MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, July 15-July 21

NEW RELEASE

Ghostbusters (12A) It’s 32 years since the original spook-hunters, Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, became a box office sensation and 27 since the equally successful sequel. There’s long been talk of reviving the series, but probably not quite in the way that it’s ultimately panned out. Paul Feig, the  director of Bridesmaids and Spy, has rebooted the comedy franchise, but with an all female team. Paranormal researcher Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and ditzy physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) once wrote a book claiming that ghosts were real. And were roundly ridiculed.  They’ve not spoken to one another for years, but now the book has resurfaced online, threatening Erin’s chance of tenure at her prestigious university.

However, they get the chance to prove they were right when, starting with an incident at a heritage museum, New York is suddenly plagued by all manner of supernatural and paranormal manifestations, that leads the pair, along with Abby’s genius engineer lab partner  Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones in Hudson’s TBC role but getting rather more and better lines), a  subway ticket officer and  amateur historian who provides this film’s Ecto-1, a converted hearse,  to become a spook fighting team, subsequently dubbed the Ghostbusters,  and go proton pack to slime to save Manhattan from an army of ghouls that have been set loose to destroy the world by some disgruntled  nutter (Neil Casey) in revenge for being treated as a freak.

Joining the ensemble is Chris Hemsworth doing droll comic relief as their hunky but slightly dim  sexually objectified receptionist Kevin. Unfortunately, that and a ghost trhat takes the giant shape of the team’s logo are the only notes of originality here. Rather than try and establish a whole new Ghostbusters universe, Feig and his writers seem set on reminding everyone of the original. Not only are there cameos from  Murray, Aykroyd (who gets to deliver  the “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” line),  Hudson and Sigourney Weaver, but there’s the green glowing  Slimer, a rework of the theme song, a nod to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the familiar  green ectoplasm vomiting and the same fire station HQ, not to mention the uniforms and weapons bearing  close resemblance to those in the  original.

Indeed, the film just seems too busy reminding audiences of the earlier movie to give it or the characters identities of their own. Although at times McCarthy and Wiig seem to be doing their usual routines, the foursome bounce off one another amusingly enough and the ghosts are slightly scarier. On the other hand, a brief one line cameo at a heavy metal gig by Ozzy Osbourne as himself is squirmingly embarrassing. Although embargoed until opening day, UK reviews have been largely positive (albeit the US ones more mixed), but with  predictions for the US opening weekend being less encouraging, it all depends on whether it can scare up enough of an audience to turn the promise of a sequel in the end credits into a reality.  

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Ice Age: Collision Course (U)

ice ageFive films in and it’s clear the scriptwriters are running low on ideas, there is, after all, only so many times you can serve up a plot which relies on the characters trying to save themselves from extinction. They’re at it again here, this time threatened by a meteor shower akin to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, inadvertently triggered by Scrat who, in his constant quest to protect his acorn activated a flying saucer embedded in ice and got flung into space where, along with initiating the universe-creating Big Bang, sent a big meteor chunk towards Earth.

Back on the planet, the prehistoric pals  have other problems too. Manny (Ray Romano) can’t reconcile himself to the fact that daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) is planning to marry and take off with, in his opinion, useless goofball Julian (Adam DeVine), all of which has led to him forgetting his and Ellie’s (Queen Latifah) anniversary.  Sabre-tooths Diego (Denis Leary) and Shira (Jennifer Lopez) would like to start a family, but are worried they’re too scary for the kids. And Sid the sloth is despairing of ever finding true love.

All this is temporarily put on the back burner when balls of rock start hitting the neighbourhood and they and the rest of the herd, among them Sid’s granny (Wanda Sykes) and annoying manic possums Crash and Eddie (Josh Peck, Seann William Scott), set off to find a way to divert the giant asteroid that’s heading their way.

