Truth (15) It’s rather ironic that, in the week Spotlight won Best Film for its story about crusading journalist crusading to expose a cover up by the authorities that another film of a similar nature and with an equally high profile cast should be ignominiously released on a handful of prints (just two in the entire West Midlands) and shamefully sidelined by the distributor. The principal stars here are Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford who respectively play Mary Mapes and Dan Rather, the former a producer for CBS’s flagship news programme, 60 Minutes, and the latter its longstanding and highly respected anchorman. In the run up to the 2014 presidential election, the team (here played by Topher Grace, Elizabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid) came across documents suggesting that George Bush, who was running for re-election, had, in the 1970s, avoided service in Vietnam though his father’s political connections and that, having been transferred to the Air National Guard in Alabama, he effectively went AWOL in order to attend Harvard Business School. Working against the clock to amass evidence that Bush’s service records were false and get sources (among them Stacey Keach’s retired Lt. Colonel who provides them with copies of the smoking gun memos) to speak on the record, the team eventually aired the controversial report only to be subsequently shot down in flames by an administration determined to discredit their finding. The memos were alleged to have been faked and, having initially been celebrated by CBS, Mapes and her team were then called to testify before a supposedly ‘independent’ panel investigating their report. Eventually, CBS declared the documents could not be authenticated and ordered Rather to offer an on air apology. Mapes was fired (she’s not worked in news since), her team dismantled and Rather forced to resign by the head of CBS News (Bruce Greenwood).
Now, based on Mapes’ book about the events, writer-director James Vanderbilt’s film offers her and the team’s side of the story, accepting that some of the reporting was sloppy in its oversights, but detailing how sources backtracked and recanted and how expert evidence supporting the memos was dismissed in favour of that (largely resting on the use of a superscript typewriter key) which didn’t.
Although Mapes is the only character whose personal life is seen to be impacted by the fallout and the backstory of an abusive father seems somewhat irrelevant, this is a compelling and powerfully acted work that offers a disturbing observation on how institutional forces can interfere with journalistic investigations not seen to be in their interest. That it’s been shamefully kicked into the trash can just serves to show that while Hollywood may love a crusading underdog, it’s only when they’re winners not losers. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Choice (12A)
Nicholas Sparks writes romantic novels that make Mills & Boon look like the work of Jane Austen. This must surely be one of his worst. Travis Shaw (a wooden Benjamin Walker) is a North Carolina vet ladies man country boy who regularly has girls clambering aboard his boat. Teresa Palmer is his new neighbour, rich girl medical student Gabby. He’s a family man at heart and she’s a dreamer. She takes an instant dislike to Travis, which naturally, along with the fact they both have dogs, means that they’ll soon be in each other’s arms, despite the fact he’s dating Monica and she’s supposed to be settling down with her long-term but dull doctor boyfriend (Tom Welling). And that’s pretty much all there is to the plot as the couple find their lives unexpectedly upended and their love tested. Being a Nicholas Sparks movie there’s lot of lovely sunsets and stars, lush landscapes and glittering waters, although, for once, nobody dies (though audiences may lose the will to live). There’s no chemistry between the couple, events are signalled by ominous thunderstorms and Tom Wilkinson turns up to collect a pay cheque as Travis’s widowed veterinarian dad. Other than the chance to hear Palmer say the line “I’m angry about Molly’s nipples”, given the choice between seeing this or something else, I’d opt for the latter. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Hail, Caesar! (12A)
Although this is the Coen brothers’ biggest box office flop in the States since Intolerable Cruelty, it’s likely to fare better here and in Europe where they’re held in somewhat higher regard. Their fourth film with George Clooney, it’s a playful, comedic thriller homage to 50s Hollywood and the circus and kooks that make the movie magic with John Brolin as Eddie Mannix, the head of production at Capitol Pictures (the same setting as Barton Fink) whose job it is to ensure everything runs smoothly and the stars never get to caught up in a scandal. At least, not as far as the public’s. This is going to be a bad day. For a start, America’s Sweetheart, DeeAnna (Scarlett Johannsen), the twice divorced, ‘mermaid’ star of Busby Berkeley style synchronised swimming family movies is pregnant and needs to be married off fast. Prissy director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is not happy with the enforced casting of aw shucks singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (an immensely likeable Alden Ehrenreich), who may be able to wrangle a spaghetti lasso, but is no Larry Olivier in the acting stakes. in his new sophisticated parlour comedy.. Worst of all, Baird Whitlock (Clooney), a notorious womaniser and boozer, but nevertheless the studio’s biggest star (even if he’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier), has been kidnapped from the set of his new Christ-themed epic, Hail, Caesar!, by a group calling themselves ‘the future’ (who turn out to screenwriter communists) and demanding $100,000 ransom. Somehow, Eddie’s has to get him back and solve the other problems without rival gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) getting a sniff of what’s going on. At least the new sailors on leave song and dance musical starring all-American Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum, providing rather nifty at tap) is all going smoothly. Though that might change. On top of which, Eddie’s trying to give up smoking, visiting confession far too often and is being pressured by Lockheed about an offer to go and work for them.
