I, Daniel Blake (15) A sobering serio-comic tragedy for our benefit cuts times, Ken Loach returns from presumed retirement to skewer the callousness of an uncaring system, opening with just voices over the credit titles as recently widowed, 59-year-old Newcastle joiner Daniel (stand-up comedian Dave Johns) delivers a series of increasingly frustrated responses to the ‘health care professional’ who, in assessing his ability to work in regards to his Employment and Support Allowance, is simply ticking the boxes of irrelevant questions and, lacking any real medical knowledge, disregarding the fact that he’s recovering from a heart attack.
Inevitably, although his doctors and physiotherapists have told him not to return to work, he’s found fit to work and his application’s denied. Duly visiting the job centre for interview, he’s met with a minefield of implacable digital-by-defaults bureaucracy, form filling requirements and threats of sanctions, the patronising staff ignoring his protestations that he can’t fill anything in on line as he doesn’t have a computer and doesn’t know how to use one. While at the centre, he witnesses the treatment of a Katie (Hayley Squires) a young single mother and her two kids, recently relocated from London, who, unfamiliar with the local geography, are late for an appointment and refused benefits. He comes to her aid and both are duly ejected. Being who he is, however, a man of kindness and compassion, he helps her further, getting her food and doing repairs around her new flat, bonding with her and the children, the self-possessed Daisy (Briana Shann) and the younger, OCD Dylan (Dylan McKiernan), accompanying her to the food bank where she has a breakdown and trying to come to the rescue when circumstances force her into taking work as an ‘escort’.
The relationship between the members of this impromptu family and the good natured rapport between Daniel and his chancer high-rise neighbour stand in direct contrast to the uncaring attitudes of those embodying the Department of Work and Pensions, although, to be fair, there is one token job centre employee who does show sympathy and tries to help Daniel through the labyrinth.
Written by regular collaborator Paul Laverty, there are times when it does edge into either sentimentality or caricature, but the central characterisations and performances (kids included) are superb and both the act of protest scene that gives rise to the title and Daniel’s final testimony will make you want to cheer and cry respectively. At the end of the day, its social comment about a Kafkaesque bureaucracy isn’t saying anything we don’t already know, but, as the government’s war of attrition on the poor continues to gather force, it’s movingly and inspirationally potent reminder to those who see everyone seeking benefits as scroungers, that those on the other side of the desk, on the other end of the phone, aren’t clients or numbers, but people with feelings and rights, especially to their dignity and respect.(Electric)
The Greasy Strangler (18)
When John Waters set out to shock in his early films, they may have been amateurish in execution and in bad taste, but they had a sense of wit, humanity and political agenda. However, while clearly influenced by Waters, Jim Hosking’s gross out horror comedy has precious little of any of that. Middle-aged Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) lives with his grease-obsessed father Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels), the pair of them, clad in matching pin tops and shirts, running fake disco tours round the local neighbourhood, pointing out locations where they claim the Bee Gees supposedly wrote their Saturday Night Fever lyrics. On one such tour, they meet the plus-size Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) who first becomes Brayden’s girlfriend, and then starts screwing dad instead.
Ronnie also happens to be the local serial killer, the greasy strangler, who goes about his work covered in grease (which, if we’re being logical, would surely make it hard to get a grip round anyone’s throat?) , offing anyone who upsets him. Which is pretty much what passes for a plot in what might be argued as a film about sexual and psychological father-son rivalry with the latter trying to break free of the former’s overbearing domineering nature, but, for the most, largely entails dad exposing his lengthy prosthetic penis on every possible occasion and everyone constantly repeating the same lines of inane and unfunny dialogue, mostly “you’re a bullshit artist”, before a somewhat surreal and bizarre ending.
With possibly deliberately bad blank acting, cheap and amateurish gore effects, stilted direction, provocative offensiveness and infantile dialogue, you have to admire the cast for immersing themselves in their cheesily unpleasant characters. But, save for one inspired moment when Ronnie attempts to disguise himself as a private eye, this is just puerile at best and sickening at worst. (Sat: Electric)
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (12A)
Despite the iffy reviews and audience indifference which met the first film, Cruise seems to have been determined to turn the Len Wise character into a franchise. However, no matter what you call a turd, it remains a turd. Perfunctorily directed by Edward Zwick, who seems to have no idea of or flair for action movies, this lacks anything resembling visual or technical style, while the moth-eaten plot is riddled with holes and the ‘terse’ dialogue wouldn’t pass muster in an amateur screenwriting contest.
It opens promisingly enough with an extended version of the trailer, although this has nothing to do with what follows other than to set up the connection between Reacher, no longer a major in the Military Police, and his replacement, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Eventually turning up in Washington buy her the dinner he promised, he finds she’s been arrested in espionage charges, immediately sussing a set-up and setting out to find out what’s going on. It seems that two of her officers were shot in Afghanistan while investing possible sales of army weapons to insurgents, and now those responsible want her out of the picture too.
So, contriving to get himself arrested and sent to the same secure facility, he busts her out before they can kill her and the pair take off to uncover who’s behind the conspiracy and prove her innocence. Matters get complicated with the introduction of Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a 15-year-old whose ex-prostitute mother has lodged a paternity claim with the army alleging Reacher’s the father. Naturally, the bad guys, who work for the obligatory corrupt arms suppliers, decide to use her to get to Reacher once he sticks his nose into their business.
So, now we have three of them on the run from both the usual array of fixated hitman (Patrick Heusinger), ineffectual henchmen, the military and the cops in a chase that eventually climaxes in New Orleans, the only time the lumbering and repetitive film shows any sense of life.
Yarosh does the best she can with a character the script requires to be and act differently depending on where they are in the plot and Smolders is far better than the film warrants. However, even for a character whose feelings are kept hidden, Cruise seems unusually limited here, registering his emotions by either narrowing his eyes or clenching his jaw, in close up, though that may just be him trying to figure out what went wrong with the script, and even the fight scenes, while decidedly violent, lack the excitement of a Mission Impossible. It’s symptomatic of the lack of imagination on display that these take place in the prime clichés of kitchen, a deserted warehouse and on the docks. Firmly in the B-movie leagues, it brainlessly whiles away and hour or so, but Cruise really should take the title to heart if he’s contemplating a third installment. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Keeping Up With The Joneses (15)
The new neighbours who aren’t what they seem is a well worn plot device, and feels particularly threadbare in this ho hum espionage comedy that almost never gets out of third gear. Living in a sort of happy valley Atlanta cul-de-sac, their kids just off on summer camp, Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher are Jeff and Karen Gaffney; she designs toilets and he’s a Human Resources counselor for MBI, an aerospace defence corporation. He doesn’t have the same security clearance level as his neighbour, Dan (Matt Walsh), who works upstairs on the hush hush operations, but he does have internet access on his computer, which is why everyone keeps popping down to use it.