Joining them in their efforts is Buck (Simon Pegg), the one-eyed dino-hunting weasel from the third film, who, returned from his subterranean world, is being pursued by a bickering family of three dino-birds whose egg-stealing activities he’s been thwarting and who are very keen to see the destruction go ahead.  For Manny and co, the  solution to preventing extinction  lies in travelling to the regular meteor crash site and using the magnetic crystals  from another asteroid that landed some while back. However, a hollow rock, that’s become Geotopia, home to a bunch of New Agey  characters, among them an effervescent female sloth (voiced by Jessie J who also provides the obligatory sound  song) and their spiritual leader, the Shangri Lama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), as well as endowing them with eternal youth.

Visually, this is every bit as good as past outings, but, relying heavily on fart and body parts gags, the humour is pitched very much at a juvenile level and, with little dramatic tension, snappy dialogue or emotional pull, the film and its over-padded plot offer few diversions for anyone over the age of 10. At one point, Manny says “This isn’t working.” It’s time the filmmakers accepted the fact and let evolution takes its course (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Keanu (15)

keanuWhen a drug war massacre sends one of the victims’ pet kitten fleeing the scene, it fetches up on the LA doorstep of Rell (Jordan Peele) giving him a new sense of purpose after just been dumped by his girlfriend. However, when he and his family-man cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) return home after a night at the movies, they find the place has been ransacked and the cat, which Rell’s named Keanu,  taken.  All of which triggers a search to find the kitten that sees them pretending to be “Techtonic” and “Shark Tank”, .a pair of  tough talking “phantom” Allentown assassins (who the stars also play) as they try to get it back from Cheddar (Method Man), the drug merchant who stole it after mistakenly breaking into Rell’s place thinking it belong to the dealer living opposite.

Cheddar, who runs the 17th Street Blips (“the ones who got kicked out of the Bloods and the Crips”), has also taken a shine to the cat, and has no interest in giving it back, but strikes a deal with what he thinks to be two bad ass killers to go out with his crew, among them Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), the gang’s only female member and to whom Rell takes a shine. However, it turns out that the real Allentown twosome are also looking for the cat, as indeed is another drug lord who was family to  the gang killed in the opening scene.

A knowing tongue-in-cheek riff on a stereotypical LA drugs  and street gangs movie, it’s the big screen debut of Comedy Central regulars Key and Peele and has a definite air of the parody  show about it, featuring a hilarious scene starring Anna Faris playing a  coke-snorting  version of herself, a hallucinatory sequence with the cat talking in the voice of Keanu Reeves and an amusing discussion about the use of the n word. Best of all though is a running gag involving middle-class Clarence, adopting  a mean mutha gangtsa speak attitude, instructing the Blips on the musical charms of George Michael, whom he describes as a pale skinned Black and, in particular, his lack of a Father Figure.

Throwing in references to everything from Heat, Fargo and New Jack City to Boyz ‘n’ the Hood and Reeves’ own John Wick, while prone to repetition, this serves up both action and laughs. Had it starred Kevin Hart and Ice Cube it would be getting a  far wider release; but, then again, if it had starred Kevin Hart and Ice Cube it probably wouldn’t have been as much fun. (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Shock & Gore Festival @ The Electric

 Fri

Closet Monster (15)

 closetA body horror from Canadian director  Stephen Dunn, witnessing a vicious hate crime  leaves Oscar  terrified of accepting his own sexuality. Spending his spare time practising grotesque make-up on his best friend Gemma or discussing things with his pet hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), he knows there’s a violent reckoning coming, a battle with the monster lurking in his closet.
Deep Red (18)

deepredClassic horror from Dario Argento, starring David Hemmings as a musician who witnesses the brutal axe murder of a woman in her apartment. Taking on the role of amateur sleuth, he  finds himself ensnared in a bizarre web of murder and mystery where nothing is what it seems.

Kill Me Please (15)

kill_me_pleasePortuguese horror set in  Rio de Janeiro where a teenage Brazilian girl becomes obsessed with a series of brutal murders as young women are stabbed and strangled as she  starts to empathise more with the murdered girls than her peers.

