MOVIE ROUND-UP: This week’s New Film Releases, Fri Sept 29-Thu Oct 5


Goodbye Christopher Robin (PG)

Voted the favourite children’s story of all time, Winnie the Pooh, written by Alan Milne, brought the world a sense of happiness and innocence following the dark days of WWI. One person it didn’t bring happiness, however, was Christopher Robin Milne, the little boy who, the son of  the author, featured in the stories along with his toys, Pooh, Tigger and the others. Opening with Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) receiving news that his son is missing presumed dead in WWII, it flashes back to the author’s experiences at the Battle of the Somme and his return home, traumatised by what he went through, with even a champagne cork popping triggering traumatic memories. Already a successful writer for Punch magazine, determined to write a book about ending wars, he decamps to the country with his socialite wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), their  cherubic-looking young son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), whom they’ve nicknamed Billy Moon, and his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), to whom they virtually hand over all parental duties.  When he fails to bring himself to put pen to paper, Daphne takes off back to London, declaring she won’t return until he’s written something.  Eventually, this turns out to be Vespers, the famous poem about Christopher Robin saying his prayers. It proves to be a huge success and, in response to his son’s request to write him a  book, he embarks on the tales of the 100 Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eyeore, Piglet and the others, all based on where they live and his son’s stuffed animals. And of course, on Christopher Robin himself.

The books fly off the shelves, but it’s not Milne for whom the fan letters come and who is in demand for interviews, it’s his son and he and Daphne duly wheel him out on the celebrity circuit, even, at one, point, as the prize in  toy manufacturer’s  competition, oblivious, unlike Olive, to the effect it’s having on the boy. Grown up to resent the books’ success, as the teenage Christopher Robin (Alex Lawther) remarks to his father before he sets off to war,  his childhood was happy enough, it was the growing up that was a misery, his fame as the stories’ make-believe version in the stories making him the source of constant bullying at school..

Directed by Simon Curtis from a screenplay by Simon Vaughan and Frank Cottrell Boyce, it’s a hugely melancholic work that slots comfortably into the long line of literary biopics such as Finding Neverland and Shadowlands and the shortcoming of the writers concerned. Certainly, neither of them caring that much for kids, Milne comes across as a slightly priggish figure, while Daphne seems to have no maternal instincts whatsoever, leaving it to Olive to be the only one that shows the boy any actual love, at least. On the other hand, the scenes where father and son are forced to spend time together alone are rather sweet and show the side to Milne that allowed him to create such tender tales.

However, while handsomely photographed and finely acted (with a cast that also includes Stephen Campbell Moore and Richard McCabe), despite the commentary on the destructive, exploitative  fall out of fame, Christopher Robin robbed of the intimate moments of his childhood as well as his very identity, it never quite manages to be as dramatic as it ought. Nonetheless, there’ll be few dry eyes by the end.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Brimstone (18) 

Disappointingly playing one just a single screen in the West Mids, Dutch director Martin Koolhoven serves up a dark, violent, blood-soaked spaghetti-toned feminist Western about redemption and retribution told in four chapters, staring at the end with Revelation and working back through Exodus and Genesis before closing several years later with a blackly ironic Retribution coda. As you might have guessed, biblical imagery, symbolism and allegory loom large.

Following different stages in the life of Dutch immigrant Liz Bundy (Dakota Fanning), opening with her as the mute (for reasons unfolded later) midwife of a frontier town, married to an older sheep farmer and with two kids, his son and a daughter, Joanna,  of her own.  Life’s good until they turn up at church one day to find a new preacher in town. Only ever referred to as The Reverend (Guy Pearce who previously did the backwards narration thing in Memento), he’s a glowering, black clad,  hellfire sermonising fundamentalist with a huge facial scar, and Liz is keen to avoid meeting him. Clearly, they have a past, more of which is revealed in the second chapter when, after accused of being a murderess when a baby she’s delivering dies,  the Rev ominously comes calling, a couple of wounded gunmen take refuge in the barn,  she falls for one of them (Kit Hartington) and a night of bloody slaughter leads her and the children to flee,   things move in time. Now played by Emilia Jones and able to talk, she’s rescued from the desert by a Chinese slave trader sold off to cold-hearted brothel keeper Frank (Paul Anderson), who has one of his employees hung for injuring client while protecting her, and is befriended by fellow prostitute Elizabeth Brundy (Carla Juni). One day Frank announces they have a special client who’s taking the place over for the night. Needless to say, this turns out to be The Reverend, her unscarred, who has apparently been looking for her. More bloodshed and murder ensues, leading Liz to take some very drastic action. The film then moves back again, this time to her as a younger girl, daughter to Anna (Carice Van Houten), the much abused wife of the Dutch community’s preacher as the film spirals into themes of menstruation, damnation and incest.

