MOVIE ROUND-UP: This week’s new film releases, July 1-July 7

NEW RELEASE

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (15) The transition of British sitcoms to the big screen has produced bigger turkeys than Bernard Matthews, most recently Dad’s Army being a case in point. No wonder that Jennifer Saunders resisted an extended feature-length version of her iconic 90s send up of the PR and fashion world in which she played self-serving, drink-addled Edina Monsoon with Joanna Lumley as her Bollinger-quaffing, coke-snorting, Botox-injecting predatory friend Patsy Stone. However, after reviving it for three 20th anniversary episodes across Christmas 2011/2012, she was finally persuaded by co Lumley to write an AbFab movie.

The result, while far from a disaster on the scale of Guest House Paradiso (a thinly disguised cinema version of Bottom), does have a distinct whiff of Spice World about it, and not just because it features Baby Spice, Emma Bunton. She was, after all, a regular in the series, as was the endless stream of celebrity cameos, a signature trademark turned up to eleven here with an almost constant parade of names from the fashion world as themselves  (Jean-Paul Gaultier, Lily Cole, Alexa Chung, Gwendoline Christie,  Stella McCartney, Ozwald Boateng  and Jerry Hall among them) as well as brief appearances by the likes of  Jeremy Paxman, Graham Norton, Joan Collins, John Hamm, Christopher Biggins, Barry Humphries (as both Dame Edna and unrecognisable as one of Patsy’s former conquests) and (the best of the bunch) Rebel Wilson as a low budget airline stewardess with attitude.

And, of course, there’s Kate Moss around whom the plot loosely hangs as, accidently pushing her into the Thames at a launch party in an attempt to sign her as a client since she’s now down to just Bunton, Lulu and a boutique vodka, Edina finds herself vilified for her apparent death. All of which is, essentially, a plot device to get her and Patsy over to Cannes, on the run from the law and into another plot with Patsy trying to land a wealthy husband since they’re both broke and having to sponge off Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), the Anglo-African teenage daughter of Eddy’s still frumpy daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) they’ve taken along for her credit card.

Not that the  assorted plots are really of much consequence, since they’re essentially just there to provide a platform for Saunders and Lumley to riff on their characters, of which, it must be said, Lumley emerges triumphantly and the best reason for seeing the film.

With familiar faces like Jane Horrocks as Bubble, June Whitfield as Edina’s mother and  Christopher Ryan as ex-hubbie Marshall joined by  new addition Robert Webb as Saffy’s new police inspector boyfriend, it’s an inevitably (and typically) hit and miss affair, the former embodied in Saffy’s karaoke rendition of Janis Ian’s At Seventeen at a drag queens club and the latter in a three-wheeled car chase that might have come from On The Buses Goes to the Riviera and the inordinate amount of time it takes to get going. For the most though, as Patsy replies when Lola asks why she stays with Eddy, “it’s bloody good fun”. Even if the airbrushing budget must have been enormous. And who knows, after featuring prominently on the soundtrack, it could even see a chart return for Peter Sarstedt’s 60s classic Where Do You Go To My Lovely!  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Central Intelligence (12A)

Central-Intelligence 3The latest in a long line of mismatched reluctant partners, this pairs Kevin Hart (small) with Dwayne Johnson (big), the former as motormouth Calvin Joyner, an accountant who feels he never lived up to his Student Most Likely To award back in High School, with the latter as Robbie Weirdicht who, as the school fat kid, (a CGI blubbery Johnson) was befriended by Golden Jet Joyner after a cruel prank left his naked in front of the whole school. These days, though, as Calvin’s shocked to discover after agreeing to meet up for a drink when he’s contacted via Facebook, he’s renamed himself Bob Stone and is  a pumped up  He-Man who effortlessly takes out a bunch of thugs in the café because he doesn’t like bullies. He also still goofily idolise the only person who was ever kind to him.

However, it also turns out that Bob works for the CIA and has actually hooked back up with Calvin because he needs his skills to track down the meeting place for an online auction deal to sell off stolen Americans satellite secrets by someone known as the Black Badger. On the other hand, could Bob himself be the traitor who, as CIA Agent Harris (Amy Ryan) tells Calvin, stole the secrets and killed his partner. Or maybe Bob’s been set up and Harris is actually the Black Badger.

