, Serkis and Martin Freeman (returning as CIA agent Everett K. Ross), are the only white characters in a film heavy with  black acting talent, which, in addition to those mentioned, includes Danai Gurira as General Okoye, commander of the all female elite bodyguards; Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya as T’Challa’s allegiance-shifting ally, W’Kabi;  Winston Duke as M’Baku, the leader of a rival tribe who challenges T’Challa for the throne in traditional ritual combat on the edge of a steep waterfall; Forest Whitaker as Zuri, basically the Wakandan medicine man; Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda;  and, especially,  Letitia Wright as his wisecracking techno-whizz kid sister Shuri who’s designed the upgraded kinetic energy absorbing version of the Black Panther costume and is essentially Q to his 007.

Boseman provides the film’s gravitas, a conflicted leader faced with difficult decisions regarding the future of his people and, in scenes which involve two visits to a mystical afterlife to meet with T’Chaka, comes to learn his father, faced with similar choices, was not all he had assumed him to be. Naturally, balancing such heavyweight concerns, there’s a ready supply of blockbuster gadgetry and action, including a casino shoot-out, a remotely-driven car case through Busan, South Korea and a final all-out battle between T’Challa and Killmonger’s supporters that involves armour-plated rhinos, finally climaxing in the showdown between the two rivals for Wakanda’s future and its poignant coda.

The Black Panther isn’t Hollywood’s first black super-hero, but, ranking alongside the very best of the Marvel canon, he’s its most important. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Finding Your Feet  (12A)

This year’s bid for the grey pound audience comes with both an impressive ensemble cast drawn from the ranks of more senior British actors and a plot that hews comfortably closely to the genre’s familiar clichés. Reliably directed by Richard Loncraine, it has Imelda Staunton as  Sandra – Lady –  Abbott who, at the celebrations for his elevation of his enoblement  – discovers her husband Mike (John Sessions) has been having a five-year affair with her best friend Pamela (Josie Lawrence). Understandably miffed, she storms out of their idyllic suburban mansion and fetches up at the council estate tenement London flat of  her erstwhile left-wing activist sister, Bif (Celia Imrie), whom she’s not seen for the past ten years after their lives went separate ways. The one a prim and proper  – and somewhat snobby – traditionalist, the other a free spirit who still enjoys sex and is part of  a local dance club with her friends, antique furniture restorer and odd job man Charlie (Timothy Spall), retired lawyer Jackie (Joanna Lumley who has the funniest – if hardly original – line) and Ted (David Heyman) who doesn’t seem to do much at all. Charlie and Ted live on barges, the latter’s wife having passed away, the former’s (Sian Thomas) in a nursing home suffering from dementia.

The relationship between the sisters is initially frosty, as is that between Sandra and Charlie, but, inevitably the chill thaws, bonds are renewed, new attractions formed. Equally inevitably, there’s a terminal illness waiting in someone’s wings as sure as the film carries a live life, be who you really are message.

In an unlikely development in order to provide some location colour, the dance club members are talent-spotted while performing a Christmas flash mob multi-style dance routine in aid of Age UK (cue some product placement proselytizing by Lumley) and invited to take part in a dance show in Rome. So, will Sandra loosen up, change her constipated hairstyle, dance while she vacuums  and bring music back into her life, will she and Charlie fall in love at the Trevi fountain, will Mike come asking for her to take him back, will there be life decisions to be made? Do you really need to ask.

Resolutely inoffensive (there’s jokes about laxatives and penises and one f word), the script predictably balances sobs and smiles, laughter and tears while, since the feelgood is the keyword,  only ever skirting the OAP issues of  ageing, loneliness, love and mortality.  With performances are as solid as you expect and the dance routines never unconvincingly slick, it’s warm, snuffly, bittersweet stuff that will appeal to those who found The Exotic Marigold Hotel a bit too demanding, but it totters rather than glides across the cinematic dance floor. (Empire Great Park,; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Game Night (15)

The year’s funniest film so far, this is an often hilarious ensemble comedy that still manages to find room for a dose of violence (though always in context) in its cocktail of suburban hysteria, sleight of hand illusion, marital problems and the ever reliable drug runners and mobsters out for revenge plot.