Flagellation, fire, blood and even a sort of angelic vision all combine in the heady stew of obsession, perverted desire, damnation and much more, with a man being strangled with his own intestines is just one of the many visceral moments.  Framed with narration by Liz’s now grown daughter,  with Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL providing a suitably brooding s ore and Rogier Stoffers’ stunningly atmospheric and evocative. photography, it’s relentlessly intense and unremittingly bleak, with both Fanning as the much-suffering but formidably resilient Liz and Pearce as the terrifyingly demonic Reverend giving riveting performances.  Stunning. (Vue Star City)

Flatliners (15) 

Joel Schumacher’s  cult 90s thriller, in many ways a sort of precurser to Final Destination,  starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon about a bunch of  med students who participate in a series of near death  experiences only to find past tragedies and sins coming back to haunt them gets a  remake from Niels Arden Oplev, the Danish director of the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but  fails to bring the corpse back to life.

Nine years on from an accident in which, distracted while driving, her younger sister died, Courtney (Ellen Page) is now a med student obsessed with the idea of there being an afterlife. To which end, she persuades her fellow students, trust fund playboy Jamie (James Norton) and insecure Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) to assist in her in an experiment, stopping her heart, recording any brain activity, and then bringing her back. When things hit a hitch in the revival process, they call on another of the group, Ray (Diego Luna) to help.  When Courtney suddenly seems to have developed  new abilities, Jamie demands to go next and when Marlo (Nina Dobrev), a senior student with a thing for Ray, learns what they’re up to, she insists on flatlining too and, having had another run in with her controlling mother, Sophia turns up insisting on following suit. Only Ray refuses to become one of the flatliners, after all someone has to be stable to bring them back.

Needless to say, the immediate highs are quickly replaced by disturbing lows, each of those who went under finding themselves being haunted by something from their past, the car crash, an abortion, a medical miscall that cost a life, the humiliation of a fellow student, or, as Jamie puts it, the side effects are trying to kill them.

By its very nature, the labured storyline is episodic, with each getting their own haunting, and there’s only so many fleeting glimpses or sudden appearances of ominous figures you can have before it all starts getting repetitive rather than scary, while, the final act, where everyone, or at least those that make it that far, set about finding redemption and atonement, just feels like the writers lost interest.  Page is good, but deserves better, while the others do what’s necessary and, in a  nod to the original, Sutherland puts in a couple of appearances as a the hospital’s testy  senior doctor . It’s watchable but unnecessary. Do not resuscitate. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Home Again (12A)

Opening without previews, this finds Reese Witherspoon back in familiar romcom mode  as 40-year-old Alice, who, recently divorced from her record producer husband, takes her two young daughters, hypochondriac  Isobel (Lola Flanery) and  snarky Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield), moves from New York back to her late filmmaker father’s sprawling estate in L.A. and sets up a decorating business, the girls spending time hanging out with their  retired actress grandma (Candice Bergen).

Meeting up with Harry (Pico Alexander) while quietly celebrating her fortieth, things end up  with  her agreeing to let him and his mates, George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff), all of whom are trying to make it in the movie business,  live in  the guest house, and also starts dating Harry.  Then along comes the ex ((Michael Sheen), trying to worm his way back in their lives.  Directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of Something’s Gotta Give director Nancy Meyers, who produced,  don’t expect anything original, but fans of Witherspoon’s comedic cuteness likely won’t be disappointed. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Pecking Order (12A)

Following on from last year’s Tickled, here’s another quirky New Zealand documentary, this one about The Christchurch Poultry, Bantam, and Pigeon Club, an association dedicated to raising assorted poultry and entering them into various competitions, most especially, the prestigious National Show.  Ranging from adolescents to near geriatrics, the chicken-breeding members are an odd, eccentric bunch, obsessed with their birds, but (as is clear from the fates of those who don’t come up to scratch) not necessarily sentimentally so.

However, for those that survive the pot, these are meticulously groomed in order to satisfy the rigorous ‘Standards’ – purple in the feathers is apparently a no go.  It’s serious business and inevitably gives rise to serious rivalry. But that’s nothing compared to what goes on away from the poultry shows as a the film charts the power struggle for control of the Club between Doug, the long-standing 70-something incumbent President, and  the much younger ambitious Mark who wants to shake things up a bit and reverse the 150 year old club’s declining membership numbers. A coup  among the coops is in the offing.

Unfolding like a feathery real-life version of Best In Show (and yes, the big comp does end with the Best Bird),  director Slavko Markinov indulges pretty much every poultry pun going in his title cards but always maintains an affection approach to his subject and characters and it’s hard not to smile at scenes like a  bagpiper leading a procession of contenders across the road  to the competition, staged  four days away in sleepy Oamaru. Cracking fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways)



American Assassin (18)

With the established stars of action movies now starting to get on a bit, Hollywood’s becoming increasingly desperate to find new and younger blood on whom to build franchises. Hence Michal Cuesta’s adaptation of Vince Flynn’s airport lounge pulp page turner knocking a decade or two off  its hero, Mitch Rapp, so as to cast Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien.