Set against the Red Menace scare, Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill turn up in a single scene each and Michael Gambon provides the narration and, although the interconnected plots only seem to hang loosely together and Johannsen’s storyline, while amusing, is surplus to requirements, it abounds with typical Coen wit. Two of the best moments being Eddie’s discussion about the nature of God in looking to get the thumbs up from a diverse and divided group of faith representatives and Whitlock getting a crash course in the body politic and Hollywood’s capitalist exploitation of the little guy. It’s not one of the Coens’ best, but it is warm, light-hearted and affectionate fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
London Has Fallen (15)
London’s historic landmarks get blown up, a lot of people get killed, quite a few of them by Gerald Butler. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Plot? Well sort of. Following the death of the British Prime Minister, the world’s heads of state (not, Russia, though) fly in to London for the state funeral (as if!). The Nrits are worried this is going to be a security nightmare. But not as much as the Americans. So President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) takes along his personal bodyguard Mike Banning (Butler) for protection (and just as Mike was about to resign to become a stay home dad, too). They were right to be worried. Turns out the whole things is a carefully set up trap by Pakistani arms Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul) in revenge for a drone strike that put a terminal crimp in his daughter’s wedding. He wants to execute Asher live on global TV (which makes nonsense of the attempts to kill him, unless the scriptwriters forgot the details of their own storyline), and if he can take a few dozen world leaders (including the, naturally, arrogant French President and lechy Italian PM) at the same time, well that’s a bonus. Of course, he’s not reckoned on the determined Banning who’s indestructibility apparently extends to walking away from a helicopter crash after it’s been blown in half mid-air.
Taking over the reins from Antoine Fuqua who directed Olympus Has Fallen, Iranian director Babak Najafi has little truck with anything resembling more than two dimensional characters in churning out the sub Die Hard American jingoism. None of the other nations whose leads get offed seem to show much interest in getting involved, well okay, the Brits (embodied in the Chief Constable who appears to be a permanent daze as things fall apart, though that might just be Colin Salmon glazing over and wishing he was elsewhere) do, but they’re so hopelessly inept they’ve somewhat managed to overlook the fact that London’s entire police force has been replaced by fanatics. That’s just one of many ludicrous occasions where the film and logic part company, another being Banning’s pregnant wife trying to reach him on the cell phone when it’s obvious from the TV reports he’s up to his neck in terrorists. Oh and hey, what do you reckon the chances are of the mole inside the security services being a Brit?
Back in Washington Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster and Jackie Earle Haley stand around providing the shocked faces (not least for the fact that, somehow, it’s all on social media, too) as well as lines like ‘oh, my God’, while Butler’s busy telling the bad guys to “Get back to F—kheadistan or wherever it is you’re from.” To be fair, it does crack along and there’s a particularly good chase scene through the capital (though you may wonder why the civilians ambling along don’t appear to reacting to the fact war’s broken out around St. Paul’s) and Butler give good tough guy (albeit he’s a little shorter on wisecracks than Bruce Willis), but at the end of the day you may leave hoping that, as with White House Down, there’s a far better similarly plotted alternative lurking in the wings. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Other Side of the Door (15)
Another low budget, no stars supernatural horror family been snuck into cinemas with as little press exposure as possible, this is no better – but at least no worse – than The Forest, although it does rely on the same jump shocks for scares. Living in India, when one of her young sons is killed in a tragic car accident, his inconsolable, guilt-ridden mother Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) learns of an ancient ritual that will bring him back for one last goodbye and so she immediately sets of to find the temple and the door that serves as a portal between the living and the dead. Warned not to open the door, she naturally does just that, thereby letting through all manner of special effects that involve things like pianos playing by themselves. It seems that the kid’s spirit has taken up residence back home. But, hey, we all know that’s not a good thing, right. That’s why mysterious Shiva-worshipping tribesmen start hanging around the house and following Maria around. Deciding she should probably put her son’s spirit to rest, Maria quickly discovers this isn’t going to be as easy as it was to bring him back. Like The Forest, it relies on cheap shocks to distract from lack of plot, theme or character development, leaving you looking for the door marked exit. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Time Out of Mind (15)
Writer-director Oren Moverman followed The Messenger, a raw-nerved film about those who had to deliver the news of servicemen killed in action to their families, with the more commercially accessible corrupt cops thriller Rampart. For his third film, however, he’s adopted a far more art house neorealism approach, again infusing things with socially conscious commentary and observation. Slow and measured, it unfolds across two hours of unhurried character study and emotional dissection with Richard Gere delivering a superb, understated performance as a homeless man (we eventually learn he’s called George), first encountered when a building superintendent (Steve Buscemi) finds him sleeping in the bath of an abandoned apartment he declares is his home. The man declares he waiting for someone, a woman, to return or call, but is told to get his belongings and move on. Out on the streets, the film follows him as he begs for money (Gere, who perfectly captures the tics of the homeless, did this for real with the passers-by not recognising him) and endures the red tape he has to go through to get a bed in Manhattan’s Bellevue shelter for the homeless. He also beds a fellow vagrant (Kyra Sedgewick) with whom he shares a beer and a cardboard mattress and pairs up with Dixon (Ben Vereen), a talkative fellow resident at the shelter who gets him to open up. Though Dixon, we learn that George lost his wife and abandoned his daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), to her grandparents after a tragedy. And it is she with whom we see him trying to reconnect, but she wants nothing to do with him.