It’s to the film’s credit that it actually manages to keep you guessing right up to the final showdown, but the ride there is never quite as much fun as it should have been.  There are some genuinely hilarious moments and, even though Hart’s pretty much wheeling out the same shtick as in Ride Along and Get Hard), he’s less irritating than usual while, once again, Johnson shows he has a real flair for comedy as well as the usual action man roles. He also brings a lot more character depth to the table than Hart, playing Bob as both the tough guy,  but also still a vulnerable insecure child haunted by his past humiliation, something that  pays off when he meets the now grown up bully responsible (Jason Bateman)  and is again cowed.

It’s let down by the  somewhat forced nature of the plotting, some underwritten secondary characters (such as Danielle Nicolet as Calvin’s high school sweetheart and now wife) and the fact that it stretches things out far longer than it need. However, there’s real chemistry between the two stars, who seem to be improvising many of their exchanges, such as lines about Taylor Swift’s ever-changing boyfriends and Calvin being like a black Will Smith (the outtakes also has Hart cracking a joke about the Rock) and it’s absolutely riddled with movie references, from Molly Ringwald and 16 Candles to Patrick Swayze and Roadhouse.

Also, the action sequences rip along (especially a shoot out at Calvin’s office)  and it’s pretty much devoid of the coarse vulgarity that seems to have become de rigueur in today’s comedies, and there’s also a surprise uncredited cameo at the high school reunion. It’s not up there in the Nice Guys league, but you won’t walk out feeling disappointed. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

Alice Through The Looking Glass (PG) Children familiar with the Lewis Carroll classic will find little mirrored in this sequel to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Certainly the central  characters are here, though Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas) had already appeared in the first film, but   a plot involving a literal race against time to save the Mad Hatter bears no relation to the book.

You can’t accuse it of not having an overactive imagination or being sluggish. Rarely pausing for breath, it hurtles from one visually eye-popping sequence to the next, and in terms of digital effects, you get certainly get your money’s worth. But it’s all taken at such a rush that the beating of the emotional heart (it’s ultimately about friendship and family) is rarely heard above the visual noise.

It opens some years on from the previous film, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now  grown and captain of her late father’s ship, The Wonder. Returning after a lengthy voyage, she discovers that her spiteful former suitor, Hamish (Leo Bill), now runs the company and that the fate of the family home rests with her mother (Lindsay Duncan) signing over The Wonder.

All of which culminates in a visit from caterpillar turned butterfly Absalom (Alan Rickman) who tells her the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in a terrible state and Alice plunging through a dimensional mirror back to Underland. Here, she discovers that, having found the first hat he ever made, the Hatter believes his family to still be alive and not incinerated by the Jabberwocky as he previously thought. That nobody believes him has sent him into a deep dark depression, his orange hair turned white.

Alice resolves to help by travelling back in time to save his family. Which involves stealing something called the Chronosphere, a time travelling gyroscope belonging to the part-human/part-clock Time (a terrific Sacha Baron Cohen) himself, ignoring his warnings that you can’t change the past and you might make the present worse. So, Alice goes Back to the Future, then.

Meanwhile, Time, who’s besotted with the exiled Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who wants the Chronosphere for her own purposes,  is in pursuit, giving occasion for a plethora of time puns at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and an explanation of how it came to be always one minute to teatime.

So, basically, this is an origin story as Alice first meets the younger Tarrant Hightop when he was just an apprentice to his disapproving hatter father (Rhys Ifans) and discovers why there’s history between him and the Red Queen, and then when he was just a boy, where we learn how the young Iracebeth came to have such a large head and that sister, Mirana, The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) wasn’t always quite the paragon of virtue she seems.

Although the core performances (Wasikowska, Bonham Carter, Baron Cohen and Depp) are all strong, it’s an often exhausting affair trying to keep up with the cluttered plot, the emotions getting lost in the sensory overload, but the kids will likely delighted with the visual effects and the eccentricity on offer. Whether you reckon the glass is half full or half empty probably depends on how old you are.    (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Angry Birds Movie (U)

angry3Launched in 2009, the  iPhone game goes big screen as, sketching in the origin story over the opening credits and with a couple of flashbacks, we’re introduced to the Bird Island paradise of assorted flightless birds who live a contented, harmonious and good-natured existence. There are exceptions, of course, most notably Red (Jason Sudeikis doing feathered flippancy), a sarcastic cardinal bird with big eyebrows and anger management issues to the extent that he’s been exiled to live in a house on the beach.