Opening with a scene that’s likely to be something of  raw nerve for many, Rapp is wounded and sees his girlfriend, to whom he’s just proposed, murdered when a bunch of armed Islamist terrorists start shooting up the Ibiza beach where they’re holidaying.  Fast forward 18 months and, recovered but seething with barely repressed rage, now sporting healthy face fuzz, Rapp has mastered  gun and martial arts skills  and learned Arabic so that he can infiltrate the Libyan terrorist cell responsible and take out them and their leader.  What he doesn’t know is that he’s being monitored by the CIA, who swoop in and do the job for him. Then. back in the USA, he’s invited by cool, no nonsense CIA  Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who reckons he has the exact psychological profile she seeks in a killing machine, to join her black ops team. So, it’s off to the woods for some boot camp training under the command of hard-bitten ex-Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (a suitably taciturn Michael Keaton). Meanwhile, Kennedy and her boss (David Suchet) have been meeting with some top level Iranians regarding the theft of weapons grade plutonium from Russia and ascertained that the man responsible has arranged to acquire a nuclear trigger, so he duly despatches Hurley, Rapp and fellow trainee Victor (Birmingham’s Scott Atkins), hooking up with Turkish agent Annika (Shiva Negar),  to take the arms dealer and the thief and recover the plutonium.

Needless to say, things go pear-shaped,  Rapp ignoring orders and taking off to finish the mission. Naturally, things get more complicated when it turns out the one who stole the plutonium calls himself Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) and is actually one of Hurley’s former protégés gone rogue and is playing to provide the Iranians with everything they need, scientist included, to make a nuke to attack Israel

Thus the stage is set for another maverick race against the clock  complete with several twists and reveals in the final stretch that steers this away from the  Islam-bashing narrative it first seems.

The result of four screenwriters, it’s fairly generic and cliché-bound, complete with the chiselled dialogue you might expect along with the stoicism in the face of pain patriotism (Keaton figures in a particularly nasty torture scene) and the repeated mantra about not making it personal. It’s not big on character depth or development, but, variously unfolding in Warsaw, Istanbul, Malta and Rome, it delivers the limited action sequences in workmanlike manner, building up to the big CGI effects climax, doing the job efficiently enough to ensure the sequel promised in the final shot.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)


American Made (15)

In 1978, tapped for smuggling illegal Cuban cigars, TWA pilot Barry Seal was approached by the CIA to run secret surveillance missions over Colombia, a success that, through the early 80s,  led to him becoming a bag man between the CIA and Nicaragua’s General Noriega, delivering pay offs in return for information on Communist operations in South America. Then, he was approached by the Medelin Cartel, the biggest drugs operation in Colombia, headed up by Pablo Escobar, who recruited him to transport their cocaine to  the United States. Then, further concerned about the Communist-run Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the CIA got him to fly arms to the supposedly opposing Contras, except instead, he ended up flying the guns to the Cartel  who armed their forces and  then got the Contras to smuggle cocaine into America. Before long Seal, who by now had been relocated by the CIA from Louisiana to Mena in smalltown Arkansas  was making so much money he was having to set up any number of front businesses to launder it, and even then he was still burying it in the garden and stuffing it into cupboards. And even when it went pear-shaped, and he was being pursued variously by state police, the FBI, CIA  and the DEA, he was still able to come out on top.

Unfolding between 1985 top 1986, it was one of the biggest covert operations ever run by the US government. His story’s been told before, but, screenwriter Gary Spinelli taking a cue from GoodFellas,  never as well or as entertainingly as here by director Doug Liman (whose father investigated the Iran-Contra affair) with a permagrin Tom Cruise donning the aviator sunglasses as Seals. Played with an eye on the comedic element in the whole situation (rather akin to the recent similarly-themed War Dogs), it romps from one implausible but real scenario to the next as Seal’s ‘business’ empire continues to expand. Although initially wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) is oblivious to Barry’s double life, but when you’ve got wads of dollar bills all over the house, it’s hard to keep things that secret and she readily takes to the  wealth and the life, although things almost come crashing down thanks her to her self-serving slacker brother (Caleb Landry Jones) who reckons he can deal himself an easy hand in the cash flow.

Not until the final act when, now working for the White House and Colonel Oliver North, he’s inadvertently outed as betraying the Cartel and becomes a marked man, while the Iran-Contra scandal blows up in the government’s face does it really involve any real tension, and even then, as he moves from motel to motel, recording the videotapes that would eventually reveal his story (and provide the film’s to camera framing device), it still manages to play for  edgy laughs as, each morning, he wonders if his car will explode.

