Movie Round-up: This week’s new film releases, June 17-June 23


The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case (15) First making his mark with Saw, James Wan went on to establish himself as his generation’s finest horror director with both Insidious and The Conjuring. Following the mega success of Fats and Furious 7, he returns to the genre for this sequel, reuniting Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as real life Catholic demon hunters/exorcists 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.

The first film ended with a message saying there was a case that needed investigating in Long Island. As aficionados would know, that was a reference to the Amityville Horror, the case that put the Warrens on the map, as well as set them up for much derision, and the new film opens with a flashback prologue in which Lorraine seeks to find out whether Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was truly possessed, a she claimed, when he shot and killed six members of his family. During the séance, as she inhabits DeFeo’s form, Lorraine is confronted by a demon in the form of a tall white-faced nun (or quite possibly Marilyn Manson) 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, in addition to money problems and the dad taking off with another woman, the Hodgsons have an unwelcome spirit, the ghost of an elderly former resident who died in the armchair in the sitting room of their run down council house. He’s taken to tormenting mom Peggy  (Frances O’Connor) and her four children, most particularly 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe), who frequently gets levitated, thrown around and possessed.

Lining up in their corner are the sympathetic neighbours Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney) and amateur paranormal researcher Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) while pooh-poohing everything as a scam to get benefits is  parapsychologist Anita Gregory (Franka Potente). All the Warrens are supposed to do is assess the situation and report back to the Church, but, needless to say, it’s not long before they’re also up their necks in flying furniture, swivelling crosses and the usual haunted house paraphernalia. Needless to say, as per the lengthy set-up, the demon of Lorraine’s vision, proves to have an integral part in the proceedings.

Although Wan adopts the familiar tropes of the genre (creaking doors, swing and 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 or manipulated. Indeed, one of the most chilling moments simply involves Ed looking away and speaking to the spirit possessing Janet, while, in contrast, a simple scene of Ed singing Can’t Help Falling In Love to the family in unexpectedly moving. At over two hours, it is undeniably too long and overly repetitive, but, O’Connor’s gorlummy accent and Potente’s caricature sceptic 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 race against the clock showdown cranks things up to a suitable climax. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but Wan makes it worth seeing again.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)


Barbershop: A Fresh Cut (12A)

barberSomething of an unexpected threequel after 2004’s Back In The Business proved a less than spectacular box office hit, 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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

The Daughter (15

daughterReopening old wounds about his mother’s death, Christian (Paul Schneider) returns  to his quiet Australian logging town for the wedding of his widowed mill owner father, Henry (Geoffrey Rush),  to his much younger former housekeeper, Anna (Anna Torv). The already brittle atmosphere is exacerbated when he meets up with old childhood friend and recently laid-off mill worker, Oliver (Ewen Leslie), now happily married to  Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and with a teenage daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) who runs a sanctuary for wounded animals with her granddad, Walter (Sam Neill), a former associate of Henry.  Gradually piecing together a scandal involving both families, will and should Christian, still simmering with anger,  tell Oliver what he’s worked out? A rewrite of Ibsen’s 1884drama, The Wild Duck, itself previously staged by director  Simon Stone, it’s a talk-heavy theatrical melodrama of histrionic emotions and hidden deeds, laden with not too subtle symbolism and, even if you don’t know the play, predictable narrative, but strong performances hold it together.  (MAC)

Gods of Egypt  (12A)

godsThis totally tanked at the US box office, shot down in flames by a  fusillade of scathing reviews. However, while it might be going against prevailing critical wisdom, I found it rather fun. Which isn’t to say it’s a good film. Far from it, it’s cheesy and lacking anything remotely resembling sophisticated storytelling or nuanced acting. But, if you go in expecting to see something in the manner of old school sword-and-sorcery adventures like Jason and the Argonauts  or maybe Flash Gordon rather than a Thor, then there’s much popcorn pleasure to be had.

Set in Ancient Egypt where god and mortals mingle (albeit the former tend to be around 10 feet tall and prone to suddenly turning into their mythological forms), king and deity Osiris (Bryan Brown) is about to pass on the crown to his playboy son, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Lord of the Air, when along comes his brother, Set (Gerard Butler), the oddly Scottish-accented god of disorder who, pissed off at having to rule the desert while his brother gets all the city perks, swiftly kills Osiris, defeats his nephew,  plucks out his eyes, thereby robbing him of his power to transform, not to mention leaving him blind, and establishes himself as the new tyrannical ruler. Taking Horus’ woman, Hathor (Elodie Yung), the goddess of love, to his bed in the process.