Sentenced by the judge to anger management classes under ‘free rage chicken’ therapist Matilda (Maya Rudolph),  he meets up with three other anger-prone avians, hyperactive goldfinch Chuck (Josh Gad), quite literally short-fused blackbird Bomb (Danny McBride) who has a habit of exploding, and the bulky, monosyllabic Terrence (Sean Penn).

The main plot finally kicks in as a  ship rolls into the island, from which emerge Leonard (Bill Hader), a bearded green pig, and his assistant, proclaiming that they come in peace, but who patently have a hidden agenda. Naturally, even after loads more pigs turn up, the birds refuse to pay heed to Red’s suspicions until the swine make off with all the eggs (green ham and eggs, geddit Dr Seuss fans!) which they intend to turn into a hard boiled banquet. Now it’s time to turn to Red  for help who, along with his new buddies, sets off to find the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), the island’s long missing guardian, and take the fight to Piggy Island.

With a staple plot about the misfit coming good and the message about accepting who you are and the strength of family, along with the obligatory bodily function gags, older members of the audience can have fun spotting the pop culture puns, among them nods to The Shining and, ahem, Jon Hamm.

Fitfully rather than consistently amusing as it wings its way to the big action sequence as the birds attack the pig city and Leonard’s citadel, it’s well animated and entertaining enough for a flutter, though having seen a mommy bird regurgitating into her chicks’ paper bags,  some kids might be well put off taking lunch boxes to school. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Barbershop: A Fresh Cut (12A) Something of an unexpected threequel, this new visit to the Chicago barbers finds it now catering for both sexes,  Calvin (Ice Cube)  and his staff, Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) among them, looking after the men while the newly installed Angie (Regina Hall) and her team, which includes Terri (Eve), cater to the women. As before, the film mixes comedy and comment, and while the previous film concerned urban gentrification, this one looks at the problem of urban gang warfare. Indeed, appointments have to be scheduled so rival gangs don’t come in for a cut on the same day.

It’s not just out on the streets, the problem also hits close to home with Calvin concerned that his teenage son (Michael Rainey Jr) in trouble at school,  may be about to join a gang. Calvin’s considering relocating to a safer neighbourhood, thereby setting up the film’s theme as to whether you stay and try and make things better or leave and let everything go to hell. So, he declares a 48-hour truce in the neighbourhood and offers free haircuts for the weekend in an attempt to fix things.

Along with returning cast members such as Anthony Anderson (now running food-truck business Gangsta Grub) and Sean Patrick Thomas, there also new blood in the shape of R&B star Nicki Minaj and rapper Common as, respectively, Angie’s employee Draya  and Rashed, who’s married to Terri (Eve), the co-worker she has eyes on, as well as J. B. Smoove as wheeler-dealer One-Stop, Lamorne Morris as the nerdy Jerrod, who everyone thinks is gay, and  Utkarsh Ambudkar as Raja, an  Indian haircutter whose speciality is  “the Lupita”.

Although there’s a political aspect (with Reggie Brown appearing as President Obama), it is, essentially, played for the laughs  and, as such, delivers a suitably trim restyling.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)

The Boss (15) Melissa McCarthy can be very funny, but sometimes this is in spite of the material. Case in point here, a new, unnecessarily foul-mouthed comedy in which she plays Michelle Darnell, a Trump-like celebrity entrepreneur and motivational speaker with abandonment issues (she was raised in an orphanage) who, stitched up by her tycoon former-lover Renault, née Robert (a hammy Peter Dinklage) after screwing him in a deal, is locked up for insider trading and emerges from prison a few months later to find herself broke and homeless. So, she imposes herself on single mom former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) and her tweenage daughter  Rachel (Ella Anderson), while she tries to get back on top. When she takes Rachel to her youth group and discovers they’ve been making money flogging cookies, given that Claire makes great brownies, Michelle forms her own troop, Darnell’s Darlings, going into partnership with Claire and taking to the streets selling brownies, by any means necessary, sparking  a turf war run-in with Rachel’s old group that turns into a full-on street battle. Meanwhile, still burning for revenge, Renault has his eye on the business.

An unlikeable manipulator who uses  her sharp tongue and vicious wit to belittle and humiliate people in order to keep any emotional attachments at a distance, needless to say, the plot’s programmatic sentimentality  sees her realising her mistake and looking to repair broken relationships, including with her mentor (Kathy Bates). The problem is that, while there some hilarious moments, the level of wit is mostly centred around endless references to blow jobs. By the time it gets to the last act’s bungled heist and rooftop samurai sword fight, it’s clear that inspiration and imagination have left the building.