With a prologue following them from a rival trivia team captains meet cute to a game of charades proposal, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, a highly competitive married couple who, every Friday, have over their middle-class yuppie friends, married high-school sweethearts Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), dimbulb Ryan (a delightful Billy Magnussen) and his latest equally air-headed lookalike blonde bimbo, for Game Night. But not, however, their passive-aggressive cop next door neighbour Gary (a creepy scene stealing Jesse Plemon) who they’ve tried to avoid since he split up with his wife, with whom they were friends.

However, on this particular night, Max is on edge because his estranged, smug and far more successful venture capitalist brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), under whose shadows he’s always lived, is in town and calling over. Indeed, it would seem that it’s the stress of trying and failing to compete with his brother that’s led Max to have a low sperm count and their inability to have kids, which is a bone of domestic contention.

Nevertheless, despite Brooks’ put downs and an embarrassing story about Max trying to fellate himself as a teenager, the evening passes off uneventfully enough. At the end, however, he says that they should come to his place the following week for what he promises will be Game Night ramped to 11 – the winner to get the keys to his classic Chevrolet Stingray, Max’s dream car and a symbol of everything he’s aspired to and never reached.

So, everyone duly turns up at Brooks’  place, Billy this time, having got the message, accompanied by intelligent and British co-worker Sarah (Sharon Horgan dispensing droll one-liners) as his date.

Brooks’ plan for the night is a variation on murder mystery role play, explaining that, at some point, a couple of goons will come in and kidnap one of them, the others having to piece together the clues and track them down, thereby winning the car.

And so, along comes one of the company’s actors posing as an FBI agent (Jeffrey Wright) to warn them there’s kidnappers in the area and provide them the game plans, shortly followed by two armed thugs bursting in and, after a fierce and realistic-looking furniture smashing fight in the kitchen, bundling off Brooks. The others are impressed. It’s only later, after the clueless Annie and Max have tracked them down and she’s somehow managed to shoot him in the arm, that they realise that it was actually for real.

Without revealing too much, suffice to say Brooks hasn’t been exactly truthful about the source of his wealth and now, if he’s not to be killed, the three couples have to find and steal a Fabergé egg from a crime boss (a cameoing Danny Huston)  and deliver it to the kidnappers’ boss, the Bulgarian (Michael C. Hall). During which, Gary’s marriage mementos and fluffy white dog manage to get splattered with blood, Billy discovers his favourite urban myth is true and Kevin and Michelle become embroiled in a squabble about how one of them had sex with a celebrity.

Peppered with movie in jokes (no one can remember Ed Norton played The Hulk, Annie reprises Amanda Plummer’s gun toting scene in Pulp Fiction, a hysterical Denzel Washington gag and a running reference to Fight Club that deftly underscores that this is pretty much a comedy version of David Fincher’s The Game), the whole thing is brilliantly silly and, of course, there’s that whole mouse-trap set-up just waiting to flip the spring. Take the bait and enjoy. (Cineworld Solihull;  Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


The Greatest Showman (12A)

Closer to Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge than La La Land, whose Benj Pasek and Justin Paul  also provide the songs here, first time director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon (who, having penned Chicago and Dreamgirls, knows his way around a musical) may take any number of liberties with the life of  19th century  showman and legendary hoaxer Phineas T Barnum, but succeed in serving up a fabulous sugar rush, candy coloured helping of feelgood family entertainment about the man who pretty much invented modern day entertainment.

Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the real Barnum, who looked more like Mel Smith and didn’t get into show business until he was in his 60s, Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life, positively exploding with energy in the musical routines (and let’s not forget he first made his name in musical theatre and won a Tony for the Broadway production of The Boy From Oz), but also hitting the key emotional notes when needed.

It opens with a brief background prologue, introducing the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) as the son of a struggling tailor who falls for  Charity (Skylar), the daughter of his dad’s stern and snobbish client who sends her away to  put an end to the friendship. Barnum’s father dies and the kid’s reduced to stealing food on the streets, until befriended by a disfigured stranger, he’s inspired to become more than he is and chase his Million Dreams.