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

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

Although some of the CGI is a tad dodgy, director Alex Proyas (who made The Crow and, more recently, I Robot) enthusiastically trowels on the action and effects (when gods bleed, they bleed liquid gold) to glorious kitsch excess, the cast rising to the occasion to deliver the anachronistic and cheesy dialogue like “Give me my eyes!” with gleefully knowing  winks. Ok, much of the film is just a repetitive series of fights and chases, and, when you get down to it, it is, frankly all rather silly. But  big grin fun all the same. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Tale of Tales (15)

taleFollowing on from his inspired mob movie reinvention Gomorrah and the skewed  reality show themed Reality, Italian director Matteo Garrone makes his English language debut with a bizarre intertwined compendium of dark fairy tales and folk myths from the 16th-century collection of Neapolitan academic Giambattista Basile, three stories (The Enchanted Doe, The Flea and The Flayed Old Lady) linked by a reflection on the foolishness and stupidity that power can bring.

Set in a medieval somewhere, it opens with the queen (Salma Hayek) storming out of an entertainment and throwing a hissy fit on seeing that one of the performers is pregnant, a reminder that she has been unable to conceive. Consulting a  mysterious necromancer, she and her husband (John C Reilly) are advised that she can have a child if she consumed the heart of a sea monster, cooked by a virgin, but that there will be a price to be paid. This, it seems would be the death of the king in the slaying of the beast. Nevertheless, after eating the heart, the queen duly gives birth that night, her son growing to become the albino prince Elias (Christian Lees). However, having inhaled the fumes, the servant girl too has a child, Elias’s identical twin Jonah (Jonah Lees). The boys become friends, but the queen forbids her son to play with a commoner, laying the ground for another eventual sacrifice.

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

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

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

When Marnie Was There (U)

When-Marnie-Was-ThereAdapted from a  British ghost story, the latest – and perhaps last –  offering from Japanese hand-drawn animation masters Studio Ghibli, directed by  Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) this, in both subtitled and dubbed (featuring Hailee Stanfield) versions, tells of Anna, an emotionally distant and friendless  adolescent tomboy who, sent to live with her adoptive grandparents in the country on account of her asthma, becomes obsessed with an  old mansion where she encounters and becomes friends with  the mysterious Marnie. Except the place has been abandoned and empty for years. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric- subtitled only)




Alice Through The Looking Glass (PG)

Alice 3Children 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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; 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; Vue Star City)


The Boss (15)

BossMelissa 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 shammy Peter Dinklage) after screwing him in a deal, is locked up for insider trading and emerges from prison a few months later to find herself  broke and homeless. So, she imposes herself on single mom former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) and her tweenage daughter  Rachel (Ella Anderson), while she tries to get back on top. When she takes Rachel to her youth group and discovers they’ve been making money flogging cookies, given that Claire makes great brownies, Michelle forms her own troop, Darnell’s Darlings, going into partnership with Claire and taking to the streets selling brownies, by any means necessary, sparking  a turf war run-in with Rachel’s old group that turns into a full-on street battle. Meanwhile, still burning for revenge, Renault has his eye on the business.

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

Darnell is actually based on an earlier character McCarthy created during her stint with Los Angeles comedy troupe, The Groundlings, and you can’t help feeling that the film is just an extended sketch with considerably more swearing. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  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.   (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City

Embrace of the Serpent () Documentary about the relationship between Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and last survivor of his people, and two scientists who have worked together over 40 years  searching the Amazon for a sacred healing plant. (Tue/Thu:MAC)

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)


The Jungle Book (PG) Directed 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)

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.  (Everyman; MAC)


Me Before You (12A)

me-before-you 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, 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; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)


Money Monster (15) 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. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Mother’s Day (12A)

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

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

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

Everything plays out exactly as expect, even if not always convincingly (exposed to the grandchildren, Flo and Earl pretty much reconstruct themselves overnight) in a screenplay that variously involves a wedding, a medical emergency and a runaway vehicle. There are a few laughs, mostly involving Aniston, and a last act assault on the tear ducts, but far too much is coastingly flat, even resorting to poorly staged slapstick,  the casting of Hector Elizondo as Miranda’s manager reminding how much sharper Marshall (and indeed Roberts) was with Pretty Woman.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; 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 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;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

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

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

warcraft 3Following 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)





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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