Movie Round-up: This week’s new film releases, Jun 10-Jun 16

NEW RELEASE

Where To Invade Next (15) The title of Michael Moore’s new documentary suggests you’re in for an attack on American foreign policy, especially given it opens on a shot of Moore supposedly addressing the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  So it’s an unexpected and pleasant surprise to discover it’s actually a playful, light-hearted (but still serious-minded) look at how America compares to various other countries. Moore’s shaming by example premise is that he intends to invade these countries and claim the best bits to take back to America in an attempt to try and make it the country it once was. As such, he jaunts around Europe and beyond where, playing the innocent abroad,  he feigns astonishment (though much will come as real as eye-openers to audiences) to discover such ideas as eight weeks paid holiday for all workers (Italy), gourmet school dinners (France), humane prison systems (Norway), progressive education (Finland), free university education (Slovenia), decriminalisation of drug use (Portugal), the emergence of democracy and women’s rights in Tunisia and, in Germany, how they teach school students about the country’s dark past rather than ignoring it. All of which have resulted in healthy communities based on mutual respect and compassion and which he contrasts to the parallel situations in modern-day America. The ironic kick being that many of these ideals originated in his homeland, and have long since been abandoned.

While still political, unlike, Fahrenheit 9/11 or Bowling For Columbine, this isn’t angry polemic, but it makes its points no less effectively. In one scene, a Tunisian woman offers a succinct summary of Moore’s message as she wonders how a global superpower  like America can exports its culture on a global scale, but have so little curiosity about the cultures of others. Of course, it’s selective and there are many who’d counter his idealistic portrayals of the countries featured, but this is about optimism and hope rather than negativity and despair. It ends with Moore and an old friend at the Berlin Wall, reflecting on how its fall was proof that anything is possible. Just as in Iceland, where the only bank not to collapse was  run by women and where, unlike in America, those responsible for the economy’s implosion actually got sent to jail. (Until Tue: Everyman; Thu:MAC)

The Boss (15)

the boss 2There’s no denying that Melissa McCarthy can be very funny, but sometimes you feel this is in spite of the material. Case in point here, a new, unnecessarily foul-mouthed comedy directed and co-written by husband Ben Falcone (who was also behind the turkey that was Tammy) in which she plays Michelle Darnell, a Trump-like celebrity entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker with abandonment issues (returned by a string of foster parents, she was raised in an orphanage) who, stitched up by her tycoon former-lover Renault, née Robert (a suitably hammy Peter Dinklage) after screwing him in a deal. is locked up for insider trading and emerges from her minimum security prison a few months later to find herself  broke and homeless. So, she imposes herself on single mom former assistant with Claire (Kristen Bell) and her tweenage daughter  Rachel (Ella Anderson), while she tries to find a way to get back on top. This presents itself when she takes Rachel to her youth group and discovers they’ve been making money flogging cookies. Given Claire makes great brownies, Michelle hits on the idea of forming her own troop, Darnell’s Darlings, going into partnership with level-headed Claire and taking to the streets selling brownies, by any means necessary, sparking  a turf war run-in with Rachel’s old group and one of the uptight parents that turns into a full-on street battle. Meanwhile, still burning for revenge, Renault has his eye on the business.

Sporting a range of huge turtlenecks and an orange wig, McCarthy plays Darnell as 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 introduces the programmatic sentimentality  that sees her realising her mistake and looking to repair broken relationships, including that with her mentor (a cameoing Kathy Bates), who she gets to bankroll the new business. The problem is that, while there are inspired and even hilarious moments, the level of wit is mostly centred around f*** yous and endless references to blow jobs. By the time it gets to a last act bungled heist and a rooftop samurai sword fight, it’s clear that inspiration and imagination have left the building.