Which is the reason why married government agents Tim (John Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot) Jones, move in across the road, he supposedly a top travel writer with a glass blowing hobby (he gives the Gaffneys a sculpture as a gift) and she a curvaceous social-media consultant with a sideline in charity work. The ever gregarious, if slightly geeky and socially needy, Jeff is keen to bond with someone who lives a far more interesting and exciting life than he does, even if a trip to a back room Chinese restaurant almost gets him killed by snake venom from his meal. Karen, however, is less willing to take things on trust and, tailing Natalie, she sees her make a drop, leading to she and Jeff sneaking into the Jones’ home and finding all manner of high tech surveillance gear. Which now explains why Tim was pumping Jeff for info on his colleagues.
Suffice to say, this aspect of the plot is swiftly abandoned when, rescuing the amateur sleuths from a gunfight, Tim and Natalie confess who they really are that someone’s using Jeff’s computer to sell military secrets. All of which climaxes in an ineffectually staged showdown when the Gaffneys agree to pull a sting on the villain behind everything (Patton Oswalt).
Underlying all this is Jeff coming to realise what boring and sexless lives he and his wife live compared to their new neighbours (even without their spy activities), but, like the main thrust of the plot, it’s all handled in such a bland manner as to never really engage, a slimmed down Galifianakis seeming to have lost his comedic touch along with his weight.
A by the numbers screenplay does the rest of the cast few favours either, Fisher’s never really given anything in her character to get a handle on, Hamm feels equally adrift as a man who might quite envy humdrum Jeff’s life, while Godot largely seems to be there to looks sexy in lingerie.
When things liven up in the third act there a decent quota of action, but by this time keeping up feels like running a marathon in lead boots. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Ouija – Origin of Evil (15)
Despite being a thoroughly forgettable horror, the original movie made enough money to warrant this prequel, one to which Before I Wake director and co-writer Mike Flanagan brings a little more meat and style as well as something resembling emotional depth. It will be reviewed in full later, but suffice to say it’s set in 1967 L.A., 50 years before Ouija and provides a backstory for Paulina Zander (Annalise Basso) who, along with her younger sister Doris (Lulu Wilson), helps mom Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) run a spiritualist com from their home, duping the locals that she can communicate with the dead. Looking to add a little extra, Doris introduces an Ouija board, one which does actually seem to forge a connection with the other side. And one which sees the kid possessed by a dark, mouthless entity which could possibly be the spirit of her dead father, thereby requiring the help of local priest Father Tom (Henry Thomas), American reviews declaring it one of the year’s best and scariest horrors. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Queen of Katwe (PG)
In 2013, a year after becoming one of the first two Ugandan female chess players to become a Woman Candidate Master following her performance in the 40th Chess Olympiad, Phiona Mutesi won the trophy in the Uganda National Junior Chess Championship. Remarkable enough in itself, but all the more so since she was only 17, a teenager from Katwe, one of the worst of the Kampala slum villages where she lived with her sister Night, brothers Richard and Brian and widowed mother, Harriet. Based on the 2012 book of the same title, this inspirational feelgood Disney film tells the story of her rise from selling cassava on the streets to becoming one of the top players in the world of chess. Directed by Mira Nair and starring newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona, it begins with her curiosity at seeing a bunch of boys gathering in a shed under the supervision of Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a former football and star and now part-time ministry worker coaching sports who’s persuaded the lads to learn chess. Inviting her to join them, he quickly realises she has an innate gift and intelligence for the game and persuades her pragmatic tough love, self-sacrificing mother (superbly played by Lupita Nyong’o as a woman wanting to her children to have a better life but also remain grounded ) to allow her to develop her skills and compete. Phiona’s gathering confidence and ascendency (alongside Brian and fellow Katwe ‘pioneer’ Benjamin) in the chess ranks, competing in the wealthier parts of Kampala, the Sudan and, eventually, Russia, does, however, place more financial stress on the family, something both she and Robert, with the help of his teacher wife, seek to try and alleviate in order for her to keep playing and achieve her Master ambition.
Like most underdog sports movies, it follows a fairly predictable journey, complete with the inevitable highs and lows along the way, inevitably also using chess as a metaphor for life (“you must never surrender”, advises Robert when she topples her king in defeat), built around themes of community, strength, education, class divides and hope. As rich in emotional colours as the fabrics the women wear, it is rather more extended than need be, stretching out the running time to take in the clash between Harriet and Night, who takes off with one of the local ne’er do wells as well as Brian road accident, but Phiona’s story is one young girls – and indeed anyone struggling to rise above the hand life deals them – should see. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
Originally created in Denmark in 1959, the soft plastic troll dolls with their big eyes, big grins and various shades of furry upcombed hair were a huge fad in the 60s and then again at different times from the 70s to the 90s, although in the UK they were better known as Gonks. Now they’re back, and, although a pink-haired troll did appear in the first two Toy Story films, making their feature film starring debut in this animated Day-Glo musical adventure from the various creators of Shrek and Kung Fu Panda that’s aimed very firmly at the under-7s.
A felt scrapbook prologue introduces the Trolls as “the happiest creatures the world had ever known”, always ready to burst into a song or dance and hugging every hour, on the hour. They once lived in a tree in the middle of the town, but, unfortunately, their neighbours, the ogre-like Bergens, led by King Gristle (John Cleese), had no idea what happiness was. They were the most miserable creatures in the world. Seeing how happy the Trolls were, they thought that they could feel that happiness too – if they ate a Troll. And so began the annual ritual of Trollstice, during which the Bergen Chef (Christine Baranski) would pluck Trolls from the tree and serve them up. Until the day when it came for Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to have his first taste of Troll and it was found that the Trolls had all escaped, leaving the Prince in tears and Chef in exile.
Twenty years later, after being led to freedom by King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), the Trolls live safely hidden in the forest, enjoying a life that is all rainbows, under the uber-enthusiasm of the brightly pink Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick). To commemorate their escape from the cooking pot, she’s planning to hold the biggest, brightest and loudest party ever, hosted, as ever, by DJ Suki (Gwen Stefani). Something that Branch (Justin Timberlake), who, coloured a drab grey, is, for reasons we discover later, the world’s only unhappy troll, warns will give their location away.
And, so it is that, in the midst of their celebrations, along comes Chef who, seeing a chance for both reinstatement and revenge, scoops up a bagful of Trolls, including blue Biggie (James Cordon) with his pet worm, the giraffe-like Cooper (who poops cupcakes when scared), hippie-philosopher Creek (Russell Brand), fashion twins Satin & Chenille (Icona Pop) and the ever-naked Sparky who, to the delight of the youngsters, farts glitter dust.
And so, Poppy resolves to travel to Bergen-town and rescue them, a quest in which she’s reluctantly joined by Branch and which will involve them joining forces with scullery maid, Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), who’s secretly in love with Prince Gristle, giving her a Cinderella-styled rainbow hairdo makeover, complete with discarded skating boot in place of a glass slipper. And, inevitably, any number of mostly disco-driven songs, the soundtrack featuring both new Timberlake numbers Hair Up and What U Workin’ With and Can’t Stop The Feeling and old hits like True Colors, September, I’m Coming Out.