Fast forward and, having made something of himself as an office clerk, the now grown Barnum marries Charity (Michelle Williams, somewhat underused), again to her father’s disapproval,  and they have two cute daughters, Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and, when the shipping company he works for goes belly-up, a flash of inspiration leads Barnum to open his American Museum, a collection of  historical wax figures and stuffed exotic animals, in the hope of attracting the curious. A bedtime observation from one of the kids that it could do with an exhibit that’s not dead then prompts him to round up all manner of society’s freaks, among them bearded lady singer Lettie  (Keala Settle), a 22-year old dwarf (Sam Humphrey) he dresses up as General  Tom Thumb, a giant, Siamese twins, a fat man, the hairy Dog Boy and,  brother and sister trapeze artists whose only ‘deformity’ is being African American, exaggerating their ‘freakishness’ for extra effect and nigger ‘humbug’.

Scamming the bank for a loan, he opens his theatre  and, proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, transforms a scathing review into  an audience magnet with the New York crowds flocking in, restyling his show as a circus with himself as the ringmaster. Looking to move beyond  lowbrow audiences, he then forms a partnership with Philip Caryle (Zac Efron in his first musical role since High School Musical and very loosely based on James Bailey of the Barnum and Bailey Circus), a bored  theatrical producer with a hefty trust fund and the sort of connections that can earn the troupe an audience with Queen Victoria.

It’s here Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the feted opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, and sees an opportunity to move from the peanut to the champagne market. Gambling both his reputation and his wealth, he signs her up for  first a New York showcase and then a mammoth American tour. Suffice to say, things do not go well, resulting in a marriage threatening scandal while, back in New York, the bigot mob protests about the ‘freaks’ get out of hand and the tentative road to romance between Philip  and Anne (Zendaya), one half of the trapeze act, is hitting some racial prejudice bumps.

Naturally, setbacks are just a spur to bigger and better success and, as such the film is very much a hymn to the underdogs chasing the American Dream, not to mention a clarion cry for diversity that strikes  a far more right on contemporary note about those on the margins than would have been the case in Barnum’s day, even if none of the troupe are given anything like a backstory.

But social commentary is secondary to the spectacle and the songs, the rooftop dance routines,  the lavish circus ring bombast, and the cast and film deliver with exuberant gusto, standout  moments being Ferguson (albeit overdubbed by Loren Allred) singing out the pain of being the outsider with Never Enough, Settle leading the charge with the showstopper  This Is Me, Jackman and Efron’s  lithe shot glass shifting barroom negotiations dance routine and the literally soaring circus ring Rewrite the Stars sequence  with Efron and Zendaya. Climaxing with Jackman leading the rousing cast finale of From Now On, this is a fabulous celebration of the power of unadulterated  entertainment to raise the spirits and fill the heart and the transition from screen to the Broadway stage  is surely a  given. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Gringo (15)

The second film this year to feature a character known as the Black Panther, except this one isn’t an African superhero but a Mexican drug cartel boss. One who wants to get its hands on a formula for producing Cannabax, a legal cannabis-based drug  that’s been developed by the Chicago pharmaceutical company run by Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and his executive – and sexually  insatiable- partner  Elaine (Charlize Theron) and which is manufactured in Mexico.  It  transpires that, when cash flow was short,  they struck  deal to supply aforementioned Beatles-loving cartel boss with certain off-the-books products, but with a merger looming they need to call an end  to this before  the company audit. And he’s not at all happy with that.

Caught in the middle of this is their unwitting middle management pawn, Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), who’s heard rumours of the merger and likely redundancies, but blissfully thinks Richard’s his buddy.  The film opens with the Rusk and Elaine relieving a call from Harold in Mexico saying he’s been kidnapped and his abductors want five million dollars. At which point, things flashback to a  couple of days earlier when the three went to Mexico to tie up loose ends, but Harold could not be found when it came to time leave. As the plot unfolds, it’s revealed that not only is Harold , who’s on the verge of bankruptcy, facing losing his job, but, in a Skype call to his wife (Thandie Newton), she says she’s been having an affair (no prizes for guessing with who)  and is leaving him.  Having rumbled that he’s going to be stitched up by Richard and Elaine,  he decides to fake the kidnapping call we heard earlier. However, things take a turn when the drug lord assumes he’s the boss with access to the formula, and so the body count rises and the twists, double crosses and misdirections pile up. The spiralling plot also involves Rusk enlisting his ex-mercenary turned aid worker brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) to find Harold and, in a redundant subplot, Amanda Seyfried who’s blissfully unaware that her boyfriend, Harry Treadway, has only taken her to Mexico because he’s been hired by some rock chick (a single scene appearance by Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris) to smuggle some Cannabax tablets  back across the border.