Bell does her best with the somewhat thankless job of playing straight man to McCarthy while  Tyler Labine holds up his end as Claire’s love interest, though, Dinklage aside, of the support cast its Anderson’s canny Rachel that scores highest. Darnell is actually based on one of 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, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Learning to Drive (15)

LEARNING-TO-DRIVEPitched firmly at the grey pound  audience, Isabel Coixet’s gentle comedy about reigniting your life is getting a very limited release, but its understated charms are worth seeking out.  Her lecturer husband (Jake Weber) going through what she thinks is another of his seven year itches, celebrity book critic Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) is knocked back when her daughter (Grace Gummer), who’s currently living miles away, turns up to inform her that this time dad’s filed for separation (even worse, it turns out he’s shacked up with an author she admires).

Never having learned to drive, always relying on her husband, Wendy now finds herself stuck for getting around, so decides it’s finally time to take lessons so she can visit her daughter in Vermont. To which end she, living in  upscale Manhattan (even after the split, she can still afford a swank apartment) turns to Darwan (Ben Kingsley), the driving instructor cum taxi driver in the back of whose cab the marriage fell apart. He’s a Sikh immigrant political refugee with American citizenship, living in a dingy basement in Queens with his illegal immigrant nephew, and, a good, hardworking if somewhat critical man, refuses to take no for an answer when she says she’s changed her mind when he arrives for  her first lesson.

What follows is an odd-couple relationship as he encourages her to quite literally take control of the steering wheel of her life, at which point you’re expecting things to take a romantic turn. Instead, it turns out that Darwan’s family back home have been setting up an arranged marriage and his intended bride, Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), duly arrives and they’re wed the following day. However, with her lack of education, he struggles to find common ground with her while she, lacking command of English, friendless in a strange country with a husband who works all hours. It comes as little surprise to find that, just as Darwan helps Wendy change and take control of her life, she encourages him to change his too

Loosely based  on an autobiographical short story by political columnist Katha Pollit, it changes Wendy’s instructor from a Filipino to a Sikh so as to enable some commentary on blind anti-Arab racism among her fellow New Yorkers, but the political element here is very muted and the focus is on the shared humanity, especially, the close knit nature of the city’s Sikh community (Jasleen is rescued from her isolation by a gaggle of fellow Indian women) and the pair’s mutual awakening.

A tastefully liberal art house crowd-pleaser, Clarkson and Kingsley have a warm chemistry, the pair deftly playing poignancy, humour  and self-doubt as the film leads up to Wendy’s final triumph (and Kingsley’s funniest line) as she buys herself a new car, the ultimate symbol of liberation.  (Everyman)

 

Miracles From Heaven (12A)

miraclesAnother preachy Christian offering, this is based on the true story of  the Beam family, the middle daughter of which, Anna, was diagnosed with a rare  incurable and potentially fatal digestive problem, causing mom Christy (Jennifer Garner) to question her faith as she searches for a solution. Then, following her rescue from a freak accident, Anna is somehow miraculously cured which, Christy and her husband, are persuaded is all down to the power of prayer. Featuring some quite literal tree hugging, it features a very brief appearance from Queen Latifah as a friendly waitress and Garner manages to keep her ahead above the sea of treacle and sentimental schmaltz that passes for a screenplay. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Mother’s Day (12A)

mothersdayFollowing on from 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 a multiple, but interconnected plot line and cast of characters as all concerned prepare to celebrate all things mumsy. However, this time round, despite fewer characters and subplots,  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 when her ex-husband, (Timothy Olyphant), with some she remains on good terms, has remarried. Not just remarried, but to a twentysomething sexpot (Shay Mitchell) whom she resents as now 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 her 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 a pair of 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 ex-soldier turned gym manager Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), who doesn’t feel much like celebrating mother’s day (mom, a home movie cameo by Jennifer Garner, was a marine, killed in action), much to the pain of his two daughters. Rachel and Vicky, or getting back into the dating game, despite the encouragement of three of is female clients. The final strand concerns English wannabe stand-up Zack (Jack Whitehall, far funnier in real life than his character here) who wants to marry his long-standing 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 it happens to be home shopping network star and self-professed childless Miranda (Julia Roberts in a cheap red wig), 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 you assume it will, even if not always convincingly (exposed to the grandchildren and Russell’s extrovert mother, Flo and Earl pretty much reconstruct themselves overnight) in a screenplay (it and the story credited to no less than seven writers)  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 just 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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

Alice Through The Looking Glass (PG)

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to the whimsical world of Underland and encounters Iracebeth, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) in Disney's ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, an all-new adventure featuring the unforgettable characters from Lewis Carroll's beloved stories.