Following the disappointment of The Mummy and a series of autopilot Jack Reacher  turns, Cruise is on peak form here, bringing a winning charm and charisma to the film’s anti-hero embodiment of the American Dream on speed. Liman’s also well served by a solid supporting turn from Domhnall Gleeson as Seal’s CIA handler Monty Shafer who gets to bask in the reflected glory of his protégé’s successes while turning a knowing blind eye to extracurricular activities as long as they serve to further the political agenda, and burning any trail when compromised. There’s evidence of some edit room chops (Jesse Plemons’ local sheriff and his suspicious wife  seemingly the biggest victims), but even so the film flows at an exhilarating rush, making it easily Cruise’s best since Collateral.  (Cineworld NEC,;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)


Annabelle : Creation (15)

A second attempt to establish a franchise for The Conjuring spin-off,  Lights Out director David F. Sandberg scores in relying on old-school horror tactics with half-glimpsed figures, shadows, doors opening of their own accord and teasing the audience with anticipation that’s not always fulfilled. This goes back to the 1950’s origins of the devil doll, as 12 years after their beloved daughter Bee (Samara Lee) is killed in an auto accident, former doll maker Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) opens up the rural California farmhouse he shares with his mysteriously invalided wife (Miranda Otto)  to serve as an orphanage for a group of young Catholic girls and their accompanying nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).

Central to the narrative are young  best friends Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman), the latter in a  leg brace after being stricken with polio. Shut out by the older girls, they end up sharing  room to themselves, next to a door which, Mulls advises them, is locked and will stay that way. So, naturally, when, one night, Janice is awoken by someone slipping  a note under the door bearing the words ‘find me’ (the same game the dead daughter played with her parents) and finds the forbidden room unlocked, she duly enters and discovers a white-frocked wooden doll locked  in a  cupboard. From which point, things start to get even more creepy with the doll mysteriously shifting locations (though you never actually see it move), scary noises and, eventually, Janice coming face to face with the dead daughter, who, naturally turns out to be a demon in disguise (the back story’s explained towards the end) which wants her soul.

The film makes effective use of the set and lighting design to build the tension, plus, of course, the soundtrack, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous instalments, to which the coda provides a direct link), Curiously, the film does little with its religious elements as regards the possession theme and is, at times, a little too cryptic for logic but, by placing two resourceful but nevertheless still young and vulnerable children (very effectively played Bateman and Wilson, respectively seen in Nine Lives and  Ouija: Origin of Evil) at the centre of the gathering horror, it adds to the suspense it seeks to evoke. (Vue Star City)

Borg vs. McEnroe (12A)

Few would argue that the 1980 Wimbledon final, a four-hour, five-set showdown between people’s favourite four time champion Bjorn Borg and badboy contender John McEnroe, was’nt the greatest match ever played, Borg losing seven match points before finally taking a record-breaking fifth title. It was  match between two very different tennis style and two very different personalities, Borg dubbed the machine for his ice cool composure, pre-match rituals and seeming lack of emotion, McEnroe the tantrum prone hothead with a reputation for disputing decision and swearing t umpire and spectators alike.

Directed by Denmark’s Janus Metz with a screenplay by Swede Ronnie Sandahl, it’s not too surprising that this biopic seeks to get inside  Borg slightly more than McEnroe, but, nevertheless, it does a good job in using flashbacks  presenting the childhoods and teenage years that formed the two players, scenes of a volatile adolescent Borg throwing the sort of tempers that made McEnroe’s name before he had it trained out of him.

Building towards the final, it cross-cuts between the two men’s preparations and pre-game psychological states (McEnroe refuses to speak to anyone, not even close friends like fellow player Peter Fleming), capturing the pressure felt by the defending champion and  the rage he bottled up behind his iceman persona while offering equal insight into the parental pressures that drove McEnroe’s intensity and outbursts. Stellan Skaarsgard is effective as  former Wimbledon player, Davis Cup captain and Borg’s longtime mentor Lennart Bergelin as is Tuva Novotny as Borg’s then fiancée and later wife Mariana Simionescu, both of whom get shut out in the hours before the game. However, the film like this lives or dies on its central stars and both are excellent. Shia LaBeouf gives his best performance in years as McEnroe. but even he’s eclipsed by Sverrir Gudnason who, in both looks and manners, to all intents and purposes is Bjorn Borg, the film more about the rival players who, obsessed, driven, tormented and flawed, ultimately, had more in common that wan realised, than the match itself. Somehow I can’t see anyone doing this about Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (Empire Great Park)


Captain Underpants – The First Epic Movie (U)

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

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


Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

Dunkirk  (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

The film is largely shot in 70mm which, should you be fortunate to have a cinema capable of screening it as such, gives it an extra sense of immersion and depth, but whatever the format, this is the work of a master, if perhaps slightly clinical,  filmmaker and stunning stuff. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

The Emoji Movie: Express Yourself (U)