Directed by Edgerton’s brother, Nash, it somersaults from dark comedy to brutal violence and back again in the blink of an eye without losing its traction , wading chest high through a cynical view of  the world and those who inhabit it, with Seyfried the only decent character  not  looking out for themselves here.  Despite a tendency to clown it up, Oyelowo does well enough with a character who’s written as something of an idiot not to mention a racial stereotype, but, disreputable as their characters are, it’s Edgerton’s alpha male prick and Theron’s self-made take no prisoners bitch  with her foul mouth,  scathing insults and willingness to turn on a dime that give the film its vibrancy.  When you get down to it, it’s B-movie pulp, but it relishes the fact. (Mockingbird; Vue Star City)



I, Tonya (15)

In  1991, figure-skater Tonya Harding was America’s darling, the US Champion, a World Silver Medallist and the first American woman to successfully land the incredibly difficult  triple axel in competition. Three years later, she was the most hated woman in America, at the centre of  sensational global trial by television when she was accused of being complicit with her ex-husband Jeff Gilhooly, a dimwit with a bad moustache,  and sleazy self-appointed bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt in an attempt by hired thug Shane Stant  to break rival Nancy Kerrigan’s leg.

Playing as a dark sardonic comedy about unbridled, ruthless ambition, screenwriter  Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie don’t offer themselves up as apologists for Harding, but  the film is more sympathetic and compassionate than you might expect.  As superbly played  by Margot Robbie, Harding is brash and unconventional working class background woman with little patience for the authority figures  who clearly regard her as upstart trash and mark her down because she doesn’t fit the American image they want to project.  But she’s also a woman who, from childhood, has constantly suffered under the physical, emotional and verbal abuse of her  foul-mouthed harridan waitress mother LaVona  (BAFTA and  Oscar Supporting Actress winner and Allison Janney), jumping at the chance to escape her home life offered by  the dim-witted mean-streak Gilhooley (Sebastian Stan), only to find she’s gone from one abusive set-up to another.

However, she becomes increasingly determined to be judged on her talent and not to allow others to define who she is by what she wears or where she comes from. Under the coaching of Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), she proves her ability again and again, but remains unaccepted by the snobbish, conservative figure skating elite. Eventually ditching Rawlinson, she comes to rely on Gilhooley, even patching up their marriage to gain a veneer of respect, but, with the Lillehammer Winter Olympics approaching and Kerrigan the favourite, Jeff’s slobby, stoner conspiracy theory friend Eckhardt (a brilliantly surreal turn from Paul Walter Hauser), who still lives with his mom and has elected himself to the role of Harding’s bodyguard, suggests they send anonymous threatening letters to Kerrigan to put her off her game. By the time his two hired goons, get involved the plan has escalated to crippling her.

Part filmed as faux documentary to-camera interviews with Harding, Gilhooley, LaVona and Eckhardt (who actually did claim, as seen here, that he was an international terrorism expert) as well as recreating events on and off the ice, while never shying away from showing the abrasive, unlikeable side of  its subject, the film is at pains to stress that she (or indeed  Jeff) was never part of the plan to do Kerrigan any physical harm and is clearly on the side of those shocked by the court’s almost vengeful  punishment in banning her from figure skating forever,  Robbie’s courtroom scene begging not to not be deprived of the only thing she lived for  especially powerful.

Doing some of her own skating (her head digitally grafted to another’s body in other scenes), Robbie delivers a career-defining turn, but, even so, it’s Janney’s compelling, vitriolically funny performance as Harding’s scowling, misanthropic and toxic stage-mother who takes the gold. How  true it is  to what happened is irrelevant, it’s a great story and, as Tonya says in one the interviews, “There’s no such thing as truth. It’s bullshit. Everyone has their own truth, and life just does whatever the fuck it wants.”  (until Tue: MAC)


Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (12A)

Given the current stories flying around regarding Russian meddling in the last election and Trump’s alleged indiscretions with assorted female porn stars, this has a remarkably timely resonance, although it’s set several presidencies earlier, Felt being the FBI veteran who, as ‘Deep Throat’, gave Woodward and Bernstein the goods on  President Richard Nixon’s malfeasance.  Based on books by Felt and John D. O’Connor, the screenplay goes behind the scenes to follow the FBI investigation and how the White House sought to shut down in the investigation into Watergate.