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

 The Angry Birds Movie (U) angry3 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Bad Neighbours 2 (15)  A quickie follow-up to the rowdy and ribald 2014 original sees Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s middle-class thirtyish suburban couple, now settling into parenthood,  facing further student neighbour problems, except this time it’s not from Zac Efron’s fratboys, but a new sorority house, Kappa Nu,  populated by “united women” and founded by doper Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) who, in defiance of  her prissy sorority leader (a cameoing Selene Gomez) intends to prove girls can party just as hard as the boys.

Indeed, this time round, struggling to find his place in the world, although initially enlisted by Shelby, intellectually-challenged (“there’s no I in sorority”) former college fraternity leader Teddy (Efron) winds up being  Mac and Kelly’s ally rather than nemesis. The same gags get recycled in different contexts and there’s yet more excuses for Efron to get his shirt off and display his abs. Which, for a large percentage of the audience, is probably reason enough to buy a ticket.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Captain America: Civil War (12A) Echoing  Batman v Superman’s concerns over the collateral damage resulting from battle between  super beings as well as thoughtful reflection on whether the worth of one individual outweighs the greater good, the latest addition to the unfolding Avengers-related saga is the best yet. Opening with a 1991 prologue involving Hydra turning Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) into the Winter Soldier and his subsequent attack on a car to steal its mysterious contents, which proves to have far reaching resonances for one of the major characters as the plot unfolds,  things switch to Lagos where Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Scarlet Witch, (Elizabeth Olson) have tracked down Crossbones, who escaped at the end of The Winter Soldier. In the ensuing battle, several innocent bystanders are killed, prompting the US Secretary of State (William Hurt) to inform The Avengers that they have to agree to be brought  under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. Weighed down by guilt over events in Age of Ultron, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) agrees, Steve Rogers, however, is adamant they need to have the independence to act and refuses.

Battle lines are quickly drawn when an attack on the UN building during the signing kills the King of Wakanda and footage implicates Barnes in the bombing, though it transpires he’s been framed by vengeance-seeking villain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). With orders to take him down, Captain America decides it’s his responsibility to get there first. On the other hand, Wakanda’s Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), otherwise the vibranium-armed Black Panther is determined to avenge his father.

Suffice to say, things end up with Team Captain America, now joined by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and a starstruck Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd) pitched against Iron Man, War Machine, the Black Panther and Vision (Paul Bettany), with Romanoff caught between divided loyalties. Stark also has another ally as Tom Holland make his bow as the new Spider-Man, delivering a nice line in wisecracks.

There is, of course, loads of spectacular action, most notably the slug-fest at an airport that sees a decidedly big change in Lang’s powers, but the heart of the film lies in the emotional muscle it flexes as friendships and responsibilities are put under pressure.  If there’s a flaw it’s the need to repeat Barnes’s Hydra compliance programming to facilitate the third act, but even that has a solid ultimate payoff. Packed with human drama and fully dimensional characters, despite the quips, it’s a sober, serious affair that makes the two plus hours pass quickly and leaves you hungry to see where things move to for The Avengers: Infinity War.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City

Everybody Wants Some (15)

everybody-wants-someBilled as a “spiritual sequel” to 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater hangs loose with an 80s set campus comedy about a bunch of  college baseball players  spending the first weekend of the new academic year at their southeast Texas university getting high, getting drunk and trying to get laid in between crashing parties,  visiting assorted clubs and dancing to disco, hip hop, punk and country. Testosterone and  male-ego competitiveness flow as freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) hooks up with his housemates and fellow players, competitive moustachioed alpha male McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), nice guy Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), the team’s sole black player, hayseed  roommate Billy Autry (Will Brittain), belligerently boastful minor baseball star Niles (Juston Street), smooth talker Finn (Glen Powell), pack leader Roper (Ryan Guzman) and laid-back bong maestro Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). While most of the interactions between the boys and the girls on campus involve being horny, Jake develops a sweet courtship of fellow freshman Beverly (Zooey Deutch).