Basically, Inside Out in a Smartphone without the poignancy or existential philosophising.  The son of the morose Mel (Steven Wright) and Mary (Jennifer Coolidge) Meh, young Gene (T.J. Miller) is about to make his debut in the Cube as the new indifferent emoji. However, unable to control the fact that he’s actually happily upbeat and not limited to one expression when selcted, everything in Textopolis goes into meltdown, with Cube controller Smiler (Maya Rudolph) declaring him a malfunction and ordering his deletion. To which end, he and out of fashion emoji Hi-5 (James Cordon) recruit hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who, it turns out has her own secret,  to help him navigate the apps (Spotify, YouTube, etc), avoid  the Internet Trolls and getting lost in the Trash, escape into the Cloud and get reprogrammed so he can fit in. All the while trying to avoid the illegal upgrade malware Smiler’s sent to eradicate them. Meanwhile, the phone’s owner, high schooler freshman Alex, whose texts to his crush, Addie, keep going awry, decides to have it wiped and reset, prompting the obligatory race against the clock.

Retreading the message about being who you are, individuality and not being defined by one trait, as well as the usual stuff about friendship, it’s a colourful affair populated with dozens of familiar emojis, among them Poop (Patrick Stewart) and Akiko Glitter (Christina Aguilera), allowing for any number of groan-inducing puns, although the comments about how emojis and texting limit real communication seem at odds with the film’s concept per se.  It may not be deep, but it’s undeniably fun.  (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

Girls Trip (15)

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

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

Essentially a vulgarity-enhanced black riff on Sex and the City, although intermittently taking time out to address friendship bonds, relationship cracks and lost self-belief, the bulk of  this wildly overlong largely entails moving from one crude or rowdy sequence to the next. Some of these, such as the girls tripping on absinthe at a nightclub, are hilarious, others, such as Pinkett Smith urinating on a crowd while hanging from a  trip wire between a New Orleans street are decidedly not.

The plot is as formulaic as the characters are generic (Haddish is basically the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis’ overbearingly irresponsible character in The Hangover), but the four leads give a cocktail of ebullient and nuanced performances above and beyond such tired clichés (there’s even a dance off), Pinkett Smith especially good.

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

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

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (15)

Ryan Reynolds teams with Samuel L Jackson for an empty but thoroughly entertaining variation on the mismatched enemies turned buddies road trip  that involves the former’s bodyguard, Michael Bryce, and the latter’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, in a  race against the clock to travel from Manchester to The Hague. The purpose being that Kincaid has been persuaded to give testimony  at the war crimes trial of genocidal Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (a suitably evil Gary Oldman) in exchange for immunity and freedom for his imprisoned wife (Selma Hayek, marvellously foul-mouthed in her  few scenes). Since that means that, with the help of the inevitable Interpol traitor (revealed early as Joaquim de Almeid’s Assistant Director), Dukhovich’s thugs are out to ensure he never gets there, Bryce has been brought in to facilitate self-passage.

He’s less than enthusiastic since, as the prologue reveals, formerly Triple A-rated, he’s slipped considerably down the personal security food chain since one of his clients was popped after safely boarding a plane. He’s still good at his job, but he’s gone from top of the range Jags to battered jalopies and from top diplomats and arms dealers to Richard E Grant’s cameoing coke-dealing London businessman.  On top of which, Kincaid has tried to kill him 28 times and , following an assault on the convoy transporting him, the Interpol agent whose enlisted him is Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung), his former girlfriend whom he blames for selling him out on that airport job. The truth about which provides a particularly amusing reveal in a film that balances lethal and laughter in equal measure.

Essentially, it boils down to a series of  hops between cities (Coventry included) en route to the Amsterdam courtroom, including hitching  lift with a busload of nuns, punctuated by constant banter between the two, innumerable shoot outs and action sequences and some particularly thrilling high speeds chances, most notably one involving Amsterdam’s canals, vans, a motorbike and speedboat.

Jackson provides the larger than life side of the pairing, Kincaid regarding himself as one of the good guys and proving to be a hopeless romantic at heart (a flashback reveals how he and Sonia met and bonded when she slashed a guy’s carotid in a Cuban bar-fight) as he offers relationship advice to wounded soul Bryce, Reynolds handling the deadpan sarcasm and dry quips with Bryce’s plays safe approach constantly undermined by Kincaid’s street-smart bull by the horns attitude.

The whole romance element is, frankly, fairly superfluous to requirements other than as motivation drivers, and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the spark and interplay between the two stars, who are clearly having a  lot of fun, and the frenetic, action-crammed energy with which it unfolds. It’s infectious. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City)

It (15)

Originally adapted as a mini-series back in 1990, Stephen King’s mammoth novel gets a  feature-length outing under  director Andy Muschietti.  Creepy without ever being as scary as it should, events spread over nine months, it’s been updated to the late 1980s and opens in smalltown Derry in Maine as young Georgie runs outside into the rain to float the paper boat made by his by his stutter-afflicted older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). When the boat drops into a culvert, he looks into it and is confronted by the face of a clown (Bill Skarsgarg), calling himself Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who lures him closer, bites off an arm and the drags the boy into the sewers.

