Thrown out of her shared New York apartment by boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) who’s fed up with her coming home hung-over from all night drinking sessions, online journo Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her now-abandoned family home on the sticks. Here she runs into, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a good-natured friend from junior school, who offers her a job at the sprawling family bar he’s inherited where she gets to both serve the drinks and sample them hanging out after closing timer with Oscar and his loser buddies, the bitter Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and the dim but good-looking Joel (Austin Stowell), the latter of whom she eventually ends up bedding.
Waking from another alcoholic binge with no memories of the night before, she finds the TV buzzing with reports about a giant lizard-like monster that appeared from a lightning cloud in the South Korean capital of Seoul, made some odd gestures, and vanished, leaving a swathe of destruction behind. It happens again, the next night, at exactly the same time and, for all her alcohol fuddled thinking, it doesn’t take long for Gloria to realise that the appearances coincide exactly with her making her drunken way back home through the local kids playground. Or that it mirror her nervous tic of scratching her head.
So, she drags the three guys down to the sandbox and gets them to watch a TV app on their mobile phones while she runs through a series of gestures and actions, the monster again appearing in Seoul and doing the same movements. It also transpires that this isn’t the first time it appeared. That would have been 25 years ago something connected to Gloria’s repressed memories of an incident as a schoolgirl. Then it gets more complicated when the monster is joined by a giant robot as she realises that Oscar,. Who turns out to have quite a jealous streak, has the same abilities.
The latest oddball outing by cult Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, it centres on an intriguing conceit, the monster and the robot clearly metaphorical manifestations of makes Gloria’s messed up psyche and Oscar’s pent-up resentment and anger. Although the root cause of all this is eventually explained, Vigalondo makes no concerted attempt to detail why events should take place in Seoul, its suspension of disbelief extending to some basic logic in terms of character motivations and action. Nor does there seem more than a cursory concern on Gloria’s part for the hundreds of deaths her towering metaphor has caused.
The supporting characters, Tim especially, aren’t given much more than a one dimensional treatment, indeed, save for one scene as Oscar’s nasty side ignites, both Garth and Joel are pretty much dispensable to the plot.
That said, blending in some black comedy, there’s a compelling psychological intrigue that keeps you involved as the film evolves from rom com to Godzilla-like disaster movie to a potent character-driven self-absorption melodrama about two psychological trauma. Playing against type, the two leads are the core, Hathaway turning in a disarming self-mocking note while Sudeikis perfectly shades his character’s transition from ostensible nice guy to one consumed by his self-pity and inner demons. In many ways it echoes the recent A Monster Calls, although its climax, while equally cathartic, is rather less redemptive and decidedly unforgiving. And oddity then, but one well worth puzzling over. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Only ever seen in a couple of flashbacks, the titular character is a German soldier killed during WWI, the fiancé of Anna (Paula Beer) who is now, in the spring of 1919, living with his grief-ridden parents, doctor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stoetzner) and his wife, Magda (Marie Gruber), in the small German town of Oldenburg. One of the doctor’s patients would like to marry her, but she remains true to her beloved, Then, one day, visiting his empty grave, she sees someone else as left flowers. This turns out to be Adrien (Pierre Niney), a delicate young Frenchman who tells her he was a close friend of Frantz who, before the war studied in Paris and was a confirmed Francophile.
She takes him to meet the Hoffmeisters, thinking he may bring them some comfort. Although the father’s hatred of the French over his son’s death, means this doesn’t initially go well, Adrien is gradually accepted and becomes a frequent, welcomed visitor as, a former orchestra violinist, he recalls teaching Franzt, who also played fiddle, and the two of them visiting the Louvre. An attraction also clearly grows between him and Anna; however, Adrien has a truth to confess in that his connection to Frantz was not what he has told them, but, although not what you’re teased into thinking from the Paris flashbacks, something far more significant and, potentially, unforgiveable, a revelation that sees him return to France and yet a further complicated development in his and Anna’s relationship when she visits and meets his family.
Loosely based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby, although the second half other narrative is original, this is director Francois Ozon’s first film to be shot in mostly German and on 35mm with large parts of it in black and white. However, his meticulous craft and familiar themes remain firmly in evidence, the film mirroring the similarities between the two countries and the bereaved after the war, with a pacifist message of reaching out in reconciliation, forgiveness and how sometimes a lie is better than the truth.