Although there’s some sly references and jokes, other than rave-culture veterans, there’s very little here for the grown-ups. However, as well as a subtle anti-drugs caution about pill-popping to feel good, the message about how true happiness lies within you has no age limits and, while the film’s relentless energy may be exhausting, it’s also infectious, riding a happy/sad rollercoaster of emotions, with various inspired and funny moments as the talking Cloud Guy. Not as clever as Shrek but vastly preferable to the Smurfs, anyone older than their shoe size may find it annoying, but it’s still hard not to leave without a smile on your face. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
American Honey (15)
Writer-director Andrea Arnold’s first foray into American art house territory after her gritty UK urban estate indie dramas Red Road and Fish Tank is something of a marathon, clocking in just shy of three hours.
Leaving behind her broken Muskogee home, mouthy, streetwise 18-year-old Star (debut actor Sasha Lane) impulsively hooks up with Jake (Shia LaBoeuf) after meeting him at the local grocery store. A hustling salesman, he’s pied piper to a bunch of similarly disaffected and directionless teens (all of whom have equally despondent small town back stories) who work for Krystal (Riley Keough), the tough-as-nails boss of a travelling door-to-door sales operation flogging magazine subscriptions using whatever sob stories or lies they deem necessary. Travelling across the Midwest in the crew van, they’re dropped off in pairs to peddle their wares, picked up at the end of the day by Krystal who takes 80% of the money and woe betide those who come up short.
Jake, the team’s top salesman, pairs himself with Star to train her, but she blows their first house call when she takes exception to the lies he spins. Which, of course, naturally means that at some point, they’ll be getting it on together. Other than friction between Star and Krystal, there’s not much more to it in terms of plot, Star proving increasingly adept at earning cash as things progress, the narrative variously involving her being picked up by three white Stetsoned good old boys and providing a little sexual relief for an oil field worker.
Punctuated by frequent images of flying insects and references to dreams, in many ways this is simply the dead end estates and lives of Arnold’s previous films written on a larger canvas, a dystopian coming of age road movie through American white poverty and collapsing dreams with Krystal as happy to relieve the have nots of their money as the haves.
If the visual imagery, iconography and washed out tones weren’t obvious enough, the frequently banal dialogue also spells things out in unsubtle manner, as indeed does Arnold’s ‘ironic’ use of such numbers as The Dead Kennedys’ I Kill Children (sung by a little girl whose mum’s strung out on the couch) and the Lady Antebellum title track.
Although the mag crew never really comes into focus as characters, the performance by Keogh, LaBoeuf and, especially Lane, with her electrifying physicality, keep the attention until the final starlit moment, though, even here, Arnold can’t resist overdoing the symbolism by having Star plunge into a lake and emerge, presumably cleansed and reborn. It makes an effective point, but others have done as much and more in half the time. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
The Blue Room (15)
Mathieu Amalric both directs and stars in this 2014 French adaptation of George Simenon’s titular 1964 romantic thriller in which, told in flashbacks as his life unravels, Julien, a modestly successful middle-aged man running his own agricultural business in provincial France, finds himself in the depths of an affair and he and his mistress at the centre of a judicial investigation. (Until Mon: MAC)
Bridget Jones’s Baby (12A)
Helen Fielding’s hapless singleton returns to the big screen, reunited with the first film’s director, Sharon Maguire, and a script by Fielding and Dan Mazer (tweaked by Emma Thompson) that works from the former’s 2005 newspaper columns rather than her third novel. Which means Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) is alive and married, though not to Bridget (Renee Zellweger), who, we meet blowing out the single candle on her cupcake to mark her 43rd birthday. After a quick flashback (she’s still working as a TV producer, now for the Hard News programme and Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver is missing, believed dead), the plot gets into traction as she’s persuaded by the show’s presenter, Miranda (Sarah Solemani) to join her for a weekend music festival where she accidentally ends up sleeping with an American called Jack (Patrick Dempsey). Then, having first bumped into him at Cleaver’s memorial, just over a week later, she also meets up with Darcy again, this time when they’re both godparents at a christening and, learning that he’s going through a divorce, they too end up in bed.
Three months later, already under pressure to come up with a presentation for the show’s revamp demanded by snotty Gothy new boss Alice (Kate O’Flynn) and her ironic beard colleagues, she discovers she’s pregnant – and either of the two men could be the father.
She also learns that Jack is actually Jack Qwant, a wealthy matchmaking website guru who designed an algorithm for love, and books him on to the show so Miranda can quiz him about his sex life.
Suffice to say, after telling both him and Mark that she’s pregnant, but avoiding mentioning either to the other, coincidence eventually brings all three together and she’s forced to confess she doesn’t know which is the father, leading variously to everyone working as best for the baby and a competitiveness between the two men for Bridget’s affections.
Meanwhile, , Bridget’s mom (Gemma Jones) is standing for her local council, a side plot that chimes with Darcy defending an Eastern European all girl activist punk group and the film’s general juggling between female independence and women’s rights and motherhood and marriage.
Although Bridget 2 was by no means a disaster, this, if not quite up to the level of the first, is far superior, effectively mixing together hilarity and poignancy in a script that is at home with physical slapstick as it is one liners. Thompson is a delight as Bridget’s bemused gynaecologist while further solid support comes from returning cast members that include Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s dad, James Callis (gay mate Tom), Celia Imrie (Una), Neil Pearson (station manager Richard) and Sally Philips as best friend Shazzer. Firth fits right back in as Darcy, the top QC who has problems articulating his emotions, while Dempsey is terrific as nice guy Jack, suddenly discovering that love isn’t just a theoretical proposition. However, as ever, it’s Zellweger who is the film’s heart and who again proves herself one of the finest comedy actresses around with the capability of also tugging at the audience’s heartstrings. It’s been a long gestation, but the end result delivers a bouncy bundle of joy. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City; Until Tue: MAC)
Deepwater Horizon (12A)
Recounting how the titular offshore oil rig experienced a blow out on April 20, 2010, killing 11 and spilling 210 million US gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster is US history, Peter Berg’s film is pretty much your standard disaster movie. Firmly divided into the arrogant BP suits who took safety shortcuts and the heroic workers who questioned such decisions and risked their lives to shut down the rig, the former’s embodied in sneering exec Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) and the latter in family man chief electrician Mike Williams (Mark Whalberg) and his manager, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), both of whom point out the many problems with the rig, not least BP’s decision not to carry out an essential safety check. Providing support from the bridge is navigation crew member Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) who radios the mayday and is subsequently reprimanded by rig captain Kuchta as she has no authority.