Darnell is actually based on an earlier character McCarthy created during her stint with Los Angeles comedy troupe, The Groundlings, and you can’t help feeling that the film is just an extended sketch with considerably more swearing. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Vue Star City)

The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case (15)

The-Conjuring-Firmly established as his generation’s finest horror director, following the Fast and Furious 7, James Wan returns to the genre, reuniting Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as real life Catholic demon hunters Lorraine and Ed Warren and, once again, drawing on a true story, here, in 1977, that of the  Hodgson family in Enfield,  the most documented haunting in England.

Opening with a flashback to the case that put the Warrens on the map, the Amityville Horror, Lorraine seeks to find out whether Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was truly possessed, as he claimed, when killed six members of his family. During the séance, Lorraine is confronted by a demon in the form of a tall white-faced nun and has a vision of her husband’s death, before being shocked out of her trance.  Saying nothing, but putting spook hunting on the back burner, she again experiences a vision of the nun and Ed’s death, all the more disturbing since he’s just painted a portrait of the figure. At which point they get a call saying a  family in England could do with their help. Arriving in Enfield, they discover that single  mother  Peggy  Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children are being tormented by the ghost of an elderly former resident who died in the armchair in the sitting room of their run down council house. He’s particularly focused on 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe), who frequently gets levitated, thrown around and possessed. Needless to say, it’s not long before they too are up their necks in flying furniture, swivelling crosses and the usual haunted house paraphernalia. Naturally, the demon of Lorraine’s vision, proves to have an integral part in the proceedings.

Although Wan adopts the familiar tropes (creaking doors, toys moving of their own accord, brief glimpses, sudden jolts) to serve up the tension, shocks and general feeling of looming dread, he does so with a masterful unsettling effect that never leaves you feeling cheated. At over two hours, it is undeniably too long and overly repetitive, but, O’Connor’s gorlummy accent and Franka Potente’s caricature sceptic  parapsychologist notwithstanding, the performances are strong, Wolfe and Farmiga’s especially so, and there’s a strong an compelling visual energy to it. And, when it finally gets there, the final showdown cranks things up to a suitable climax. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but Wan makes it worth seeing again.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch)

Gods of Egypt  (12A)  Greeted by a  fusillade of scathing reviews, while it might be going against prevailing critical wisdom, I found this rather fun. Sure, it’s cheesy and lacking anything remotely resembling sophisticated storytelling or nuanced acting, but, if you go in expecting something in the manner of Jason and the Argonauts  or Flash Gordon, then there’s much popcorn pleasure to be had.

Set in Ancient Egypt where god and mortals mingle (the former prone to suddenly turning into their mythological forms), Osiris (Bryan Brown) is about to pass on the crown to his playboy son, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Lord of the Air, when along comes his brother, Set (Gerard Butler), the god of disorder who, pissed off at having to rule the desert while his brother gets all the city perks, swiftly kills Osiris, defeats his nephew,  plucks out his eyes, thereby robbing him of his power to transform, and establishes himself as the new ruler. Taking Horus’ woman, Hathor, the goddess of love, to his bed in the process.

Meanwhile, back in mortal territory, Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a  thief with  little time for the gods, is persuaded by his lover, Zaya (Courtney Eaton), a big Horus fan, to steal back the eyes which Set’s got stored in some booby-trapped vault. Fortuitously, she works for the architect who designed it (Rufus Sewell), so she can furnish the maps. However, while the heist is successful, Zaya ends up dead, leading Bek to strike a deal with the exiled Horus to restore his eye (and help recover the other), if he promises to return her from the underworld. Horus agrees, but neglects to mention that resurrecting the dead isn’t actually possible.

And that’s the basic set-up, the rest of the film revolving round the quest to recover the second eye, which involves enlisting the quite literal know-it-all God of Wisdom, Thoth (Chadwick Boseman), to solve the riddle of the Sphinx and battling an assortment of Set’s underlings while, as part of his plan for world domination,  Set, in turn, despatches his father, Ra (Geoffrey Rush), who lives in a sort of orbiting space station where’s he’s constantly fending off some beast that wants to devour the  (flat) Earth. Naturally, it all ends with Set and Horus, transforming into the deity incarnations, finally going head to head.