A year later, Bill still believes his brother is alive, enlisting three  schoolfriends, know-it-all wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and sceptical Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), to explore the sewer system looking for him. Bullied at school by the psychotic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang, they’re the self-styled Losers Club, their number eventually swelled by shy chubby new kid Ben and homeschooled black kid Mike  (Chosen Jacobs), both of whom are also targeted by Bowers, and  the supposedly promiscuous tomboy  Beverly (Sophia Lillis), another bullied outsider.

All have their own terrifying encounters with It, as the film gradually reveals the shapeshifting monster preys on his victims’ fears and Ben’s research uncovers that it appears every 27 years, each period characterised by children going missing, something the town  seems unwilling to confront.

Naturally, all the kids (Bowers included) have their own torments, among them abusive or demanding fathers, an overprotective mother, guilt and, for Richie, a fear of clowns. But, while individually vulnerable, as Beverly points out, by staying together they may have a chance of surviving and destroying their nemesis.

Echoing the themes of friendship  and coming of age on which Stand By Me was founded (along with the cruelty of the adult world) with an added serving of horror, following various individual close calls, they all head to the decrepit old house they’ve identified as the clown’s lair.

The film makes effective use of its haunting imagery, most especially the red balloon while, although bereft of backstory,  Skarsgard’s white-faced monster, whispering “you’ll float too”, is a striking visual presence. However, while the opening is especially striking,  the more set pieces that are introduced to give each youngster a turn in the spotlight, the more repetitive  and the less effective they become. Likewise, the romantic rivalry between Bill and Ben over Beverly is never  developed.  Nevertheless, it’s an effective  piece of work and the young cast acquit themselves well, Lillis ably living up to the Molly Ringwald reference tossed her way by Richie. Of course, however, with the film closing on their vow to return in 27 years time to take on It once again, the best they can look forward to in Chapter Two are some fleeting flashbacks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


The Jungle Bunch (U)

We’ve had a kung-fu panda, and now here’s a kung-fu penguin. That’ll be Maurice, who lives in the jungle and, raised by his adoptive  tiger mom, thinks he’s one too. Many years ago, she was part of The Champs,  a team of heroes who saved the jungle from deranged koala Igor and his crab sidekick. But now, years later, they’ve disbanded and Igor is back, determined to destroy the jungle using explosive mushrooms. So, now it’s up to Maurice, who, to be honest, isn’t the world’s most skilful kung-fu artist,  and his new team of misfits, Junior his adopted tiger fish son, Gilbert the tarsier, his would be  lover Batricia the bat, Miguel the not entirely with it gorilla, and Al and Bob the sarcastic toads, to stop him. Adapted from the children’s TV series, it never rises to even the lower heights of Pixar and their like, but it’s colourful and fun enough to keep undemanding six-year-olds happy. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Vue Star City)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (12A)

Cheerfully  contriving to bring back not one but two characters who were clearly killed off in the first film, director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman’s tongue-in-cheek secret agent romp resurrects both failed Kingsman Charlie (Edward Holcroft) and Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth), respectively head blown off and shot through the eye. Charlie returns in the kinetic opening sequence, a frantic car chase through the streets of London, as, now equipped with a bionic arm,  he and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) battle it out in the latter’s souped up taxi. He’s now in the employ of Poppy (Julianne Moore), deranged CEO of the world’s biggest – but secret – drugs cartel, the Golden Circle, who’s holed up in her own 50s-styled Poppyland theme park in Cambodia who, Charlie’s arm having hacked into Eggy’s computer, then sets about blowing up every Kingsman establishment in the country.

This leaves just two survivors, gadget-man Victor aka Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy, who, since we last saw him, has, in contradiction to Kingsman rules, acquired a Swedish Princess girlfriend, Tilde (Hanna Alstrom); indeed, he’s at dinner with her and her parents, the  King and Queen, when  Poppy strikes, also taking out one his mates and his dog in the process.

Falling back on the Doomsday Protocol leads them to a secrets safe containing  a bottle of bourbon and, from there, to Kentucky and  an American secret  agent organisation, Statesman, operating  a distillery as a front as opposed to a gentleman’s tailors.  Named after drinks rather than Knights of the Round Table, they’re headed up by Champagne (Jeff Bridges) whose team includes wildcard Tequila (Channing Tatum), electric lasso-wielding Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and gadget girl Ginger (Halle Berry) and, after clearing up an initial misunderstanding, the team join forces. It also turns out they also have in their keeping Harry, who, revived but now suffering from amnesia, thinks he’s a butterfly collector.

The plot per se finally kicks in when Poppy announces on television that she’s infected millions of drug users with a  toxin that causes a blue rash and eventual death and demands the President abandon the war on drugs so she and her empire can go legit. Needless to say, Tilde winds up as one of the afflicted, making it personal for Eggsy while the President (Bruce Greenwood)  reckons Poppy would be doing him a favour, much to the horror of his chief-of-staff (Emily Watson). All of which, after a set piece on a cable car in the Italian alps, climaxes with Victor, Harry and Eggsy invading Poppy’s hide-out for the big shoot-out finale.