With heroes and villains clearly delineated, once the slow build up eventually results in the blow out and subsequent inferno, the film gets on with the disaster formula while, back home, Williams’ wife (Kate Hudson) and young daughter (whose experiment with a Coke can foreshadows the events on the rig) wait for news.
The film dutifully milks the exchanges between Harrell and Virdine to underline BP’s disregard for its hired hands in the search for profit and, along with Rodriguez, Wahlberg duly does rugged determination to try and shut things down and get everyone off the blazing inferno.
The film does exactly what it says on the label, albeit the technical jargon will require an engineering degree to follow. However, despite being framed with audio of the real Williams’ testimony and some closing credit captions, other than mentioning how much oil was spilled, it fails to give full detail of the environmental consequences or note that subsequent litigations over negligence. With Berg more at home in chaos than corporate malfeasance, it delivers hugely impressive effects, the rapid edits capturing the way the station turned into a volcano before many even knew there was anything wrong, celebrating the heroism, but ultimately glossing over the real story. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)
Don’t Breathe (15) The best thrillers build their claustrophobic tension by dispensing with unnecessary subplots and by focusing on the events in hand. Although it takes a while to get going, this is one such. Stuck in an economically depressed Detroit small town, Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Daniel Zovatto) and the less likeable Money (Dylan Minette) raise money by breaking into the homes of the more well-to-do, aided by the fact that Money’s father runs a security firm, so he has access to the passcodes and gadgets than can circumvent the burglar alarms. Rocky just needs one big score so she can get away from her dead-beat mother and her trash boyfriend. Cue an isolated old house scoped out by Money, its sole occupant a grizzled army veteran (Stephen Lang) blinded in the first Gulf war, whose daughter was killed by a hit and run rich girl. She got off free and he got a hefty settlement, which Money reckons is stashed somewhere in the house. Although Alex has qualms about knocking over a blind guy, the three eventually decide to go for it.
However, although they dope his ferocious Rottweiler, the man himself proves less susceptible, realising there’s an intruder and swiftly taking out Money. Now, Rocky and Alex find themselves trapped in a darkened house of which their intended victim knows every inch.
And that’s pretty much it as the pair’s increasingly desperate attempts to avoid their pursuer, all stubble, white hair and grubby vest, and escape, preferably with the loot, regularly find them in an even worse situation. Since that’s a fairly limited premise, the film, directed by Fede Alvarez, fresh off the back of his Evil Dead remake, introduces a little extra in which the blind man’s revealed to have a secret locked away that suddenly spins the moral compass and entails a rather unpleasant scene of sexual violence involving a turkey baster and Rocky suspended in a harness.
As with all such films, everyone proves surprisingly resilient, walking way from assorted injuries and falls through windows, but, with the house a dimly lit and at times a blacked-out maze, Alvarez uses the shadows to ratchet up the intensity to a level that makes you forget the plot holes. Ultimately, effective though it is, it never quite lives up to the possibilities it offers and, inevitably, ends with the hint of a horror-franchise style sequel. Or maybe that’s just blind man’s bluff. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Felix, a 13-year-old boy living in a South African township a dreams of becoming a saxophonist like his late father, but his mother thinks jazz is the devil’s music. However, when he takes up a scholarship at an elitist private school, he defies her and turns to two aging members of his father’s old band to help him prepare for the school jazz concert. (Thu: MAC)
Finding Dory (U) Thirteen years after Finding Nemo swam to Oscar glory, Pixar have gone back into the water for a sequel, this time putting the focus on Dory (a terrific Ellen DeGeneres), the blue tang with short-term memory loss who helped grumpy clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) find and rescue his missing son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence).
Despite what the title suggests, it’s not just a simple rerun of the original. Yes, Dory goes missing and has to be rescued when she’s scooped up from the ocean and taken to the Marine Life Institute, a Californian fish hospital and conservation centre (with Sigourney Weaver as its audio tour guide) where its patients either become part of the exhibits before being returned to the ocean or are shipped to an aquarium in Cleveland. However, this is less about Marlin and Nemo finding Dory, than Dory finding herself.
Following a flashback that shows her parents, Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton), looking to protect her from coming to any harm because of her short-term memory loss and to always follow the shells that will lead her home, inevitably, things go wrong and Dory gets swept away, forgetting all about her home and her parents. Fast forward to a year after Finding Nemo, and, after a knock on the head, the now grown Dory suddenly has a brief memory burst. She remembers her parents.
The details are fuzzy, but now she’s aware that she’s lost and needs to find her family and home, which, as further flashes reveal, are somewhere called Jewel of Morro Bay. And so, accompanied by Marlin and Nemo, she sets off from the Great Barrier Reef to California where she’s sure her parents will still be waiting for her.
And so, after a narrow escape from a giant squid (in which Nemo’s almost killed, prompting Marlin to snap at Dory “Go wait over there and forget. It’s what you do best”), the three friends finally arrive at the Institute.
Inside, Dory finds herself tagged and informed by Hank (Ed O’Neill), a grumpy seven-tentacled octopus with chameleon-like abilities, that this means she’ll be shipped off to Cleveland. However, if she agrees to give the tag to him (so he can have a peaceful specimen life in the aquarium), he’ll help her escape Quarantine and look for her parents. What follows is a series of mishaps as Dory tries to get to the Open Ocean exhibit where she’s convinced her parents are being kept and Marlin and Nemo try to find Dory, all of which variously involves an excessively talkative oyster, a pair of territorial sea-lions (Dominic West and Idris Elba), a wild-eyed loon bird, Dory’s short-sighted childhood whale shark friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who’s convinced his echolocation no longer works.
As well the fraught journeys through the sunken wreck and the Institute, unlikely as it may seem, the film also contrives to introduce a truck chase action climax that sees Ed taking a very tentacles-on role and is arguably the funniest sequence. In decided contrast to the Touch Pool, which presents the interactive exhibit from the terrifying perspective of those being handled and will surely make kids think twice next time they’re at some Sea-Life centre.
That Dory and her folks will be reunited is never in doubt, but even so the needle swings all across the emotional scales, surely likely to bring a lump to the throat when, echoing Marlin, our memory-challenged heroine asks herself “what would Dory do?” The theme of family is frequently sounded, but the film also reminds audiences to appreciate the moment and the things that make life worth remembering as well as, for all those who feel like outsiders, a reminder that they are not alone and to be who they are. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
The Girl on the Train (15)
One of the year’s most eagerly anticipated films, directed by Tate Taylor and relocated from London, this adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller remains firmly in the second class carriage, but does make occasional rewarding visits to the buffet bar. A secret alcoholic, divorced and miserable Rachel (Emily Blunt) makes the regular commute from the leafy suburb where she’s dossing with her friend Cathy (Laura Prepon, vanishing from the plot midway) to New York. Along the way, usually in an alcoholic haze from the vodka she sips from her water bottle, she stares at the row of houses where she used to live with ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) until, a mix of her drinking and subsequent blackouts and an inability to get pregnant saw him have an affair with and subsequently marry Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) who, a stay at home mom, now shares the house with him and their baby daughter. Mentally unstable, Rachel keeps harassing them with anonymous phone calls and there was also an incident when Anna found Rachel in their back yard with the baby.