Beer is terrific, but all the core cast deliver strong and engaging performances, its mournful tone finding a note of hope and resolution as it ends with a poignant final shot of two characters contemplating one of Manet’s most famous but disturbing paintings. (Electric)
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)
Forget Le Morte d’Arthur, forget Camelot, forget T.H. White’s classic novel, forget John Boorman’s Excalibur, this is Guy Ritchie’s vision of the Arthurian story, recast as a sort of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Broadswords, more rock n roll than troubadour. The gist of this revision 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 kills 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 , as taught the arts 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 rock with a sword handle sticking out of it, prompting stories about a future king who will return, pull it out and free them 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, it rattles along through a series of extravagant set piece s 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, among them a certain David Beckham as a Blackleg, and you can’t say it lacks for energy or entertaining action. However, following in the wake of the disappointing performance of Ritchie’s last rework, the underrated Man From U.N.C.L.E., with its disastrous opening both in America and international markets, it’s 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 shame. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Directed by Judd Apatow, Trainwreck, her first starring feature and 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, directed by The Night Before Christmas’s Jonathan Levine and 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), to 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 for 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
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. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; 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, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; 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. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Belko Experiment (18)
Director Greg McLean and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of office drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO, Barry (Tony Goldwyn), reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted in their heads start going off, that’s clearly not the case.
At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.
Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker Michael Rooker, stoner Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Electric)
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. (Empire Great Park; 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Get Out (15)
Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.
A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed, neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re like part of the family. Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.
Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield) of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’
It is, of course, rather too late for that and it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.
Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)
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; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Hailed as the British comedy of the year, a title it might earn by default given the opposition so far, this big screen outing by the Mighty Boosh partnership of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay) is more accurately a second division Hot Fuzz that spoofs such naff 70s secret agent series as The Six Million Dollar Man. Indeed, that’s clearly the inspiration behind Mindhorn, both the name of the character and the TV show, in which the smugly arrogant Richard Thorncroft played the titular Isle of Man detective with a bionic eye that could reveal the truth.
Now, years after cancellation, he’s a bald washed-up has been with a paunch and a toupee reduced to doing commercials for male corsets and orthopaedic socks. Until, that is, his agent (Harriet Walter) sets him up with a job back on the Isle of Man where the police are trying to catch a killer (Russel Tovey), a mentally disturbed youth who calls himself Kestrel and will only talk to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The idea is that Thorncroft will talk to him on the phone in character while the cops, headed up by DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough), trace the call, while Thorncroft tries to milk the publicity with the help of his seedy old agent Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) and his former romantic interest co-star and old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) who now works for a local TV channel.
Naturally, nothing goes to plan, and as the plot thickens, Thorncroft discovers the suspect may not be the real killer, that his former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), is now married to Patricia and that he apparently has a daughter he knew nothing about.
There’s a high degree of silliness, some inspired, some not, as well as frankly embarrassing cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves while, as played by Steve Coogan, the character of Peter Eastman who went on to mega success in the Windjammer spin-off series, just feels half-written. Coogan’s appearance also can’t help but prompt comparison with his own Alpha Papa, and not one that does this any favours.
Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
Miss Sloan (12A)
When high-powered insomniac lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) goes to bed, she usually grabs a John Grisham courtroom thriller to read. The plot here wouldn’t be out of place, and, while there may not be a courtroom, there is a Senate hearing, chaired by Congressman Sperling (John Lithgow), to which Sloane has been summoned, accused of violating ethics. It’s here that the film begins, but then rolls back in time to find Sloane, who’s employed by a top DC consulting film (headed by Sam Waterson), laughing down a Senator who wants her to campaign on behalf of the NRA and turn images of mothers crying for their shot children into a women for guns message to secure a vote against gun registration.
She duly quits on moral principle ground and, taking with her all of her team save for assistant Jane (Alison Pill) .who reckons her career’s better served staying put with top associate Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), sets up camp with a smalltime lobbying firm run by idealist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) who are trying to swing the vote in favour of registration
Although you need a reasonable working knowledge of how lobbyists work, director John Madden sweeps you along, cutting back and forth between the hearing and the events leading up to it. A driven character who’s sacrificed private life for career (there’s never explored hints of a trouble childhood) and releases her tensions in hotel rooms with a hunky Southern male escort (Jake Lacy), Sloane is a compelling figure, but far from sympathetic. Determined to win, she’s willing to exploit anything and everyone to do so, something her gun violence survivor new colleague Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) learns to her cost, but, as a lobbyist, she believes the end justifies the means. She also operates on the principle that “It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”, a credo which reveals itself in an implausible third act which that may well defy narrative logic and require a credibility straining foresight that chess grandmasters would envy, but undeniably delivers a crowd pleasing sting.