It stars Liam Neeson who gives a solid, complex performance as Felt,  but, since he’s not killing or rescuing anyone here, the film, also which features an impressive  raft of  classy supporting names such as Diane Lane, Tom Sizemore, Josh Lucas,  Tony Goldwyn, Noah Wyle and Bruce Greenwood,  is getting only a single screen  out of town release with zero promotion.

In the job for 30 years and now assistant FBI director, essentially running the bureau as the long standing  incumbent director J Edgar Hoover has grown old and infirm, he’s summoned to the White House for advice on how the Nixon administration than remove the old man, with the virtual promise that he’ll take his place.  Inflexibly loyal, he gives the short shrift, so, when, shortly after, Hoover dies of a stroke, he discovers that he’s not stepping into his shoes and, instead, L. Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas), a man with no law-enforcement experience and more susceptible to White House control, is appointed temporary director instead.

The film doesn’t shy from suggesting that Felt’s initial whistleblowing is partly down to resentment at being passed over, but his driving motivation is his sense of duty and loyalty to the organisation and his horror at seeing it being prevented from doing its job and an attempt to turn it into a White House lapdog.

As such, Neeson exudes the necessary sense of moral righteousness, even if passing confidential information for the country and the Bureau’s greater good goes against everything he believes. As such the biopic  unfolds as a ticking lock political thriller, often shot in shadows with clandestine meetings, the central narrative complemented by a subplot involving Feldt’s  troubled marriage and his search for their missing estranged daughter, Joan, who may have run away to become an anti-Vietnam war activist, possibly with The Weather Underground domestic terrorist  movement. It’s not always subtle, but it is consistently engrossing and deserves far better than to be simply tossed away  as a contractual obligation.  (Showcase Walsall)



Pacific Rim Uprising (12A)

Having notched up some $400 million, it was inevitable that there’d be a  sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s giant robots (Jaegers) battle giant monsters (Kaiju) movie featuring the pilots linked by, er, a neural handshake. This time round he takes the producer’s role leaving Netflix director  Steven S. DeKnight to cobble the clichés into shape.

Set ten years after the original, when Idris Elba’s General Pentecost sacrificed himself to seal the breach through which the monsters were coming, we find his son Jake (John Boyega, who wasn’t in the first film), having washed out of giant-robot pilot school, making a  living on the black market for stolen Jaeger parts. On his latest thieving expedition, he runs into scrappy teenage orphan  urchin Amara (Cailee Spaany), who’s actually built and pilots her own mini-robot, Scrapper,  the incident seeing his adoptive sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) offering him the chance to either go to jail or help train new Jaeger cadets for the Pan Pacific Defense Force, including Amara, This reunites him with his former partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood, also not in the first film), with whom he apparently parted on bad terms.

The film coasts along on some formula training wheels for a while before getting down the main thrust, this being the drone Jaegers being developed by Mrs. Shao (Tian Jing), head of the Shao Corporation, and her right-hand man Newton  Geiszler (Charlie Day, to replace the Jaeger pilots, suddenly going rogue and revealing a link to the Kaiju, forcing the stalwart Jaegers out of dry dock to take them on, crewed by Jake, Nate and the newbies, and a race against the clock battle to prevent a gargantuan Kaiju making it to Mt. Fuji and precipitating the end of mankind.

It’s all written in broad action movie shorthand about finding your true hero, overcoming hopeless odds, bickering and bonding, etc, etc, a betrayal twist thrown in for good measure and also the return of Newton’s  former lab partner  Gottleib (Burn Gorman). It still comes on like a Transformers wannabe, without the transforming bit, but the cast are game enough to take it all seriously, although it has to be said Eastwood Jr has none of his dad’s screen charisma, and the huge set piece heavy metal scraps are suitably loud and kinetic. But it misses del Toro’s imagination and ability to invest depth into banality and never fails to escape the obvious influences, from Transformers to Godzilla and winds up being essentially a rehash of Independence Day: Resurgence, right down to the now we take the fight to them  last line. The chances of a third incarnation of either  film  seeing the inside of a cinema seems highly remote.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Peter Rabbit (PG)