Director Alex Proyas (I Robot) enthusiastically trowels on the action and effects (when gods bleed, they bleed liquid gold) to glorious kitsch excess, the cast rising to the occasion to deliver dialogue like “Give me my eyes!” with gleefully knowing  winks. Ok, much of the film is just a repetitive series of fights and chases, and, when you get down to it, it is, frankly all rather silly. But big grin fun all the same. (Empire; Showcase Walsall)

A Hologram For The  King (12A)

hologram_for_the_kingOnce a  top salesman, today Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is in a downward spiral, acrimoniously divorced and  too financially strapped to pay his teenage daughter’s college fees, he’s having a mid-life crisis, a scenario pithily encapsulated in the opening dream sequence as Hanks sings the opening verse to Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, as his world goes up in puffs of smoke around him. He awakes on a plane bound for Saudi Arabia where he’s making one last stab to avoid going under, calling in a vague connection to the nephew of the king to give a pitch for  his company to land the IT provider  contract for the monarch’s much cherished, but long delayed project to build a completely new city in the middle of the desert.

However, things start to go wrong almost immediately when he oversleeps and misses the shuttle and has to enlist the services of a local driver (a scene stealing Alexander Black), then his official liaison constantly fails to appear and there’s absolutely no sign of the king turning up so he can make the holographic presentation. On top of which, his team have been stuck in a tent, with no wi fi, no food and the air con on the blink. And his boss wants results yesterday. On the upside, there is chemistry with the attractive doctor (Sarita Choudhury) who treats Clay for the cyst on his back after he tries to lance it himself.

Directed by Tom Twyker, who directed Hanks’ segments in Cloud Atlas, it’s an uneven seriocomic lament for the American Dream that never really strikes the Willy Loman note to which it aspires. The problem is that things don’t quite seem to hang together or get properly developed with characters only lightly sketched in and only passing reference ever made to cultural or political issues. The romance too seems to be treated in shorthand, one minute she’s operating on his cyst and the next they’re in bed, Likewise, the film wraps everything up in a hurry, almost as if they ran out of time or budget. Hanks gives another top hangdog performance and Black provides a winning line in droll humour, but, like the hologram of the title, the film ultimately lacks substance. (Until Tue: MAC)

Independence Day: Resurgence (12A)

indep2Twenty years on from having their extraterrestrial  butt kicked, led by their Queen, the aliens are back, nastier and with a much bigger ship, looking to siphon off the Earth’s molten core.  Fortunately, some of the old guard are still around to put up a fight, among them scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), now a senior figure in the anti-alien defence,  and former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), although he’s not been in the best of mental or physical health since his mental close encounter. Levinson’s dad (Judd Hirsch) is still knocking about, although these days he divides his time between fishing and flogging copies of his memories lecturing at old folks’ homes.   There’s also eccentric scientist Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner), although he’s spent the last two decades in a coma. Fortunately, he snaps out of it just in time to figure out the mystery of the white sphere that popped out of the spacecraft the current US President ordered to be shot down and which bears a resemblance to the strange drawings Levinson and his French psychologist old flame old flame Catherine (Charlotte Gainsbourg) have been investigating in Africa.

There’s also the new guard, among them Dylan Hellier (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Will Smith’s character (who’s demise is brushed away in one line), who heads up an elite fighter pilot squadron that also includes bad boy Jake (Liam Hemsworth), Jake’s mate Charlie (Travis Trope) and Rain Angelababy) who also happens to be the daughter of the alien-defence force’s Chinese commander. No longer part of the tea, having resigned to look after dad, is Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe, who has a thing going with Jake, who has history with Dylan. Also on hand in the fight for survival is an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) who’s pretty nifty with a pair of swords and who, alongside Rain,  pretty much represents the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic element among an otherwise overwhelming American resistance.

As directed once more by Roland Emmerich, you know what to expect, namely global destruction and CGI effects on a gargantuan scale, and, with the aliens’ new weapon able to reverse gravity, uproot entire cities and drop them on other cities (presumably a trick they learned from watching Age of Ultron), he certainly doesn’t stint himself. There’s also the dry quips (mostly courtesy of Goldblum), the cheesy sentimentality and plenty of good old heroic gung ho as the film heads to not one but two race against the clock life or extinction climaxes. Delivering precisely what it says on the tin, it’s supersized popcorn entertainment, setting up a sequel as Earth’s survivors ready themselves to take the fight back to the alien’s backyard.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Me Before You (12A) A Brit take on the Nicholas Sparks school of doomed romance, Thea Sharrock’s adaptation of  Jojo Moyes’  bestseller benefits greatly from the effervescent presence of  Emilia Clarke as twenty-something Louisa Clark who, after losing her job at her small seaside town café, becomes  carer and companion to Will (Sam Claflin), the son of a wealthy family living at a country house, who, following an   accident, has gone from high flying financier to a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, paralysed from the neck down.