All of which serves to throw in an inordinate amount of silliness to go with the carnage, ranging from Poppy quite literally making mincemeat of Circle member Keith Allen and then serving him up as a burger, Eggsy having to implant a tracer on Charlie’s girlfriend (Poppy Delavigne) via a condom on his finger and, topping out her obsession with Elton John (she has robot dogs named Bennie and Jets), Poppy kidnapping the man himself for  private performances, though turning Elton into an action man may be pushing suspension of disbelief a touch too far. Playing deadpan, no one’s taking this seriously, which, of course adds to the fun and Vaughn rattles it along at a cracking pace, with some stylish suits and a couple of cute puppies along the way. Not everyone makes it to the end credits. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be back for the sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Logan Lucky (12A)

The return of director Steven Soderbergh to feature filmmaking should be cause for celebration, but instead what you get is a rather lacklustre and flat blue collar  retread of his Oceans’s trilogy, one which may have a cleverly intricate plot mechanism to the heist, but lacks any of those previous films’ fluidity,  comedic spark and banter. For reasons never quite made clear (but presumably involve being able to afford to follow his ex-wife –Katie Holmes – from Virginia  to Pittsburgh so he can still see his young daughter),  recently let go from a construction company on account of his insurance risk dodgy knee, former high school football star Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), persuades his one-armed Iraq-veteran bar tender brother  Clyde (Adam Driver) to join him in a  plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, to which end, with their flaky hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) already onboard, they enlist the services of  celebrated safecracker Jo Bang (a scenery-chewing Daniel Craig with a white buzzcut); they just have to get him out of jail to do the job and back again before he’s missed. Which means they also need the assistance of his two dimwit brothers (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson).

Unfortunately, there’s a hiccup that means they have to bring the plan forward a week, which means that, instead of some low profile race meet, they’re hitting the NASCAR Coca -Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. And, on top of which, after they pull the job, Jimmy’s got to get to his daughter’s pageant show.

It’s the first screenplay by Rebecca Blunt and, as such, you can often hear the gears grinding while things like the running gags about the supposed Logan family curse, Clyde’s hand  and John Denver’s music feel like Blunt being consciously ‘eccentric’ rather than an organic part of the plot. Likewise scenes involving Seth McFarlane’s loudmouth British energy drink creator race driver Max Chilblain which could have been cut without any loss to the narrative.

Admittedly, the way it all falls into place is well-handled and ( as with the Oceans films), there’s the inevitable reveals of things you didn’t see in the main narrative, but even so the late arrival of Hilary Swank’s FBI agent means the film has to try and crank things up again just after they’ve wound down post heist, something it never quite manages to do.  The cast are game enough, but never quite sparks in the way that Clooney et al. did and, while there’s some amusing touches, not least an amusing Game of Thrones gag as part of a prison riot demands and a witty background reference to Ocean’s Eleven,  ultimately this is enjoyable but forgettable fare. (Vue Star City)


Mother!  (18)

It certainly earns its exclamation mark! Darren Aronofsky pushes the boat out with this mindfuck of a psychological thriller that throws in haunted house horrors, biblical allegory (Cain and Abel and the plagues of Egypt included), relationship drama, home invasion and quite literally even a kitchen sink. It opens on a hallucinatory scene of  a woman burning alive, followed by a dream sequence involving a large red-veined crystal and the charred house gradually restoring itself before, finally, the camera pans in on Jennifer Lawrence waking up in bed and saying ‘baby?

Never given a  name, she’s married to Javier Barden’s equally unnamed and older character, a famous poet suffering writer’s block, while she’s restoring his isolated and previously ruined old  house to try and get his juices flowing again.  An early clue that it isn’t going to be especially straightforward comes when she puts her hands on the wall and has visions of a beating organ inside them. When she gets anxious she retreats to the bathroom to take some sort of yellow powder. One night, they get a visitor (Ed Harris) claiming to be a doctor who says he was told he could get a room. Bardem invites him to stay, enraptured with the stories he tells him, though Lawrence is clearly not happy about this.  The next morning along comes the man’s disrespectful wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who quickly taps into the unspoken but fraught  issue of  Lawrence and Barden not having kids.  Lawrence is even more unsettled by their unwanted guests when their two sons (Domhall and Brian Gleeson) turn up, quarrelling over dad’s will. Things get ugly, someone dies,  a wake gets out of hand, the floor and walls bleed, Javier writes another bestseller, she gets pregnant and suddenly there’s an army of fans descending on the place, to his delight and her anger. Things turn apocalyptic, people riot, tearing the place apart for relics of the great man,  the army crashes  in shooting. What happens to the  baby is for strong stomachs only.