 

Manhunter (15)

manhunter30th anniversary screening of Michael Mann’s  thriller, adapted from Red DRagon and featuring an unforgettable performance from Tom Noonan as the serial killer, The Tooth Fairy with William Petersen as FBI profiler Will Graham and Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecktor. The climax set to Iron Butterfly’s In A Gadda Da Vida, is stunning.

 

Sat

The Craft (15)

craftA cult classic from the 90s teen horror boom starring Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True as the ‘Bitches of Eastwick’, a high school clique who also dabble in a spot of witchcraft. Looking to find a fourth member to complete their circle, when they choose troubled new girl, Robin Tunney they find that their increased power comes with a price. Introduced by director Charlie Lyne.

 

The Crow (18)

The-CrowAlex Proyas’ classic cult gothic horror with Brandon Lee as a man who rises from the dead to avenge both his own death and that of his fiancée.

 

 

 

Fear Itself (15)

fearUsing clips from 100 years of classic horror films, Charlie Lyne’s documentary explores how filmmakers scare us – and why we let them.
Lights Out (15)

lights-outPreview of a spine tingling chiller from producer James Wan. As a child, Rebecca was never sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out – and now her little brother Martin  is experiencing the same terrifying events. A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother has re-emerged, and as Rebecca gets closer to unlocking the truth, she realises that all their lives are in danger…once the lights go out.

Scream (18)

screamWes Craven’s knowing 1996 meta-horror starring Neve Campbell, Drew Barrymore and Courtney Cox.

 

 

Sun

 Billy The Kid & The Green Baize Vampire (PG)

BILLY THE KID AND THE GREEN BAIZE VAMPIRE, from left: Alun Armstrong, Phil Daniels, 1987. ©ITC Entertainment

Alan Clarke’s eccentric musical about a snooker playing vampire (Phil Daniels) looking to challenge the  fellow vampire reigning champion.

 

Don’t Look Now (15)

dont-look-now-Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star in Nicolas Roeg’s Venice-set supernatural thriller about a couple trying to recover from the recent loss of their daughter.

 

 

Queen Of Earth (15)

queenNew psychological horror from Alex Ross Perry as, following  the death of her father and being dumped by her boyfriend. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss heads to her friend’s lake house to recuperate. However, cracks begin to appear in the relationship between the two women, sending her into a downward spiral of delusion and madness.

 Mon

Angel Heart (18)

AngelHeartAlan Parker’s stylish 1987 horror with  Mickey Rourke as the detective hired to trace a missing singer and finding himself mixed up with the literally diabolical Robert DeNiro

 

 

 

The Hunger (18)

BowieHung3Tony Scott’s erotic vampire fable starring David Bowie as the lover of Catherine Deneueve’s Egyptian bloodsucker, who finds the immortality he has been promised isn’t quite as ‘eternal’ as he thought.

 

 

 

Wed

Peelers (18)

Peelers_Shock & Gore feature film winner, a tongue-in-cheek Canadian horror as, preparing to close up and quit her small town strip club, former baseball player Blue Jean Douglas’ plans are thrown out of whack when a group of coal miners show up with them a deadly contaminant, leading to a blood bath as infected bar patrons become increasingly violent.

 

Thu

The Greasy Strangler (18)  

greasy-stranglerAdvance preview of  one of the weirdest and filthiest comedies of the year, following a man and his son who run a disco walking tour. When a sexy woman comes to take the tour, it begins a competition between father and son for her attention just as an oily, inhuman maniac stalks the streets. Not one for the weak of stomach or easily offended.