Understandably somewhat bitter, Will isn’t the most sociable of folk, but, predictably, Emily’s enthusiasm and sweetness melt the frosty condescension  and even get him to laugh. Although Emily’s already got a triathlon-obsessed boyfriend (Matthew Lewis), the friendship between her and Will slowly turns   to something more, particularly when Will’s ex turns up with his best friend to announce they’re getting married.

There is, however, a major spoke in the wheel in that Will promised to give his parents (Charles Dance, Janet McTeer) six months before checking into Dignitas to put an end to what he sees as a life not worth the living.  So can Emma persuade him to change his mind.

Since the trailer pretty much gives away the entire plot, you’ already know that’s not to be, but the journey to the foregone tear-stained conclusion is nonetheless sweetly engaging as she gives him at least a temporary reason to live and he awakens her to  new possibilities and horizons. Although the support cast, which includes Jenna Coleman as Emma’s sister, Katrina,  have little to do, Claflin exudes charisma without having to move a muscle (or at  least very few of them) while Clarke is an irrepressible force of sunshine optimism.  (Cineworld 5 NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Money Monster (15)

MoneyMonsterJodie Foster’s latest directorial outing is another swipe at  wheeler dealer corporates and how their financial machinations can impact on the ordinary man in the street. George Clooney stars as titular fast-paced TV financial programme presenter Lee Gates, a slick talking, ego-driven showman who uses dance routines, costumes, sound effects and film clips to spark up his stock market tips. On his latest show he’s talking about how Ibis Clear Capital, a company he’d bigged up, has somehow managed to lose $800 million of capital overnight through what they’re calling a computer glitch. He wants to interview their CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West) to get a clearer explanation, but Camby’s off in one of his private jets and no one know where he is. Least of all the company’s head of PR, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe), who’s been roped in as stand in for what will be basically be a non-probing puff piece

With  Gates’s long-standing director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) in the control room, everything’s going as normal. Until she spots a figure lurking behind the scenery. This turns out to be Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a delivery man who followed Gates’s advice and  invested the $60,000 left him by his mom in Ibis and has now lost the lot. He wants explanations too. Except he intends to get them with a gun and forcing Gates to wear a vest laden with enough Semtex to take out the entire studio.

And so, with the cameras still rolling and Fenn talking things through via Grants’ ear piece, the whole thing goes out live, as Lee variously tries to use logical argument and his charm on Kyle, inevitably making things worse, while, negotiation proving a no go, the cops try to get into position to take a shot. However, as the stand-off continues, information starts coming in to the studio that the computer glitch might in fact be a smokescreen for  “human fingerprints.”

Playing  out in pretty much real time, Foster keeps the tension tight, but also allows room for humour, most hilariously where the police set up a feed with Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend (Emily Meade) that decidedly does not go as they assumed.

Quite possibly the result of having three screenwriters, it’s at times a little disjoined with some shorthand plot notes and creaky  contrivances such as stoner Icelandic hackers to facilitate the unearthing of corporate malfeasance. The transition from the studio to a Wall Street showdown also somewhat deflates the tension and the ending is an inevitable given, but, while hardly in the same biting satire league as The Big Short, it delivers highly watchable entertainment along with a sizeable side-helping of wish-fulfilment. (Vue Star City; Until Wed:MAC)

Mother’s Day (12A) Following Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, this is Gary Marshall’s third  sentimental romcom based around an annual celebration. As before, it features multiple interconnected plot lines and characters as everyone prepares to celebrate all things mumsy. However, this time round, it lacks the engagement, spark, warmth and poignancy of its predecessors, resulting in the near two hours feeling stretched remarkably thin.

The best thing here is Jennifer Aniston as Sandy, an Atlanta divorcee with two young sons who is shocked to find her ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant), with whom she remains on good terms, has remarried to a twentysomething sexpot (Shay Mitchell) whom she resents as being her kids’ new mom.  Sandy is best friends with Jesse (Kate Hudson) who is married to Indian doctor Russell (Aasif Mandvi), has a young boy, and lives next door to her sister, Gabi (Sarah Chalke), who is engaged to Steve. Or at least that’s what she’s told their parents, Flo (Margo Martindale) and Earl Robert Pine). In fact she’s gay and has a wife called Max (Cameron Esposito), along with an adopted son, and mom and dad are redneck homophobic racists. Which is also why they don’t know about Jesse’s family and Russell thinks they’re both in a dementia home. But, hey, they’ve decided to drive across state for a surprise visit. You can pretty much write what happens next yourself.