While the supporting turns are solid, Mbatha-Raw in particular, this is firmly Chastain’s film, her Elizabeth Sloane an obsessive, coolly efficient Lady Macbeth without the guilty conscience who makes it her business to not only know where all the bodies are buried, but who made the shovels, but yet still with flashes of humanity behind that implacable exterior. More likely to share the box office fate of Sandra Bullock’s political consultant drama Our Brand Is Crisis than George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, both of which mined similar territory, even so, this is well worth voting for with your ticket money. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza)
The Sense of an Ending (15)
Adapted by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’ novel and directed in a gentle low key manner by Ritesh Batra, this is a bittersweet look at the memories we hide from ourselves in the reinvention of the past.
It’s built around a memorable, unassuming central performance by Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, an elderly, somewhat self-absorbed divorcee who runs a second-hand camera shop whose lawyer ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and pregnant lesbian daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) refer to him affectionately as The Mudge, as in curmudgeon.
One day, he gets a letter informing him that the mother of his teenage old flame, Veronica, has passed away and left him something in her will. Although, the now middle-aged Veronica (a coolly composed Charlotte Rampling) won’t release it to the solicitors, Tony learns that it’s a diary, written by an old schoolfriend of his, the intellectually sharp Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who inexplicably committed suicide. Annoyed at being denied what he regards as his property, Tony sets about trying to make contact with her, fantasising that there might still be a spark between them.
As Tony recounts past events to Margaret, the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother Jack (Edward Holcroft) and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tony’s forced to confront his actions.
Gradually peeling away false memories to get at the truth, although Broadbent’s inherent warmth somewhat softens Tony’s selfish and narcissistic character and the redemptive coda is an emotional cop out, it’s a slowburning work the impact of which creeps up on you, its small moments gathering to a heartbreaking climax. (Electric)
Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche, in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.
Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down. Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them. To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.
So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?
The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Their Finest (12A)
Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.
The film is to be based on the story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway
Then, to the consternation of all concerned, looking to get the US into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.
Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them. On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.
Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Zookeeper’s Wife (12A)
In occupied Poland, during World War II, Antonina Żabińska and zookeeper husband Jan sheltered 300 Jews from the Nazis in the Warsaw Zoo, recording her experiences in a diary, subsequently adapted into a book by Diane Ackerman on which this is based. Directed by Niki Caro, who has yet to better debut feature Whale Rider, it stars a distractingly accented Jessica Chastain in the title role with Johan Heldenbergh as Jan, opening in the idyllic summer of 39 as she cycles around the zoo greeting and feeding the animals. The imoment is abruptly shattered by the German invasion, the zoo itself being bombed, setting camels, tigers and other animals loose on the ravaged city streets in a series of somewhat strikingly surreal images as the invading army are given no option but to gun them down. It is, of course, a symbolic portent of what is to follow as the city’s Jews are systematically rounded up and herded off to concentration camps in crammed trains. Meanwhile, having convinced chief Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) to allow the zoo to remain open as a pig farm, providing meat for the solders while the surviving prize specimens are shipped to Germany for selective breeding as a sort of animal master race, she takes the courageous decision to shelter their Jewish neighbours in the basement of her house, shipped in from the Warsaw Ghetto by Jan in the truck he uses to collect the garbage to feed the pigs.
Just as she refers to the place as now being a human zoo, so does the film adopt a similarly literal narrative, underlining the image by Antonina looking after one traumatised teenager sheltering in one of the cages. As part of her efforts to keep the zoo open and her new charges safe, she starts flirting with the eugenics obsessed Heck, who has naturally fallen for her, which, of course, despite her intentions, doesn’t sit well with the stoic Jan.
Interspersed with third act scenes of the Resistance fighting the Germans in the streets, it’s all solidly made and, for the most, decently acted, but everything is about surface drama, Caro directing audience emotions with predictable shots of smilingly unaware young children being bundled into trains and such familiar Holocaust signifiers as piles of suitcases. It’s all nicely polished, but rarely engages with the complexity of the events or the emotions. Intercutting between the Ghetto’s destruction and a Passover meal is banal filmmaking, while Żabińska’s young son’s remark that it’s snowing as the ashes float gracefully through the sky should never have made it to the page let alone the screen.
Another problem is that, while the film celebrates the couple’s bravery, the Jews they shelter remain somewhat sketchy, emblematic characters. Tastefully done but ultimately perfunctorily told with only the faintest excursion into tension, it never rises to the heights of the recent similarly themed The Book Thief, far less Agnieska Holland’s Into Darkness, seemingly far more concerned with the visual details than the human ones, whose fates ultimately have less of an impact than those of the animals. (MAC)
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