Those who don’t get baseball needn’t worry, as all you really need to know is that hitters have a natural contempt for  pitchers, something that facilitates any amount of banter and insults amid the barbed camaraderie.

The loose limbed storytelling is essentially a series of scenes and set-ups, the dialogue often crackling with wit and one-liners as Linklater subtly explores themes of self-identity and self-awareness. There’s also a gag about how one of them turns out to be in his 30s; however, given most of the cast look like they’ll never see 25 again, this falls rather flat.

It’s great in parts, but the problem is that while these guys are fun to hang with for a while, almost two hours of screen time is pushing it. (Sat-Wed: MAC; Sun/Wed: Electric; )

 

A Hologram For The  King (12A) Once 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 treatsClay 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. (Vue Star City)

I Saw The Light (15) Something of a hiccup in Tom Hiddleston’s continuing ascent, even so, he still emerges with critical kudos for his lead performance in this biopic of country legend Hank Williams. It focuses on the period between 1944,  from when 21-year-old Hank married the bullying Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) at an Alabama gas station to his alcohol and drugs fuelled death in 1953 at the age of 29, following his rise from local radio performer to country superstar and taking in rocky marriage, divorce, remarriage (to Billie Jean Jones). booze binges and extensive womanising along the way.

As with I Walk The Line, Williams’s life and career offers  plenty of meat to chew on; however, despite the fact he scored 33 US hits (including eight No 1s)  before his death, inspired Presley and Dylan and is regarded as the father of country music, he’s considerably less well know over here than Johnny Cash. Hiddleston reportedly nails the singing, delivering solid takes on the likes of Lovesick Blues, Your Cheatin’ Heart and, of course, I Saw The Light, but the stylistic confusion and a focus more on the man’s private life than his professional one is dissapointing. (Sat-Tue:MAC)

The Jungle Book (PG)

The-Jungle-BookDirected by Jon Favreau, Disney deliver a visually spectacular live action version of their iconic 1967 animation. Featuring impressive newcomer Neel Sethi as pretty much the only human on screen, it combines Kipling’s original book (the Water Truce appears here) with much-loved elements from the animation, including Baloo – voiced by Bill Murray –singing The Bare Necessities and, splendidly voiced by Christopher Walken, King Louie, here the last surviving Gigantopithecus, bringing a sense of menace to I Wanna Be Like You. The story, should you need reminding, tells how, having been found in the jungle by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the panther, and raised by wolves Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), the animals have to keep Mowgli safe from the one-eyed human-hating tiger, Shere-Khan (Idris Elba), and python Kaa (a brief but memorable and chilling turn by Scarlett Johannson) and return him to the human world.

Jumping straight in with its mix of tension and action as Mowgli, racing through the jungle canopy,  initially appears to be trying to outrun a wolf pack intent on bringing him down, the film combines humour, emotional clout  and scares (some of the scenes centred around King Louie may be a bit intense for younger eyes) in equal measure.

Sethi makes for a winning screen presence, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the scene stealers here are a magnificently laid back Bill Murray as a slacker Baloo and Walken’s raspy-voiced, mafioso-like King Louie who wants the man-cub to give him the secret of man’s red flower. They, like the other talking animals are so incredibly photorealistic you’d swear they were flesh and blood, Shere-Khan being a particular triumph of detail. Likewise the digital creation of the lush jungle is breathtaking, all the more given the whole film was shot inside a building in Los Angeles.

If you’re being picky, then some of the contemporary dialogue (“you’re kidding, right”, says Mowgli) doesn’t gel with the setting, but that’s a very minor niggle in a very terrific film. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Leonardo Da Vinci: The Genius in Milan (12A) Documentary about the Da Vinci exhibition event at the Palazzo Reale in MIlan in 2014 (Thu: MAC) .