It’s difficult to know which was the more ludicrous, calls to boycott the film for its scene involving someone with blackberry allergies being pelted with the fruit  or  director Will Cluck apologising for it. Especially when the real cause for complaint, at least from purists, for whom this will be a case of Myxomatosis , is the way it’s taken Beatrix Potter’s gentle tales about Peter, the flopsy rabbits and the other assorted Windermere wildlife that populated her books and delivered this brash, energetic live action and CGI version looking to put hip into the hop. Here, voiced by James Corden,  Peter is a bunny with attitude (and who resents being referred to as a rodent) leading his fellow flop-ears on daring raids into Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden until one day, just as it seems he’s destined to become pie after finally being caught, the old man keels over and dies. In celebration the animals run free over the land once more and take over the house. But then along comes McGregor’s nephew, Thomas (Domhall Gleeson) who, recently let go from his toy department managers  job at Harrods, has inherited the  place and intends to fix it up and sell it so he can open his own toy store. He also has an aversion to rabbits, though he’s at pains to keep this from his aspiring artist neighbour, Bea (Rose Byrne who also voices Jemima Puddle-Duck), to whom he’s taken a shine, and  who regards Peter and the other bunnies as almost family. What follows is Peter and the other rabbits’ attempt to rid themselves of the new McGregor and then, try and get him to come back when they realise it’s threatened Bea’s happiness and future.

Joined by the voices of Margot Robbie (Flopsy and narrator), Elizabeth Debicki (Mopsy), Daisy Ridley (Cotton-Tail) and Colin Moody (Benjamin) as the other rabbits with Sia as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, it would love to be a countryside answer to Paddington, but it lacks the same innocent charm and humour, the rabbits’ antics often verging on the cruel (the rabbits wire the house to give Thomas electric shocks).

Even so, if you can put aside thoughts of Potter’s originals (not easy since the flashbacks are in the style of her drawings) , this has enough knockabout fun for the youngsters and several  in-jokes (including a  Babe reference, a literal deer in the headlights moment and a self-aware nod to movie cliches)  even socialist class commentary (Pigling Bland as an actual aristocratic  swine gobbling up everything)  for the grown-ups to earn its carrots, and comes with an underlying message about the English countryside belonging to those who actually live there.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC;  Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Red Sparrow (15)

Based on the espionage novel by former CIA operative Jason Matthews who, in turn, was inspired by the so-called Russian Sparrow Schools of the Cold War where agents were trained in the art of sexual entrapment and compromise of targets, whore-spies in essence, this reteams Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence and their star Jennifer Lawrence for a spy thriller that, for all its violence, of which some is very gruesomely graphic,  has more in common with the cerebral bleak and moody works of John Le Carre than the high octane Atomic Blonde.

When her glittering career as a Bolshoi Ballet prima ballerina is ended by on an onstage ‘accident’ that shatters a bone in her leg and having demonstrated her capacity for cold violence on those responsible,  Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is recruited by uncle Vanya (a suitably reptilian Matthias Schoenaerts), deputy director of external intelligence, to seduce and plant a bugged phone on a suspected official, in return for seeing that her invalid mother (Joely Richardson) continues to receive the expensive medical care she needs and they’re not evicted from their Bolshoi-owned apartment. However, when the target is then killed by a  state assassin, she’s given two choices, train as a sparrow or be eliminated as a witness. Reluctantly trained under the ruthless eye of the school’s icy matron (Charlotte Rampling) to use her sexual allure and to recognise what a designated target needs to allow her to become the missing piece of his puzzle, she’s assigned by Russian general Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) to get close to Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton in gruff mode), a CIA agent who, in the tense cross-cutting opening sequence in Gorky Park is seen distracting the cops so his high-ranking mole isn’t arrested  and who, his cover blown, is subsequently confined to US soil by his bosses. However, when its learned that the mole is still operational, but won’t deal with anyone else, he’s allowed to go to Budapest and, since his presence there will be known to the Russians, await contact so he can transfer handling to another agent.

Moving into a safe house with a fellow sparrow (Thekla Reuten) who warns her to find a friend and is working her own mission, Dominika, who deliberately use her own name rather than the alias she’s been given, soon contrives for her and Nash’s paths to cross. However, since its clear from the start that both openly acknowledge that the other is a spy and what they are each after, when she agrees to work for the Americans in targeting (in the film’s London-based scenes) a US senator’s boozy chief of staff (Mary-Louise Parker) who’s agreed to sell secrets,  the film’s complexity lies in trying to work out who is playing who. Like Dominika, the densely layered narrative plays its cards close to its chest, wrong-footing audiences with apparent double-crosses and giving nothing away until the final moments  and a flashback replay of some of her hitherto unexplained actions.