Then there’s recently widowed Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), who doesn’t feel much like celebrating mother’s day (mom, a home movie cameo by Jennifer Garner, was a marine), much to the pain of his two daughters, Rachel and Vicky. The final strand concerns English wannabe stand-up Zack (Jack Whitehall) who wants to marry his girlfriend Kristin (Britt Robertson), with whom he has a baby daughter, but she’s got cold feet on account of being adopted. She knows who her birth mother is, but has never had the courage to confront her. However, since this happens to be home shopping network star and self-professed childless Miranda (Julia Roberts in), who’s visiting Atlanta on a book signing (and for whom Sandy’s been invited to submit a new set design), it’s probably time to introduce herself.

Everything plays out exactly as expect, even if not always convincingly (exposed to the grandchildren, Flo and Earl pretty much reconstruct themselves overnight) in a screenplay that variously involves a wedding, a medical emergency and a runaway vehicle. There are a few laughs, mostly involving Aniston, and a last act assault on the tear ducts, but far too much is coastingly flat, even resorting to poorly staged slapstick,  the casting of Hector Elizondo as Miranda’s manager reminding how much sharper Marshall (and indeed Roberts) was with Pretty Woman.  (Vue Star City)

The Nice Guys (15)

niceAn inspired pairing of  a top form Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, as written and directed by Shane Black, set in 1977 Los Angeles (soundtracked to the likes of Earth Wind & Fire and an extended riff on the opening to Papa Was A Rolling Stone), this combines the hard boiled noir and corruption/conspiracy/cover up  of L.A. Confidential or Chinatown with the wisecrack banter  of such mismatched buddy cop movies as 48 Hrs or Black’s own Lethal Weapon.

Crowe is Jackson Healy, a burly bordering on overweight enforcer who’ll take a few bucks to persuade people to stay away from other people, and Gosling is Holland March, a former cop turned earnest but not entirely effective low rent private eye whose wife’s death has left him with a guilt hang up, a drink problem and a disapproving, feisty 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) who, it turns out, is probably smarter than the two of them together.

Their paths cross in the case of Amelia (Margaret Qualley), March trying to track her down, Healy warning him not to.  March has been hired by the mother of porn star Misty Mountains, killed in the opening spectacular scene as her car flies off a road and through a house, but who she’s convinced she saw two days after her death. He’s persuaded that the woman in question was actually Amelia, an activist with a group protesting over a car manufacture’s pollution and, as it later turns out, the missing daughter of  Department of Justice bigwig Judith Kuttner (Crowe’s LA Confidential co-star Kim Basinger). It appears that she and her boyfriend made an ‘experimental’ film designed to reveal high level corruption, and now the boyfriend is dead and anyone else connected with the film, which was supposedly destroyed in a fire, seems to be going the same way.

So, when Healy’s involvement is changed from preventing Amelia being found to tracking her down and keeping her safe, the two guys become reluctant partners in a plot that bounces between murder scenes, gunfights, drunken misadventures, Boogie Nights-style parties and intimate confessionals, neither of them quite having a firm grip on what’s going on or what they’re doing. Meanwhile, there’s a cold blooded killer by the name of John Boy (cue Waltons gags) also on Amelia’s trail, with a rather more deadly agenda.

A guilty popcorn pleasure that’s as hilarious as it is often violent, it plays the noir storyline straight, but still has a knowing glint of self-awareness in its eye as it embraces the genre clichés, liberally punctuating it with brilliantly timed gleeful physical comedy such as the scene as Gosling attempts to hold open a toilet cubicle door with his gun and pull up his trousers while having a conversation with Crowe. Hopefully a franchise awaits. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets (U)

secret-life-of-petsThe latest animation from the team behind Despicable Me (complete with a Minions joke) 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, Katie, brings home  Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a scruffy mongrel with abandonment issues, from the rescue centre, 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 (headed up by a mangy specimen voiced by Steve Coogan), 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 over-excitable pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan). They’re led by Gidget (Jenny Slate), a feisty Pomeranian with a big crush on Max and some hidden kung fu skills, who enlists the help of Tiberius (Albert Brooks), a red-tailed hawk who finds it hard to keep his bird of prey instincts under control, and Pops (Dana Carvey), an old Basset Hound bloodhound who, half-paralysed, is fitted with a set of wheels.