Love & Friendship (U)

l&fWhit Stillman’s adaptation and completion of Jane Austen’s unfinished epistolary novella, Lady Susan, is not only one of the year’s funniest and most enjoyable films, but rescues Kate Beckinsale from a life of indistinguishable action movies. She plays master manipulator Lady Susan Vernon who, recently widowed is  looking to find a suitably appropriate replacement. So, with the conniving help of her American  best friend, Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), herself unfortunately married to a husband (Stephen Fry) “too old to be governable, and too young to die”, she imposes herself at Churchill, the country seat of her late husband’s brother, Mr. Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), with the intention of  netting Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), the  younger brother of  Mrs. Catherine Vernon (Emma Greenwell), persuading him the  rumours concerning her scandalous past are pure slander.

Plans seem to be going nicely until the unexpected arrival of her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who’s been expelled from the boarding school to which she’d been packed off out of the way, and who catches the eye of her mother’s intended prey.  To which end, she seeks to dump her on wealthy but obliviously buffoonish Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).

Introducing each character with tongue-in-cheek  title cards, its littered with caustic and witty barbs and one liners, their sharpness perfectly matched by every single performance, each with a knowing wink in the eye. Terrific.  (Electric; Everyman)

 

Me Before You (12A)

me-before-you 2A 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, bcomes  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 at least very few of them) while Clarke is an irrepressible force of sunshine optimism.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Money Monster (15)

Money-Monster Jodie 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Mustang (15)

mustangWhen five orphaned Turkish sisters return home after  innocently frolicking on the beach with some boys, they’re greeted by an incandescent grandmother who, having been told of their exploits by a neighbour, accuses them of bringing shame on the family with their brazen behaviour. Their uncle is even more enraged, carting the eldest off to the gynaecologist to find out whether she’s been sullied (and thereby ineligible for marriage),the girls made subject to curfews, bars on the windows, and forbidden to wear anything remotely fashionable or colourful around men while he, the grandmother and a more sympthatic aunt seek to set up arranged marriages before it’s too late.

The girls, however, remain defiantly rebellious, the eldest sneaking out to see her boyfriend  to whom she’s eventually wed. However, her sister doesn’t fare quite as well as, come the wedding night, there’s no blood on the sheets, which his parents need to see as proof of her virginity.

Narrated in voiceover by Lale (Gunes Sensoy), the youngest of the siblings, it balances warmth and humour (especially in the camaraderie between the girls) with far darker shades as family secrets and tragedy rear their head, first time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven shaping a rightly angry story, a sort of Turkish Virgin Suicides, of female empowerment about her patriarchal country’s continued oppression of women. (Sun, Tue-Thu:Electric; Tue:Everyman)

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 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, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Race (PG)  In 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.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza, Vue Star City)

Sing Street (12A) Following on from Once and Begin Again, writer-director  John Carney’s  latest is another music-based story and indisputably one of the most uplifting, entertaining  and enjoyable feelgood  films of the year . Set in 1985, and loosely based around some of Carney’s own experiences as a Dublin teenager at a tough Catholic school, it tells of how, after being moved from his upmarket school  by his forever bickering, financially stretched parents (Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy), 15-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) finds himself in the Synge Street inner-city school run by the Christian Brothers, bullied by a skinhead off the estate and the priest headmaster  alike. Then, one day, he goes over to talk to an older girl, the enigmatic, pouty, perm-haired Raphina (Lucy Boynton), he sees sitting on a step opposite the school gates who tells him she’s soon off to London to become a fashion model. In turn, having recently been awestruck on seeing Duran Duran’s Rio video, he asks her to appear in a video for his band. She says she’ll think about. Now all he has to do is form a band.

Recruiting a bunch of fellow misfits, among them ginger-haired shortarse Darren (Ben Carolan) as the band manager and  Eamon (Mark McKenna), a reasonably talented multi-instrumentalist with a rabbit fixation, Sing Street are born along with Conor’s New Romantic song, The Riddle of the Model.