Adopting a convincing Russian accent, Lawrence’s steely, inscrutable performance that makes her character impossible to read shows why she’s arguably the finest actress of her generation, while Edgerton, Schoenaerts, Rampling, Irons and, in a cameo as the head of intelligence, Ciaran Hinds all do top shelf work.

As well as being a tense, intelligent and compelling thriller, the whole subtext of men exploiting and abusing female sexuality strikes a particularly timely note with Dominika likely to elicit a go girl reaction as she proves more than capable of her own power plays. Matthews’ novel was the first in a trilogy, so here’s hoping this sparrow takes wing again soon. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Reel; Vue Star City)


Tomb Raider (12A)

Originally played by Angelina Jolie, now Alicia Wikander takes over as  video game icon Lara Croft for an origin story that, directed by the fascinatingly named Roar Uthaug, actually steals some scenes directly from the game, such as Lara  vaulting a chasm with the aid of an ice-pick, and expands them into full blown action sequences. Before any of this, however, you have to sit through the set-up. Seven years after her corporate mogul father Richard’s (Dominic West) disappearance, Lara’s being urged by acting CEO Anna Miller (Kristen Scott Thomas) to sign the paper that will officially declare him dead and transfer the company and Croft manor to her.

Understandably, she’s reluctant to finally write him off, but, given she’s working as a food delivery cyclist, living in a shabby London flat and too broke to pay for her kickboxing lessons, she finally agrees. However, just before putting pen to paper, she’s fiddling with a wooden puzzle when out pops a note from dad containing cryptic clue and a key, which, in turn, leads her to discovering a hidden room in the family vault and the fact that he had a secret life as some kind of adventurer. He’s left behind a video message telling her to burn all his papers relating to  Himiko, a mythical Japanese queen who was apparently entombed  on a deserted island to save the world from her black arts. Naturally, Lara does no such thing, but, pawning the jade charm (cue unfunny cameo by Nick Frost) he gave her before he left for the last time, she sets off  for Hong Kong to find the captain of the boat dad hired and eventually ends up setting sail with the man’s son Lu Ren  (Daniel Wu in a  largely underused, thankless role) in a search to find what happened to both their fathers and wind up shipwrecked on the  lost island.

Naturally, all this entails some mysterious organisation, Trinity, which is also after the dead queen’s remains, represented here by hired gun Mathias Vogel (Walter Goggins), who, with his armed thugs, has pressed assorted natives into forced labour to excavate likely sites. Escaping from their clutches, it’ll be no surprise to learn who Lara runs into as the rest of the film settles down being forced into entering the tomb, navigating all its traps and learning Himiko’s true secret.

Punctuated by some  schmaltzy sentimental sepia-toned childhood flashbacks to show just how much dad and daughter loved each other, and how she was determined to master bow and arrow, this is about the formative Lara, stubborn, skilled and athletic, but  not yet as accomplished as she needs to be (though she can still survive a tempestuous sea, plummeting from a  cliff into a raging river, crashing through trees and being knifed in the stomach) , her coming of age marked by making her first kill.  Vikander does a decent job of the physical action, though the script does neither her nor the rest of the cast  any favours with its nuts and bolts dialogue, but, while the set pieces are thrilling enough, it’s hard to shake the feeling of having seen it all before, not least in the Indiana Jones series. Not a Croft Original, then. The ending naturally sets things up for the continuing Lara vs. Trinity saga, but while a sequel wouldn’t go amiss, you don’t feel any desperate  need to rush for one. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Unsane (15)

Shot entirely on an iPhone (well, three of them actually), Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a smart psychological thriller that would have been considerably smarter had it not tipped its hand so early on.  Claire Foy is Sawyer Valentini,  a take no shit data analyst  who now works in Pennsylvania having recently moved from Boston.  Although she’s told no one why, the reason was because she had a stalker. Now, following a Tinder hook-up that triggers a trauma, she thinks she’s hallucinating him and takes herself along to see a counsellor at the Highland Creek therapy clinic. Having admitted that she’s sometimes had a suicidal though, she unknowingly signs up for voluntary admission and treatment. It’s supposed to be just 24 hours but her understandable response seen sees this extended to seven days and increased medication as she tries to convince the staff that she’s not mentally unstable, something the doctor and administrator are not persuaded off given that she’s accusing George (Joshua Leonard), one of the volunteer nurses on her ward, of being her stalker, Daniel, who’s followed her here.