It’s operatically delirious and frequently surreal  stuff that has Lawrence, from whose perspective the entire thing is seen,  getting increasingly desperate and intense (particularly in the many extreme close-ups) and the creepily smiling and increasingly callous Bardem possessed of a demented good humour and cheer to allcomers, basking in their admiration. Cinephiles will enjoy picking apart nods to the likes of Rebecca, The Shining,   Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Exterminating Angel and much more, others will just wonder what the hell’s going on.

At the end of the day,  however, it boils down to Aronofsky’s recurring themes, specifically the selfish, consuming nature of the act of creation, the idolatrous and destructive nature of fame in which the artist draws on the love of others like a sort of vampire and is willing to sacrifice (here quite literally) those close to him to fuel his creativity.  That by way of parenthood, trophy objects and the male ego. It’s a real mutha! (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

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

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

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

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

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


Victoria and Abdul  (PG)

An unofficial sequel to Mrs. Brown,  Stephen Frears persuades Judi Dench to reprise her role as Queen Victoria, approaching the end of her reign and set several years on from John Madden’s 1997 film in which she starred opposite Billy Connolly as the Scottish Highlander with whom she struck up an unlikely and close friendship.  This is pretty much the same story, except instead of Brown we have Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), disparagingly referred to as a brown Mr.Brown by Baroness Churchill (Olivia Williams), one of the Royal Household. A lowly prison clerk in Agra, he’s chosen, on account of his height, to travel to London and present the queen with a ceremonial coin along with the shorter Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar, ultimately sidelined), a fellow Muslim drafted in as a replacement after an accident with an elephant.

Abdul’s told not to make eye contact during the presentation at one of the  many lavish dinners. Naturally, he does, catching the queen’s eye and finding himself and Mohammed enlisted as her personal retainers.  Before long, he’s teaching her Urdu and becoming her  “Munshi,” or teacher, inspiring and delighting her with all things Indian, since, while she may be Empress of India, she’s never been allowed to visit for fear of assassination.

As Abdul becomes ever closer and rises in position to become a member of the  Household with a cynical Mohammed as his own servant,  bringing over his wife and mother-in-law  (in full burqa) and being installed in his own ‘cottage’, needless to say, fuelled by racism and snobbery,  the Queen’s advisers, among them head of Household Sir Henry Ponsonby   (Tim Pigott-Smith), her doctor  (Paul Higgins), the PM (Michael Gambon) and her eldest son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), duly take umbrage at this Indian, and a commoner and a Muslim at that, having such sway over her. When she decides to knight him, revolt ensues.

Based on Karim’s memoirs, discovered in 2010 (Bertie allegedly destroyed  all references to him and his mother), it’s lush, picturesque and generally light, but, the political and (and not always accurate) historical threads are little more than lip service to a platonic summer/winter friendship and, while Dench is again magnificent as the lonely monarch finding joy again, firing up to exercise her royal command when faced with dissent, the film never really gives Fazal  any substantial depth or background to work with, leaving him to basically just smile a lot.   It’s pleasant and, once or twice  quite moving, it just isn’t very interesting. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Wind River (15)

Having written Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan now makes an impressive bow behind the camera with another of his screenplays. Loosely based on real events, it’s set in a world of ‘snow and silence’, in the wintery landscape of the titular Native American reservation in Wyoming where, spending time with his young son while also out keeping predators  from the livestock,  in this case a mountain lion, divorced local game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) comes upon the  frozen body of an 18-year-old Native American. This is Natalie (Kelsey Asbille),  once the best friend of his own daughter, who died in similar  tragic circumstances for which he blames himself and which led  to the collapse of his marriage to his Native American ex-wife (Julia Jones). The fact that the dead girl, who died from inhaling sub-zero air,  also turns out to have been assaulted and raped compounds his determination to find those responsible and from whom she was running, barefoot. As it’s determined to be a homicide,  along comes no-nonsense, but inexperienced, FBI agent Jane Banner (a superbly nuanced Elizabeth Olsen) to take over from the tribal police chief   (Graham Greene) and, realising she’s in over her head, enlisting Lambert  to assist her.

Unfolding as a brooding procedural as the pair put the clues together, it would be unfair to real much more of the plot, but suffice to say the investigations lead to the dead girl’s druggie brother and subsequently her boyfriend, part of a local oil rig crew who were holed up for the winter and that, after long simmering tension, that film erupts into violence with both a harrowing flashback to what happened to Natalie, a bloody Peckinpah-like shoot-out and a final act of vengeance/justice.

But, as with his previous screenplays, hauntingly complemented by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave’s score, this is about troubled characters and troubled times rather than action, and Renner gives a magnetically compelling performance as the taciturn Lambert, a man of few, but meaningful words,  the  intimate scene between him and the dead girl’s father (Gil Birmingham) and the spare conversations with Olson weighed down with talk  of loss, grief and the hard path to recovery.  It may not have quite the same box office clout as his previous work, but this is quality filmmaking through and through. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; MAC; Vue Star City)



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