A few doors down lives Megan (Haley Bennett), a former art gallery employee now working as Anna’s nanny, and husband Scott (Luke Evans), who, although she’s never met them and doesn’t even know their names, Rachel fantasises as the perfect couple of her broken dreams.
So when, one day, she sees Megan snogging someone else on their balcony she’s takes it as a personal outrage and, one evening, in a particularly drunken state, gets off the train and stumbles to where Megan jogs to give her a piece of her mind. Which, when she wakes up, covered in blood, is all she can recall. And, when the cops, in the form of detective Riley (a criminally underused Allison Janney) turn up saying Megan’s gone missing, intimating that she might be a suspect, Rachel, struggling to remember things, embarks on her own investigation, leading her to visit Scott to tell him what she saw and then, discovering the mystery man was his wife’s shrink, Dr. Abdic (Édgar Ramírez), tracking him down too.
Nodding to both Victorian melodrama Gaslight and Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with the latter’s same voyeuristic constituents, told in disjointed flashbacks it offer glimpses into the lives of the three women and their relationships as a means of explaining their personalities and actions, all three being variously linked by infertility, pregnancy and infidelity.
Rachel is an effective unreliable narrator, her perceptions and memories clouded by alcohol, just as the film plays with the gulf between appearance and reality with everyone hiding some sort of secret, in particular Scott who is actually something of an abusive thug.
Unfortunately, to crank up the thrills, the film is also an unreliable narrator, misdirecting the audience with Rachel’s memories, such as the drunken outburst at his boss’s wife that got him fired, designed to frame her as an unintentional killer. Inevitably, however, as is typical of the genre, it’s where and at whom the film doesn’t make you look that the truth lies.
Blunt is very good as the troubled, self-doubting alcoholic, plagued by memory loss, but convinced she holds the key to Megan’s disappearance, as is Bennett as the no less damaged and complex Megan, but the others are all rather cardboard, one-dimensional figures and, although the film works to make Rachel sympathetic, they’re all rather ugly characters. Riddled with implausibility and the less persuasive the more it goes on, it’s a reasonable enough female victimisation thriller, but it’s no Gone Girl. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Girl With All The Gifts (15)
Extensively filmed in Birmingham, adapted by Mike Carey from his own novel and directed by Colm McCarthy, this post-apocalypse thriller posits a future where mankind has been devastated by a virus that turns people into flesh-eating zombies, hungries, who are attracted to their victims through smell.
Within a military compound run by hard-nosed Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine), scientist Dr Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) is working on a cure, her lab rats being a collection of children born to infected parents (cue a particularly gory description of how the kids ate their way out of the womb), by removing the subject’s brain and spinal fluid. Incarcerated in cells, the kids, strapped into wheelchairs, are given daily classroom education by Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) who’s developed a particular bond with the genial and helpful Melanie (impressive newcomer Sennia Nanua). However, physical contact is forbidden, as demonstrated by Parks who, wiping his skin of the pheromone-blocking gel, he causes one of the children to go into hungry mode. Needless to say, neither he nor Caldwell regard the subjects as children, referring to them as it and any emotional cues as the “exquisite mimicry of learned behaviour.” Only Justineau sees them as a human.
When the base is overrun, Justineau, an injured Caldwell, Melanie, Parks and accompanying cannon fodder take off to try and make it to the Beacon HQ. Parks still sees the girl as dangerous, Caldwell still wants to use her for a serum and Justineau still wants to protect her, while, out in hungries territory, the muzzled Melanie is actually their best chance of survival.
As such, the film transitions to road movie mode as the dwindling band have to navigate hungries-infested territory (spookily, they stand immobile until a smell or a noise awakens them), the landscapes reclaimed by nature, and, for a while it starts to feel somewhat repetitive, until two discoveries shift the balance of things once again.
It gathers its potency again in the final act where things don’t play out quite as you might have expected, the film blending some bloody sequences with a strong moral resonance and thematic thread as well as the occasional flash of black humour (not one for cat lovers, though). Considine, Arterton and Close deliver what’s required, but are never much more than two dimensional characters, leaving Nanua to do the heavy lifting and, while her inexperience occasionally shows, she brings an intense emotional power to her character, struggling to balance her need for human connection with her need for blood. (Vue Star City)
Six years after Angels & Demons, Tom Hanks returns as Dan Brown’s code cracking academic, Dr Robert Langdon, again caught up in a life-threatening conspiracy involving ancient art and architecture, except this time it involves not some clandestine Catholic order, but a plot to unleash a plague that, to combat overpopulation and save the species, will wipe out at least half of mankind.
Like the previous Langdon novels, the equally labyrinthally-plotted Inferno isn’t great literature, but it is a compelling page turner packed with the many twists and turns. The same holds true of the film which, after we see billionaire prophet of doom Zobrist (Ben Foster) being chased through the streets of Florence before throwing himself from a bell tower, switches to Langdon in a Florentine hospital bed having nightmarish visions. It turns out he’s received a bullet wound to the head and he’s having visions straight out of Dante’s Inferno, the first part of the Italian writer’s14th century epic poem, Divine Comedy, which provides a guide through Hell. Suffering from head trauma memory loss, he suddenly finds himself on the run with English hospital doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) following an attempt on his life by a female assassin posing as one of the Carabinieri.
Hiding out at Brooks’ apartment, he finds that he’s got some thumbprint recognition biochemical container in his pocket containing Botticelli’s circles of hell painting inspired by Inferno. Except, you know, it’s somehow not quite right and there’s letters where they shouldn’t be. If only Langdon could remember how he got it, why he’s there and what his part in all this entails.
That would be enough to be going on with, but, to complicate things further, as he and Brooks set out across Florence (as well as sites of architectural interest in Venice, Switzerland and Turkey, Langdon a living SatNav of their secret passageways), not only is the mystery assassin after him, but so too are some ultra-secret security firm (headed up by Irrfan Khan) and the World Health Organisation with a team led by French agent Bruder (Omar Sly) under his boss, and former Langdon flame, Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), all of whom want to get their hands on Zobrist’s plague.
It is, of course, riddled with narrative holes, the plague plot makes no logical sense and, naturally, nothing and nobody are who they appear to be. At least the film, again directed by Ron Howard, acknowledges the ludicrousness of the memory loss wherein Langdon can’t remember what coffee is called but does recall his email address and password.
There’s a lot of running through old buildings following the clues left by Zobrist as to the bio-device’s location, but it all just seems to be going through the motions as it heaves its way to a ludicrous showdown that essentially pivots on the fact that you can never get a cellphone signal when you need one.