The cops aren’t interested and when, thanks to helpful, more rational, fellow patient  (Jay Pharoah) who lends  Sawyer his secret phone,  mom (Amy Irving)  turns up she’s given the brush off and run-around, leaving promising to return with her lawyers.  However, by this point, the entire Gaslighting set-up  (is she imaging it or is it all real) has been brushed aside and One  Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest  has been replaced by Sleeping With The Enemy.

Even so, the film, which was largely inspired by news reports of how a chain of  American psychiatric hospitals was  running a scam by keeping patients unnecessarily until their insurance ran out, works efficiently enough as a trashy b-movie woman in peril thriller, Foy and Pharaoh’s solid work complemented by a suitably unhinged turn from Juno Temple as Sawyer’s bed neighbour as well as an uncredited A-list flashback cameo as Sawywr’s security assessor. It may be pushing it to tag its ‘woman’s claims disbelieved’ thread as  the first psychothriller  of the #MeToo era, but that doesn’t mean it won’t  have you biting the nails. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


A Wrinkle In Time  (PG)

Adapted from the 1962 tween novel by Madeleine L’Engle, Selma director Ava r DuVernay’s big screen adaptation plays like a New Age trip for thirteen year olds. Four years after her NASA scientist father (Chris Pine) went missing while experimenting on bending time with something called the tesseract, science geek Meg Murry  (Storm Reid) has withdrawn into herself, her grades have slipped, she’s developed an attitude and ostracised pretty much everyone at school to the extent that her super-intelligent adoptive brother Charles Wallace  (Deric McCabe) takes it upon himself to keep an eye on her breaktimes.

Then, after the kid puts in an SOS call to the universe,  into her life comes, first dippy red-head Mrs Whatsit, (Reese Witherspoon), and subsequently Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) , who speaks using famous quotations (though ranking Outkast alongside Shakespeare’s a bit much), and, towering above them  in what looks like a Black Panther female warrior’s reject costume,  the diva-esque Mrs Which (Opra Winfrey) who are, apparently, magical angel  incarnations of the universe  who have come to help Meg find her dad. So, joined by her brother  and Calvin (Levi Miller), a classmate with a puppy-eyed crush, they tesser through a wrinkle in the fabric of time  to  another dimension with its dodgy CGI backdrops and freefloating sentient flowers where, taking to the skies as Witherspoon transforms into some sort of flying lettuce leaf,  they hope to find what happened to him.

However,  the reclusive resident seer (Zach Galifianakis) informs them that her father’s been taken by the It, an all consuming darkness that wants to envelop the universe. Apparently, since there’s no light in Camazotz, where It lives, although Meg’s determination is sufficient to get everyone there,  the gaudily overdressed threesome can’t  stay. But, before leaving each gives Meg a gift.  However, once they’ve gone, the darkness attacks and, in the figure of the gaudily dressed moustachioed  Red  (Michael Peña) abducts and  possesses Charles Wallace , so now Meg has to fight the It to rescue both him and her father and get back to Earth.

A  parable about overcoming insecurities and lack of self-esteem, confronting your flaws and weaknesses (the darkness within, if you like) and being an individual, it’s heart and message are clearly in the right place, but it’s all so saccharine and twee (at times it recalls Robin Williams’ head trip through What Dreams May Come) that  it feels like you’re trapped in some third rate videogame being suffocated with candyfloss and overdosing on smiles,. The dialogue is (surprisingly given the screenwriter is Frozen’s Jennifer Lee) unrelentingly cumbersome, the characters spouting huge chunks of exposition, and while Reid manages to rise above the mess to bring soulfulness to her insecurities (she finds it hard to take a compliment), everyone around her is coasting at best, Gugu Mbatha-Raw criminally wasted as Meg’s mom while Oprah Winfrey’s stellar performance in The Color Purple is now but a distant memory.

Sprawlingly uneven, almost totally devoid of tension and with none of the emotional clout you’d expect, not to mention featuring utterly unmemorable songs from Sia and Sade and some spectacularly shoddy special effects,  the biggest wrinkle here is likely to be your nose at the bad smell. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld


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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