 

NOW PLAYING

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (15)

abfab3The much anticipated big screen transition of the iconic 90s send up of the PR world inhabited by self-serving Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her drink and drugs addled predatory friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), while far from a disaster, 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 a constant parade of fashion world faces  (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  and ( 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, Edina finds herself vilified for her apparent death. All of which serves as 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 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 Jane Horrocks as Bubble and June Whitfield as Edina’s mother joined by new addition Robert Webb as Saffy’s new police inspector boyfriend, it’s an inevitably (and typically) hit and miss affair, the latter embodied 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Angry Birds Movie (U)  Launched 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. (Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Central Intelligence (12A)

central-intelligence 2The 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 idolises 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Cinemawala (12A) Indian father-son drama about  a retired film exhibitor from a small-town in West Bengal, his celluloid-based cinema made redundant with the advent of digital projection, whose opportunist son sells pirated DVDs. (Thu: MAC)

The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case (15)

the-conjuring-2Firmly 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 Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City, Redditch)

Hard Time Bus (15)

busThe directorial debut of Black British filmmaker Dean Charles, after discovering that his best friend has been dumped for no apparent reason, Mark wakes from a nightmare in which his girlfriend has been unfaithful and, shaking off his complacency,  he scrabbles to make plans to marry her, unaware that she’s already considering a different proposal. Now it’s a race against time to prove himself worthy. (Sat: MAC)

 

Independence Day: Resurgence (12A)

indep3Twenty years on from having their extra-terrestrial  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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

The Legend of Tarzan (12A)

tarzan 3David Yates’ attempt to reboot the live action adventures of  Edgar Rice Burrough’s iconic hero combines  origin flashbacks and sequel narrative into one story, as well as a revisionist message about slavery, but the result is both cumbersome and turgid.  Some years after reclaiming his heritage as Lord Greystoke, John  Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard) is approached by the Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) to return to Africa at the behest of  King Leopold II of Belgium who wants to parade the good works he’s carried out since colonising the Congo. Except, since Leo’s  up to his eyeballs in debt and the PM reckons this would be  a good opportunity for the Brits to step in and take over.

Clayton refuses, but is persuaded to change his mind by George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson) who, a Civil War veteran,  wants to travel gather evidence on  Belgium’s use of slavery. Naturally, a determinedly feisty Jane (Margot Robbie) insists on accompanying her husband.

The invite, however, is all a ruse by Leopold’s envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz doing his familiar suave sociopath) who has  struck  deal with a tribal chief (Djimon Hounsou) to deliver up Tarzan (who killed his son) in exchange for the fabled Opar diamonds, which Leopold intends to use to pay for an army of mercenaries to enslave the whole Congo.

Unfortunately, the film never gets off the starting block in delivering any real thrills or action, and things swiftly devolve into a lengthy plod as Tarzan and Williams cross the jungle to rescue Jane, who’s been taken prisoner by Rom, briefly punctuated by Tarzan’s rumble with his former gorilla brother. Skarsgard presents an impressive physical figure, but lacks any screen charisma and has more chemistry with his gorilla mother than with Robbie. Another problem is that, while the landscape looks terrific, the CG effects involving  animals are decidedly less persuasive, although the stampede of buffalos through the port is an effective touch. When he first appeared, Tarzan was the king of the swingers, but these days he’s withered on the vines. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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.  (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Neon Demon (18)

neon 2“Who wants sour milk when you can have fresh meat?” So speaks a past her prime fashion model (Abbey Lee)  about new teenage Los Angeles catwalk arrival Jesse (Elle Fanning) with, as  make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) puts it a “deer in the headlights look.”  To emphasise just what allure such an ingénue has, her first professional shoot sees her stripped naked and covered in gold paint. Needless to say, as you’d expect from a  girl who confesses that her mother called her dangerous, she doesn’t remain an ingénue for long. Swiftly turning her modeling  agency boss’s (Christina Hendricks) prediction that she has star potential  into reality, she makes her runway debut for a pretentious designer (Alessandro Nivola), which doesn’t sit well with her older rivals, among them Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Lee).

 

The latest outing by Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive and Only God Forgives, takes a nightmarish horror look at the fashion industry and is, as you might imagine, an ultra-stylised, heavily aesthetisiced affair with a dark soul and an electrifying intensity that pushes things to the edge and beyond, complete with  lesbian necrophilia, cannibalism and  a particularly hard to watch dream sequence involving a knife and Jesse’s seedy motel manager (Keanu Reeves).