Hanks is reliable enough, but Jones often delivers her lines like she missed the script run through and this is a first rehearsal. It does the job watchably enough, and surely has to be worth seeing just for the surreal moment when a bunch of heavily tooled men burst into Brooks’ apartment shouting “we’re from the World Health Organisation!” (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Infiltrator (15)
Bryan Cranston’s best work since Breaking Bad, he plays Robert Mazur, an FBI agent who, in 1986, realising the war on drugs could best be won by following the money not the drugs, persuades his non-nonsense boss (Amy Ryan) to let him go undercover and infiltrate the cartel headed up by Pablo Escovar. As such, posing as money launderer high roller Bob Musella, working his way up the chain by way of creepy money manager Javier Ospina (Yul Vazquez), he eventually hooks up with Escobar’s suave right hand man, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), and is soon accepted as part of the network, although, by now, it has entailed him having to recruit first time undercover agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) to act as his globetrotting fiancée, something that further intensifies and complicates the operation, especially when his fake and real world clash during a dinner with his actual wife (Juliet Aubrey).
Mining territory familiar from such films as Donnie Brasco, directed by Brad Furman, who made The Lincoln Lawyer, this makes no great play of conflicting loyalties to duty and new friends, but does clearly address the emotional toll it exacts as both Mazur and Ertz find themselves living rather than acting the roles. Also featuring a solid support turn from John Leguzamo as his Customs agent partner Emir Le Abreu, it never lets the tension slip, keeping you gripped right up to the final sting. (MAC)
Jimi: All By My Side (15)
With Birmingham’s Adrian Lester as Michael X, Outkast’s André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix and co-starring Imogen Poots (as Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Keith Richards who brought him over to London) and Hayley Atwell (as girlfriend Kathy Etchingham), written and directed by 12 Years A Slave’s screenwriter John Ridley, this sketchy 2013 biopic covers a year from 1966 to 1967, charting Hendrix’s rise, despite how own self-destructive behaviour, from unknown back-up guitarist playing New York’s Cheetah Club to his Monterey Pop triumph. (Sun: MAC)
Kubo and the Two Strings (PG)
A combination of CGI and stop motion animation, the latest from Laika, begins with a voice announcing “If you must blink, do it now” as, set in a feudal Japan, it opens with a woman in a small boat battling against mountainous waves with the help of her magical shamisen, a traditional Japanese three-stringed lute. Washed up on the shore with her one-eyed baby, the film flashes forward, the child, now grown to a boy, Kubo (Art Parkinson), spending his nights caring for his mother, who drifts in and out of a sort of catatonic depression in their mountain top cave, and his days telling stories to the local villagers, using the shamisen to create animated origami shapes, most particularly that of a samurai based on Hanzo, his father, who died saving them from the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), Kubo’s grandfather, who took his son’s eye. Unfortunately, Kubo never gets to end his stories as he must always be back in the cave before night falls.
However, one day, after an old dear (Brenda Vaccaro) tells him how the villagers honour those who have passed on by conjuring their spirits in lanterns, Kubo seeks to do the same with his father. Nothing happens, but as the sun goes down a cloud of darkness forms, from which emerge The Sisters (Rooney Mara), the twin daughters of the Moon King, come to take his other eye. Rescued by his mother, seemingly at the cost of her life, Kubo finds himself alone – save for a no-nonsense talking monkey (Charlize Theron), the talisman that’s been brought to life in his mother’s last magical act.
Learning that, to defeat the Moon King, he must finds his father’s lost indestructible sword and powerful armour, the pair (and the origami Hanzo) are joined on their quest by a samurai that once served Kubo’s father and is now cursed to take the form of a humanoid beetle (Matthew McConaughey channelling George Clooney) who’s ace with a bow, but comes up a little short in the brains department. As the tale unfolds, further secrets are revealed about Kubo’s family background and protectors.
Drawing on Japanese mythology, the story is as enchanting and mysterious as the setting within which it unfolds and the metaphors it embraces. Visually breathtaking, it mixes action, adventure and humour with a liberal helping of philosophy about family, loyalty and the value of memories, though the meaning of the title never becomes clear until the final showdown between Kubo and his grandfather. In keeping with its interwoven spiritual themes of family, loss, grief and how those who have passed live on, it also substitutes vengeance for forgiveness and redemption in a climax and coda that are unexpectedly very moving. The race for the Animation Oscar just got very interesting. (Vue Star City)
The Magnificent Seven (12A)
Yet another remake of a cinema classic (strictly speaking it’s a remake of a remake, since the original was a western variation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), director Antoine Fuqua putting a spin on John Sturges’s 1960 masterpiece in which a bunch of guns for hire come together to protect a Mexican town from a bunch of bandits. Here the town in need of protection being Rose Creek, a frontier community of homesteaders trying to make new lives for themselves while the bandits have been replaced by a ruthless mining baron, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), whose pressed many locals into working in the mine and is pressuring the others into selling up their land at rock bottom prices.
Having disrupted a town meeting, burned down the church and murdered a few of the townsfolk, he’s given them three weeks to decide – or face the consequences
To which end, having just been widowed in the confrontation, feisty Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett) sets out to find help. Enter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a sort of legalised bounty hunter, who, impressed at seeing him in action against a wanted killer and a bunch of other gunnies, she approaches with a deal.
Wearing black in a nod to the character played by Yul Brynner in the original, Chisolm agrees, not least since he has his own history with Bogue (exactly what’s not revealed until the end) and sets about recruiting the rest of the titular cast. Although one of the original seven was Mexican, Fuqua’s line-up is more multi-ethnic, lining up as hard-drinking but charmer cardsharp Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), shell-shocked Civil War Confederate sharpshooter legend Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his loyal knife-throwing Chinese sidekick Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), bulky mountain man tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche loner Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Then, having rid the town of the mercenaries and corrupt lawmen and liberated the mineworkers, they have a week to whip the townsfolk into fighting shape before Bogue and his army turn up.
There’s no dramatic deviations from the Sturges film, which means that not all of the seven make it to final credits, and, essentially character types, none of them have much of a backstory. However, making effective use of the landscape, a typical widescreen Western score and tried and tested Wild West clichés, Fuqua directs in solid style, delivering the requisite intense gunfight action as well as some quieter moments. Although Washington and Bennett give the strongest performances, the core cast acquit themselves admirably, both in the action and the quips, and, while this may not have the enduring quality of the original, it serves as potent shot of adrenalin in the ongoing attempt to revive the Western genre. (Empire Great Park; Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (12A)
Adapted from Ransom Rigg’s bestseller and directed by Tim Burton, this is a sort of X-Men meets Groundhog Day, complete with a houseful of mutant kids, time loops and scary monsters.
