MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, July 8-July 14

NEW RELEASE

Now You See Me 2 (12A) A very clever film that played on the public’s fascination for the art of illusion, the original film was one of the biggest hits of 2013, 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, presenting one reality and then revealing the truth, this time round audiences already know to look beyond what they see, which rather takes some of the fun out of things. And, on top of that, the film reworks some of the original film’s set-ups and character back stories in a way that feels like cheating, not to mention (as it struggles to justify here) not making any actual sense.

Set around a year after the events of the first film when they exposed 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 unavailable due to pregnancy, her place on the team is taken by Lula (Lizzy Caplan), a cocky illusionist who once pulled a hat out of a rabbit, recruited by Rhodes to join Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Wilder (Dave Franco) for a comeback sting to expose plans by a high tech company’s CEO to launch a product that that can access any laptop or mainframe on the planet.

Except, as it turns out, 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 playing Daniel Radcliffe with a beard) who tells them his former-partner’s privacy-breaching chip was actually his creation and he wants them to steal it back. While in town, 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 here (especially Atlas’s resentment of Rhodes as team leader), 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 (though the CGI playing card passing sequence is overcooked), 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 Legend of Tarzan (12A)

tarzan It’s been 18 years since the last live action outing for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic jungle-raised hero, Tarzan and the Lost City. It may well be another 18 before it happens again. Although, with an opening weekend of $65million,  David Yates’ reboot has fared rather better than its predecessor (which took a total of just over $2million at the US box office), the chances of it making back the $180million budget seem remote. Looking to combine an origin flashbacks and sequel narrative into one story, as well as deliver a revisionist message about slavery, makes it a somewhat cumbersome affair. More crucially, it also makes it rather leadenly tedious.

Some years after reclaiming his heritage as Lord Greystoke, John  Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard) is approached by the Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) who’d like him to return to Africa as a PR stunt for  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 about to default, 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), ostensibly an emissary of the US government, but who, a Civil War veteran, actually wants to travel to Africa with Clayton to gather evidence on the Belgian government’s use of slavery (Williams was a real historian who did exactly that). Naturally, a determinedly feisty Jane (Margot Robbie) insists on accompanying her husband, even though (end of film spoiler) she’s recently had a miscarriage.

The invite, however, is actually all a ruse by Leopold’s envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz doing a  riff on his familiar suave sociopath routine) who (loosely based on the same real life figure that inspired Col. Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness), dressed in white linen and armed with a deadly rosary made from Madagascar spider silk, has  struck  deal with tribal chief Mbonga (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 really gets off the starting block in delivering any real thrills or action, and things swiftly devolve into a lengthy plod through Tarzan and Williams having to cross the jungle to rescue Jane, who’s been taken prisoner by Rom, briefly punctuated by Tarzan’s rumble with his former gorilla brother. Sporting a  range of prosthetic scars over his well-toned abs, Skarsgard presents an impressive physical figure, but lacks any real screen charisma and has rather more chemistry with his gorilla mother than with Robbie. Another problem is that, while the landscape looks terrific, the CG effects involving scenes between the animals and humans are decidedly less persuasive, although the stampede of buffalos through the port is an effective touch. When he first appeared, a precursor of the super hero genre, his only powers being his strength and ability to communicate with the beasts of the jungle, Tarzan was the king of the swingers, but these days, he’s simply 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)

 

The Neon Demon (18)

neon“Who wants sour milk when you can have fresh meat?” So speaks  fashion model Sarah  (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. Nor does she remain in the seedy motel with its  lecherous manager (Keannu Reeves) or with her new photographer boyfriend (Karl Glusman).

Swiftly turning her modeling  agency boss’s (Christina Hendricks) prediction that she has star potential  into reality, following her runway debut as she becomes the muse for a pretentious designer (Alessandro Nivola). None of which goes down well with her older rivals, among them Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah, who  conspire to bring about her fall. Meanwhile, there are others for whom her innocent but seductive image is a fiery turn on.

 

The latest controversial outing by Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive and Only God Forgives, takes 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 and a moment that redefines the entire premise of shock cinema

In what may well prove her defining role, Fanning delivers  a complete u-turn on the diabetic coma sweetness of Aurora in Maleficent as Jesse begins to flex the power her new status brings her, the demon flashing its eyes behind her angel innocence, but even then, nothing really prepares you for the Argento, Cronenberg, Lynch car crash of the climax.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Vue Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (15)

abfabThe 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;  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)

 

Barbershop: A Fresh Cut (12A) 

7561ed28a579bae1112b69a68a71d9d2-common_-eve_-and-nicki-minaj-in-barbershop--a-fresh-cutSomething 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)

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. (Vue Star City)

Central Intelligence (12A)

central-intelligenceThe 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

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 5 Ways, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City, Redditch)

Independence Day: Resurgence (12A)

indep1Twenty 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; 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.  (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Nice Guys (15) An 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. (Vue Star City)

Race (PG)

raceIn 1936, Afro-American Ohio State University undergrad athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics, breaking several world records and shattering Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy. However, his achievement was snubbed  by the American administration and it was not until 1990, ten years after his death, that he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, it’s a straightforward affair , leaping straight in  as, in 1933, Owens (Stephan James) leaves his impoverished family, girlfriend Ruth (Shanice Banton) and his toddler daughter behind and heads for campus where he’s immediately singled out by coach and former athlete Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) as likely Olympic gold.

As the  title suggests, the film concerns both athletic talents  and the discrimination he encounters, both at home and in Germany, the screenplay taking in the debate, headed up by  Amateur Athletic Union president Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) and construction  tycoon Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons), as to whether America should boycott the Games on account of Nazi Germany’s racial policies, a  rather ironic argument given the segregation enforced back home. Meanwhile, over in Germany, Joseph Goebbels has enlisted Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten) to document the preparations and the Games.

Although it  only offers shorthand depictions of the Jewish persecution and American racial prejudice and glosses over Brundage’s anti-Semitism, it’s still a solid account that embraces both  events on the track and the moral stakes and dilemmas Owens faced away from it. A sort of Afro-American Chariots of Fire, it could have, perhaps, been told better, but it remains an inspirational story well worth remembering.  (Until Wed:MAC)

 

The Secret Life of Pets (U)

pets 1The 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), an old Basset Hound bloodhound who, half-paralysed, is 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)

Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles: Out of the Shadows (12A)

turtlesWhat 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. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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.   (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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