Fanning delivers  a complete u-turn on the diabetic coma sweetness of Aurora in Maleficent as, well aware of the power her looks give her,  Jesse begins to flex her new status, but  nothing  prepares you for the Argento, Cronenberg, Lynch car crash of the climax.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Vue Star City)

 

Night of the Demon (PG)

night-of-the-demon-3Part of the Shock & Gore season, Jacques Tourneur’s 50s horror is based on the MR James story Casting The Runes with  Dana Andrews as Dr. John Holden, a scientist in the UK to  debunk an infamous Satanist. However, after a series of supernatural occurrences, Holden comes to believe that a curse placed upon him might be very real. (Electric)

 

Now You See Me 2 (12A)

nysmPlaying on the public’s fascination for the art of illusion, the original film was one of 2013’s biggest hits, so a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, it falls into trap of many such follow-ups in looking to serve up the same ingredients, but on a bigger scale. However, where the first film hooked viewers with its sleight of hand, this time round audiences already know to look beyond what they see, which rather takes some of the fun out of things.  On top of which the film reworks some of the original set-ups and character back stories in a way that feels like cheating, not to mention  not making any actual sense.

Set  a year after their exposure of  corrupt businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the Horseman have gone to ground and, after initiating them into the secret magic circle of The Eye, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) has gone back to his FBI day-job where he spends his time trying to keep the agency off their trail. With Isla Fisher dropping out, her place on the team is taken by Lizzy Caplan as Lula, a cocky illusionist recruited by Rhodes to join Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Wilder (Dave Franco) for a comeback sting to expose a high tech company’s CEO’s plans  to launch a product that that can access any laptop or mainframe on the planet.

Except they’ve been set up, a debacle that leads to them jumping down a construction tube in New York and emerging in Macao where they’re taken to meet wealthy presumed dead inventor Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) who tells them his former-partner’s privacy-breaching chip was actually his creation and he wants them to steal it back. They also meet up with a Chinese mother and son who run the world’s most famous magic store and discover that McKinney has an crazy evil twin, Chase (a hugely pointless and irritating addition), who’s working with Mabry. And, just to tie things together, the plot also contrives to reintroduce Tessler and Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), the magic debunker last seen behind bars as part of Rhodes’ revenge for the death of his father  when (as revisited again in flashback here) a trick went wrong. Again, nothing is what it seems.

Director Jon Chu races the endless misdirection along entertainingly enough, but the banter and dynamic between the Horsemen feels forced and the whole concept of The Eye (which makes the film a sort of magicians’ version of Charlie’s Angels) is extremely contrived, as is the love interest between Caplan and Franco that seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought. Admittedly, the illusions are well executed, as are the subsequent reveals, though the big one, while offering a pleasing grin, defies practical logic in its preposterousness.  A second sequel has already been announced, but audiences might like to recalls the phrase, fool me once, shame on you,  fool me twice, shame on me.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets (U)

pets 3The latest from the team behind Despicable Me suggests that, when you leave the house in the morning, your pets aren’t just curled up in their baskets waiting for you to come home. When his owner brings home  Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a scruffy mongrel with abandonment issues, her terrier, Max (Louie CK), finds his life isn’t as cushy as it used to be. However, in his attempt rid himself this rival, following a run-in with a bunch of collar-stealing alley cats, the pair end up captured by New York’s Animal Control, prompting a rescue mission across Manhattan from their four-legged friends, among them sardonic fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell) and headed up by  Gidget (Jenny Slate), a feisty Pomeranian with a big crush on Max and some hidden kung fu skills, who enlists the help of red-tailed hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks) and Pops (Dana Carvey), a half-paralysed old Basset Hound bloodhound fitted with a set of wheels.