More songs follow  as the band gradually becomes more confident and polished,  dumping the covers and writing further stylistically varied numbers, with outfits to match, while a hesitant romance between Conor and Raphina gradually develops. Eventually, they have enough  to headline the school dance (cue a Back to the Future nod), but life, in the form of  his parents separation and an older romantic rival, has a way of never quite going as smoothly as you’d like it.

With spot on pastiches of The Cure, Spandau Ballet. Joe Jackson, any of which you could imagine being on Top of the Pops, even if its underdog comes good plot is a bit predictable, this is a real joy to watch, perfectly balancing poignancy and comedy with hugely likeable and relatable characters and climaxing with real punch the air showstopper.  Walsh-Peelo, Boynton and Carolan are particularly good, but arguably the star turn is from Jack Reynor as Conor’s older, drop out brother, Brendan, who gave up on his dreams and now just hangs around home getting high, but who gives him a pile of albums, from Hall & Oates to The Jam, as homework, setting up the film’s most moving scene. With  The Commitments and  Once, Dublin has already been the setting for two classic music-driven films about finding yourself and following your dreams and your heart. Sing Street makes it a trilogy. (Electric)

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

Top Cat Begins (U) Having recently been adopted by Halifax to promote its mortgages, the rascally alley cat also returns with a new big screen animated outing, a sequel to 2011’s Top Cat, the Mexican original again being dubbed into English. This time round, it’s an origin story revealing how the wily feline (again voiced by Jason Harris Katz) got started and how he met up with his gang of friends, among them Benny, Brain and Choo Choo, as well as the long-suffering Officer Dibble as they take on the mysterious Mr. Big.  Unfortunately, featuring plastic looking characters and crawling along at a pace that makes snails seem like Formula 1 drivers, it has absolutely none of the wit or charm of the original cartoon, likely to bore and disappoint both nostalgia-seeking grown ups and  new young audiences alike. There’s a scene where Top Cat empties a dustbin and one of the things that’s been dumped is a DVD of the previous film. This will quickly follow suit.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Redditch)

Warcraft- The Beginning (12A)

8J07_BV050_COMP_149161R_G_SRGB_000000_HRFollowing on from Moon and Source Code, director Duncan Jones takes on the effects  laden, motion capture adaptation of the fantasy videogame for an origin story about the cross-dimensional war between the hulking, tusk-teethed Orcs from Draenor and the humans of Azeroth.

Their world dying, using the life force of their captives, Orc sorcerer  Gul’dan, who commands the mystic power of the Fel, opens a portal between the worlds to send through a war party to take more prisoners and provide enough power for the rest of the Horde to follow. The advance guard includes Wolfrost clan chief Durotan (Toby Kebbells), his pregnant wife, Draka, second-in-command Orgrim Doomhammer and Blackhand (Clancy Brown), who becomes the Horde Warchief.

Pitted against them are widowed Lothar (Travis Fimmel), who commands the armies of Stormwind’s King Lane (Dominic Cooper), Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer, providing light comedic relief), a young magician who’s quit his training to follow his own calling, and Medivh (Ben Foster), a Merlin-like figure who serves as the realm’s Guardian and is himself being tainted by the Fel. Following an initial battle, they’re subsequently joined by Orc-Draenei former slave Garona (Paula Patton) who provides both Lothar’s  romantic interest h and a pivotal role in the film’s climax. Realising that their world  dying is actually down to Gul’dan’s use of the Fel, Durotan proposes an alliance with the humans, inevitably leading to a major fall-out with Blackhand.

While flawed, this is  impressive and involving, balancing bloody combat with character-driven storytelling and moments of humour, tenderness and poignancy.  Although the Orcs are no relation to Tolkien’s, there is much in common with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, while the film also sports the influence of  King Arthur  and Avatar, not to mention the inevitable comparisons with Game of Thrones. By far the best videogame adaptation yet, it looks amazing, the pace and drama never flag and the cast deliver performances appropriate to the genre, the final moments setting things up for a sequel worth waiting for. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; 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.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  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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