Meanwhile, Max and Duke have to become buddies and 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 has assembled an army of abandoned pets, the Flushed Pets, an alligator and tattooed pot-bellied pig among them, 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, and the other animals from Max’s apartment block  standing in for Woody’s fellow toys. It doesn’t have the same emotional depth as the Disney classic, nor is it as clever as their latest animal outing, Zootopia. There’s also too many peripheral characters to give them all the time and attention they warrant and, after an often hilarious and well-observed 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 its inevitable message about friendship and family. Just keep the kids away from the pet shop on the way home. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles: Out of the Shadows (12A) What would Vin Diesel do?” wonders one of the Turtles during yet another action sequence. Well, were he sensible he’d probably turn down something like this empty, noisy and narratively-confused sequel of the adventures of the mutated amphibians named after famous Italian painters.

Despite having saved the city, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael are still hiding underground, fearful of being labelled as freaks and monsters. Still, at least arch nemesis Shredder (Brian Tee) is safely under wraps. Or at least he was, until he was freed on his way to prison and escaped through  some sort of portal designed by fame-seeking mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) who’s also engineered a purple ooze that can transform humans into mutated versions of their inner animals, in this case turning moronic  cons Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) into a superstrong – and super stupid – warthog and rhino, respectively. The ooze, of course, might also work in reverse, giving the Turtles, the chance to become human, something Leonardo rejects without, to their anger, consulting either Michalangelo or  Donatello, thereby causing a rift in the team and setting up the skimpy theme of the importance of friendship.  Meanwhile, Shredder’s planning to open some space gateway and bring through Krang, a sort of  betentacled blob of chewing gum living inside an armoured robot, and his world-crushing war-machine.

Assisting the turtles are reporter April O’Neil (the ever vacuous Megan Fox) and former cameraman, Vern (Will Arnett), who, having taken  credit for saving the city now parades around referring to himself as The Falcon. They’re also joined by corrections officer Casey Jones (Steven Amell looking like he wished he was anywhere else), wielding a hockey stick and pucks as weapons.

The whole thing screeches soullessly along, roping in Laura Linney, who inexplicably signed on to play police chief Rebecca Vincent, along the way to a climax plundered from The Avengers as the whole thing collapses into a series of CGI setpieces. It will, of course, at pack in the less discriminating crowds, before being consigned back to the shadows where it belongs. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

X Men: Apocalypse (12A) Picking things up 10 years after the end of Days Of Future Past, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank ‘Beast’ McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are taking in more gifted students at the Westchester school, among them  Scott ‘Cyclops’ Summers (Tye Sheridan), the brother of Alex (Lucas Till) aka Havok from First Class, and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), the former who emits destructive red beams from his eyes while the latter has mind control powers that rival the professor’s. Meanwhile, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is in East Berlin rescuing mutants like blue-skinned teleporter Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) while Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has gone to ground, working in a steel factory in Poland and living a quiet life with his new wife and daughter. All that changes with the awakening of the villain seen in the Ancient Egypt prologue, an immortal dubbed Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) who, later described as the world’s first mutant, is in the process of having his consciousness transferred into a new body when a rebellion against his rule leaves him entombed.

Now finally freed, he’s determined to reshape the world to his vision, wiping away centuries of civilization and any humanity deemed unfit to survive. For this, he needs his traditional four followers, here in the guide of winged mutant Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), with her lethal powerbeam arm, weather-controlling African street orphan Ororo (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto who, after the tragedy that has befallen his family, has turned back to the dark side

All of which leaves Prof X, Beast, Mystique, the novice new recruits and, making  welcome returns, the speedster Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne), the CIA agent and Xavier’s former romance whose memories of their relationship he removed, as the film heads towards yet another bout of mass global destruction.

Directing for the fourth time, Bryan Singer brings a depth of emotion to his flawed characters while also delivering bar-raising set pieces and visual effects.  It does take a while to get up and running, but, once the plot kicks in, the excitement never slacken as it builds to its Phoenix climax. And, of course, there’s also the much anticipated cameo of a certain steel-clawed military experiment known as Weapon X. It’s difficult to see where the X-Men franchise goes from here, having basically come full circle back to where it began, but fans should most definitely see Apocalypse now.   (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park

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 Redditch – Kingfisher Centre, Redditch 08712 240 240

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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