Meanwhile, Max and Duke have to learn to work together when they’re first forced to join up with and then find themselves on the run from Snowball (Kevin Hart), a crazy former magician’s white bunny who’s assembled an army of abandoned pets, the Flushed Pets, who live in the sewers and have vowed revenge on all domesticated pets and their owners.

Essentially, it’s an animal version of Toy Story with Max as Woody and Duke as Buzz Lightyear, the interloper competing for their owner’s affections, but it doesn’t have the same emotional depth, nor is it as clever as Disney’s recent  Zootopia. There’s also too many peripheral characters to give them all the time they warrant and, after an often hilarious start, the plot gradually descends into a series of action movie chases.

However, impressively animated and taken at a nifty pace, it’s never less than fun and serves up an inevitable message about friendship and family. Just keep the kids away from the pet shop on the way home. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Tale of Tales (15) 

tale-of-tales Italian director Matteo Garrone makes his English language debut with a bizarre intertwined compendium of dark fairy tales and folk myths from the 16th-century collection of one  Giambattista Basile, three stories (The Enchanted Doe, The Flea and The Flayed Old Lady) linked by a reflection on the foolishness that power can bring.

Set in a medieval somewhere, it opens with the queen (Salma Hayek), unable to  conceive, consulting a  mysterious necromancer who advises her and her husband (John C Reilly) that she can have a child if she consumes the heart of a sea monster, cooked by a virgin, but that there will be a price to be paid. This, turns out to be the king’s death  in the slaying of the beast. Nevertheless, after eating the heart, the queen duly gives birth that night, her son growing to become the albino prince Elias (Christian Lees). However, having inhaled the fumes, the servant girl too has a child, Elias’s identical twin Jonah (Jonah Lees). The boys become friends, but the queen forbids her son to play with a commoner, laying the ground for another eventual sacrifice.

Meanwhile in an adjoining kingdom, after hearing her sing, the debauched  sex addict king (Vincent Cassel) becomes obsessed with bedding what he’s convinced is some virginal teen. In fact, she’s Dora (Hayley Carmichael), a  wizened hag  who lives in a squalid cottage with her equally wizened sister Imma (Shirley Henderson). Sensing an opportunity, Dora agrees to sleep with the king, provided it’s in complete darkness. Needless to say, he discovers the deception and has her thrown out of the window, However, instead of falling to her death, she’s rescued by yet another mysterious stranger who transforms her into a beautiful young woman (Stacy Martin) who, ultimately, becomes queen. However, her youth and new status sends her sister on a downward spiral into madness as she takes rather drastic means to try and rejuvenate her skin too.

The third tale involves a king (a terrific Toby Jones) who becomes obsessed with a  flea, feeding it until it becomes giant-sized, neglecting his daughter (Bebe Cave) in the process. When the flea finally dies, the king turns his attention back to Violet, who’s desperate to get married to some brave, strong and handsome charmer. Unwilling to lose her, he arranges a contest he believes to be unwinnable, only to inadvertently end up marrying her off to an ogre, precipitating yet another bloody outcome.

Garrone intercuts between the three stories in a way that underlines their connected threads, producing a visually striking film that is by turns creepy, funny,  tragic, erotic and deranged, conjuring up a melting pot of Monty Python, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, Gustave Doré and David Cronenberg. Dark, grotesque and transgressive, like the fairy tales on which it is based, it conjures physical, metaphysical and psychological horror to mesmerising and cautionary effect. (MAC)

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. (Vue Star City)

The Trap (12A) London Indian Film Festival screening of Malayalam drama about a child forced into indentured labour  by the poverty trap in rural South India. (Sun:MAC)

Versus: The Life & Films of Ken Loach (15)

versIlluminating if entirely subjective documentary profile of  the socio-political British filmmaker as he turns 80, looking back over his life and career and featuring interviews with such collaborators and colleagues as Cillian Murphy, Paul Laverty, Gabriel Byrne, Nell Dunn and Alan Parker. (Mon-Wed: MAC)

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.   (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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