Living with his emotionally absent parents, alienated Florida teen Jake Portman’s closest friend his eccentric grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), so, when he gets a message saying he’s in trouble he races over only to find the house ransacked and grandpa dying in the woods, his eyes missing. Not only that, but he sees some sort of monster. This, he’s told, was just an hallucination, but Jake’s convinced now that the stories his grandfather told him as a child, about the house where he grew up, its strange residents, and the monsters, weren’t tall tales.
So, he persuades his father (Chris O’Dowd) that a trip to the isolated Welsh village of Cairnholm where Abe lived as a child under the care of a certain Miss Peregrine, will help him find closure, a suggestion endorsed by his shrink (Allison Janney) Once there, however, he’s disappointed to find the house a burned out shell, having been hit by a German bomb in 1943.
Sneaking off to explore the ruins, he’s greeted by a bunch of kids who look just like the ones in Abe’s old photo. As indeed they are, all having lived in the house, protected by a time loop that constantly resets to the previous 24 hours, for the past seven decades, under the protection of Miss Peregrine (Eva Smith), an Ymbrine who has the power to transform into a peregrine falcon.
They too are Peculiars with their own particular powers or abnormalities: firestarter Olive (Lauren McCrostie), superstrong youngster Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) who can make control plants, Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) projects prophetic dreams through his eye, Hugh (Milo Parker) has bees living inside him, the invisible Millard (Cameron King), Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) who has the power to bring inanimate objects – and the dead – to life, Claire (Raffiella Champan) who’s blessed with a ferocious set of choppers in the back of her head, the twins (Joseph and Thomas Odwell) who always wear masks (their power’s not seen until the last act) and, most significantly for Jake, Emma (Ella Purnell), who has to wear lead boots to stop her floating way and who had a thing for Abe back in the day, a spark that’s rekindled with Jake.
She informs Jake that he too is a Peculiar, although it would be spoiling things to reveal in what way; suffice to say it’s going to come in very useful in the struggle against the shape-shifting Mr. Barron (Samuel L Jackson), a renegade Peculiar who, in the quest for immortality carried out an experiment that backfired, transforming him and his cronies into monsters, referred to as the Hollows and the Wights, invisible in their monster form, who can only maintain human semblance by eating freshly harvested eyeballs, preferably children’s, a need that gives rise to one of the film’s most squirm-inducing (but also blackly funny) moments.
He now wants to capture Miss Peregrine in order to repeat the experiment, and Jake may just be the one to lead him to her and her charges. All of which culminates at Blackpool Pier and Tower with a present day battle involving stop-motion animated skeletons. It’s a bizarre and eccentric tale while also providing an awkward first love between Emma and Jake (cue a cheeky nod to Titanic).
A pity then that, for all its often spectacular visuals and effects, it’s almost all a ponderously lifeless, exposition-heavy and confusing preamble to the rushed – but admittedly exciting – amusement park climax. O’Dowd disappears from the film around halfway never to be heard of again, while Rupert Everett looks highly uncomfortable as a dodgy ornithologist and Judi Dench makes a fleetingly unnecessary cameo as another Ymbrine.
Purnell’s the best of a variable cast of characters that are given little by the way of depth, but, fatally, the usually reliable Butterworth, struggling with his American accent (something that’s the subject of a throwaway in-joke) is a blank, while a consciously brittle Green is far too knowing for her and the film’s good. Not until the customarily scenery-gobbling Jackson eventually shows up is there anything remotely resembling fun. While enjoyable enough in parts, at the end of the day it’s more wan than weird. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
My Scientology Movie (15)
When Louise Theroux tweeted asking for any scientologists to contribute to his documentary about the controversial religion, he received several messages suggesting this might not be the best idea. Inevitably, no one from the Church was prepared to talk to him, but some high profile ‘blow outs’ did come aboard, specifically Marty Rathburn, who acrimoniously quit after 27 years and was the former enforcer for its little seen but much feared and allegedly violent leader, David Miscavige, and Jeff Hawkins, a former Sea Org member, essentially the organisation’s elite SS wing charged with neutralising any negativity from ‘suppressive personalities’.
Since there was never any chance of Miscavige or Tom Cruise participating, Theroux holds auditions for actors to play them in scenes drawn from extant footage of conventions and a rare TV appearance as well as Rathburn’s experiences and, while these take up rather too much time, Andrew Perez, who ends up as Miscavige’s stand-in, is scarily convincing.
It’s not long after before word gets out and they find themselves being themselves filmed and two of the film’s funniest yet unsettling moments are when Theroux confronts a woman and her cameraman opposite their makeshift studio who refuse to say who they are and, later, in run-ins outside Gold Base, Miscavige’s compound, where a woman called Catherine, one of the Sea Org rottweilers, orders Theroux off their private property, all the while having him filmed and ignoring his protestations that it’s a public road. There’s a marvellous absurdist image of Theroux and a scientologist circling each other, the latter with his HD camera, the former documenting the moment on his iPhone, all the while maintaining his trademark ironic politeness.
Naturally, the Church denies all allegations and, in turn, accuses the likes of Rathburn as being vindictive and embittered liars and there’s a particularly awkward moment when Theroux’s probing of Marty’s past elicits an altogether less friendly side.
At the end of the day, it’s a little slow and doesn’t really add much insight to various rumours, allegations and denials, though clearly those seem on camera clearly aren’t one’s you’d invite round for tea and biscuits, but it’s never less than entertaining. (Electric)
The Secret Life of Pets (U) The latest from the team behind Despicable Me suggests that, when you leave the house in the morning, your pets aren’t just curled up in their baskets waiting for you to come home. When his owner brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a scruffy mongrel with abandonment issues, her terrier, Max (Louie CK), finds his life isn’t as cushy as it used to be. However, in his attempt rid himself this rival, following a run-in with a bunch of collar-stealing alley cats, the pair end up captured by New York’s Animal Control, prompting a rescue mission across Manhattan from their four-legged friends, among them sardonic fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell) and headed up by Gidget (Jenny Slate), a feisty Pomeranian with a big crush on Max and some hidden kung fu skills, who enlists the help of red-tailed hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks) and Pops (Dana Carvey), a half-paralysed old Basset Hound bloodhound fitted with a set of wheels.
Meanwhile, Max and Duke have to learn to work together when they’re first forced to join up with and then find themselves on the run from Snowball (Kevin Hart), a crazy former magician’s white bunny who’s assembled an army of abandoned pets, the Flushed Pets, who live in the sewers and have vowed revenge on all domesticated pets and their owners.
Essentially, it’s an animal version of Toy Story with Max as Woody and Duke as Buzz Lightyear, the interloper competing for their owner’s affections, but it doesn’t have the same emotional depth, nor is it as clever as Disney’s recent Zootopia. There’s also too many peripheral characters to give them all the time they warrant and, after an often hilarious start, the plot gradually descends into a series of action movie chases.
However, impressively animated and taken at a nifty pace, it’s never less than fun and serves up an inevitable message about friendship and family. Just keep the kids away from the pet shop on the way home. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
There have been several animated films this year that could well find themselves with an Oscar nomination. This won’t be one of them. Written and co-directed by Nicholas Stoller, the man behind the likes of Bad Neighbours, Zoolander 2 and Get Him To The Greek, it is every bit as brash and noisy as those, apparently none of the cast able to deliver their lines in anything less than a shout, the entire film the visual and aural equivalent of a serious case of over-caffeination. And let’s not even get into the havoc it’s going to play with parents explaining the facts of life to their kids.
Back in the day, storks delivered babies, but, following an incident in which one of the birds (Danny Trejo) tried to keep the tot for himself, breaking her, quite literal, homing beacon in the process, they got out of the baby business and now deliver parcels from their Cornerstore HQ on Storm Mountain.
Top of the delivery tables is Junior (Andy Samberg) who is thrilled to be told by Hunter (Kelsey Grammar), the big boss who uses little birds as golfballs, that he’s going to be promoted to take over from him at the upcoming StorkCon shareholders meeting. But first, he has to fire Tulip (Katie Crown), who, the baby that never got delivered, still lives with them. Now that she’s 18th (and also because she tends to cause all kinds of chaos), Hunter says it’s time she became part of the human world. However, faced with telling her, Junior just can’t get the words out and, instead, tells her she’s been given a job in the letter sorting office. Which she should never leave. Given that nobody writes asking for babies any more, she’s bored out of her head and spends the time talking to herself, at frenetic speed, acting out (with the help of a pliable hairdo) different personas, each of them excruciating annoying.
Meanwhile, out in people land, his real estate parents (Ty Burell and Jennifer Aniston) always too busy to spend any time with him, young Nate decides he’d like a baby brother, one with ninja skills. Mom and dad dismiss the idea, but, finding an old leaflet about the stork service, he writes a letter which duly winds up in Tulip’s hands and, before Junior can stop her, goes into and reactivates the baby making machine. Now they find themselves with an unexpected tot to deliver, before the meeting and before Hunter finds out. Junior, however, has injured his wing, but, fortunately, Tulip’s cobbled together a makeshift plane.
Without prolonging the agony of explaining things, suffice to say that Tulip’s maternal instincts mean the mission doesn’t go as planned, leaving the trio being pursued by wolves and, thanks to the aptly named Pigeon Toady, quite possibly the most annoying animated character ever, their secret is revealed to Hunter. And to top it all, Jasper, the stork who tried to abduct Tulip in the first place, also turns up, determined to rectify his screw up. All of which somehow manages to end up with Nate’s intended sibling in the custody of Hunter’s penguins and the baby machine churning them out like rabbits.
There are some good, imaginative moments (almost all of them involving Alpha and Beta, the two wolves who fall for the cute pink-haired infant, and the way the pack is forever forming itself into things like a van, plane or submarine), but they’re mostly overwhelmed by the unrelenting screech elsewhere. Undemanding kids may be entertained, but, unfunny, relentless and charmless, the best thing to be said is that it’s not as bad as the profoundly tedious The Master: a Lego Ninjago Short that precedes it. A bundle of joy it is not. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Swiss Army Man (15)
You can’t fault this for being unoriginal. Cast away on a deserted island, Hank (Paul Dano) is about to hang himself when he sees a body washed up on the shore. This turns out to be Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) who is very clearly dead. He also happens to be filled with gas and, when he sees the body start twitching, he again abandons his suicide attempt and, by employing a cork stuffed up Manny’s arse, uses him as a sort of fart-propelled jet-ski to get to land.
Off the island, but no nearer any civilisation, Hank forms a bond with his corpse companion who would seem to come back to a sort of zombie-like life (though, this may all be in Hank’s mind), using his farts for a variety of purposes (including scaring off a bear and flying) and the body for others, such as chopping wood and providing a source of drinking water. When Manny displays an attraction a photo of a woman on Hank’s phone, Hank takes to dressing up in a drag, reflecting his own obsession with the woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who he saw on a bus, as they ritualistically enact the relationship that he never had the nerve to pursue. Mercifully writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert eschew necrophilia, but there is plenty of talk about masturbation while Manny’s active erect penis serves as a sort of compass.
It is by far the most unusual role of Radcliffe’s career and he gives a wholly vanity-free performance, exposing his backside, talking through twisted expressions and vomiting water, while the ultra-intense Dano fully indulges in the arch theatricality. However, featuring an all vocal score by the Manchester Orchestra, its conjuring of a fractured mind and any commentary on suppressed masculinity and the inability to form relationships is eclipsed by the sheer barking nature of the premise, one which increasingly challenges audiences to remain in their seats the longer it continues. It’s actually quite touching at the end, but it’s also experimental theatre at its most pretentious. (Tue/Wed: Electric; MAC)
Shot in black and white by Tibetan writer-director Pema Tseden and full of symbolic imagery, this tells of a shepherd who, in the city to obtain a government-issued ID card, has a chance meeting with Yangchuo, a young Tibetan beautician, and finds his sense of identity stripped to the bone, the film serving as an allegory of Tibet’s own identity crisis in the clash between , tradition and modernity. (Tue/Wed: MAC)
War on Everyone (15)
Following quirky Irish dramas The Guard and Calvary, writer-director John Michael McDonagh make his American debut with an equally offbeat story of a pair of sharp-suited, cheerfully corrupt New Mexico detectives Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) and Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the sort of cops who turn up a murder scene eating cheeseburgers. The tone of the film is immediately set when, behind the wheel of the latter’s classic blue Monte Carlo coupe, the pair chase down a coke-dealing mime, Terry pondering whether mimes say anything when they’re hit.
Bob is a happily married family man with a drop-dead gorgeous wife and two spoiled overweight kids, Terry, who says he joined the force because “you can shoot people for no reason” (except neither of them have actually ever killed anyone – or at least not yet) is a misogynist, racist, who only makes an exception for his Mexican partner. Recently returned from another suspension, are on their last chance. All the more reason then to try and secure a hefty stash of money when, sussing that a whole bunch of dodgy types are in town for a heist, they decide not to inform their long suffering precinct boss (Paul Reiser), but, to keep watch and then make off with the cash once the crime goes down. Inevitably, things go bad and the money goes missing, leading the pair to take a trip to Iceland to track down their cocaine snorting African-American Muslim convert informant Reggie X (Malcolm Barrett) as well as putting paid to a child pornography ring.
Populated by such oddballs as a politically sussed ex-stripper (Tessa Thompson), British aristocrat chief villain James Mangan (Theo James) and his effeminate psycho henchman Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones), it inevitably evokes the flippant and cool style of both Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, casually referencing American history, Greek mythology, famous suicides, dispensing wisecrack quips and liberally scattering the soundtrack with Glen Campbell ballads.
Very much in the tradition of maverick, wth Pena and Skarsgaard terrific as the non-PC cop buddies, this makes a hugely enjoyable companion piece to Nice Guys. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)
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
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