Often filmed through windows and screens, this sense of distancing and isolation, of being adrift in the world, is further enhanced by the film’s soundscape which eschews conventional soundtrack in favour of disorienting snatches of conversation, street sounds and music. That echo George’s mental state. It requires patience and the final optimistic shot feels more like wish fulfilment than reality, but, unsermonisingly political and unsentimentally humanistic, this offers substantial rewards, making it all the more inexplicable as to why it’s been dumped in an unsuitable multiplex rather than playing one of the city’s art cinemas. (Showcase Walsall)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (U)
The fourth outing by the helium-voiced animated furry trio of Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney), a misunderstanding leads them to believe Dave (Jason Lee) is going to propose to his new girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Worse, her mean teenage son Miles (Josh Green) convinces them they’ll then be dumped back in the forest. Since none of them want this marriage, they join forces to stop it happening and head for Miami. Cue gratuitous musical numbers, the Chippettes as judges on American Idol, and an overdone running joke involving buffoonish air marshal (Tony Hale) and, of course, some fart gags.
Slung together with little care, commitment or craft, the whole thing reeks of lazy filmmaking. Under 10s will love it, parents will wish it was titled Road Kill. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Big Short (15)
Adam McKay’s inspired indignant satire on the mortgage housing crisis of 2005 that led to 2008’s global financial meltdown scored the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Based on a book about the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market and driven by hyper-caffeinated energy, whimsical touches like Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie delivering to-camera lessons explaining financial concepts such as collateralised-debt obligations mirror the sheer absurdity of what happened while still delivering a stinging, attack on those that let it.
Although the time span’s never quite clear, it follows three parallel stories across three years. Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an autistic, glass-eyed, metal loving hedge fund manager, reckons the US housing market bubble will burst and sets out to short (bet against) it, investing millions that the likes of Goldman Sachs, thinking he’s off his head, are more than happy to take.
Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a brash, Deutschebank egotistical trader gets wind of Burry and decides to cash in too, leading him team with Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), a self-loathing idealist who heads a credit-default-swap team under the Morgan Stanley umbrella. Then there’s Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, start-up whizz kids looking to play with the big boys, who, stumbling on Vennett’s prospectus, call on retired investment banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them out.
With frequent to camera explanations of the jargon, it invites audiences to root for characters who, rather than exposing the frauds and assuming the banks genuinely have no idea what’s going on, set out to profit from what will, ultimately, prove the collapse of the economy. There are no heroes here, just winners and losers.
With a cast that also features small but effective turns by Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall and Karen Gillan, it rattles along, sharp humour and biting indignation consistently underlining the sheer brazen audacity of those culpable, such as the smug CDO manager only too happy to smilingly confirm all of Braun’s worst fears about the system’s corruption. And, as the end pointedly makes clear, who got away with it too. (Vue Star City)
Bridge Of Spies (12A)
Tom Hanks serves up another decent family man doing the right thing turn in the true Cold War story of how insurance lawyer James Donovan was hired to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Oscar Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance) and then recruited by the CIA and sent to east Berlin to broker an exchange with the Soviets for captured spy plane pilot Gary Powers. Part written by the Coens and directed by Spielberg, there’s a terrific sense of period and the scenes between Hanks and Rylance are electrifying. (Tue-Thu: Electric; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom)
Capture The Flag (PG)
Young Mike Goldwing’s dad, Scott, and grandfather, Frank, were both astronauts. However, the cancellation of the space programme means Scott’s dreams will never come true while Frank’s were crushed when he was replaced in the final manned Apollo mission. After which he turned his back on his family and now lives in an astronauts’ retirement home. However, when billionaire oil tycoon Richard Carson announces he’s going to the moon to prove the Apollo XI moon landing never happened and claim the planet for himself (so he can mine it for a new energy source that will give him control over the Earth) and Scott’s appointed as commander of a NASA mission to stop him, Mike sees a chance to reconcile the two by persuading Frank to join the team of trainers. But, when sabotage puts his dad out of commission, Mike decides to sneak onboard and go to the moon himself. Things don’t go to plan, and the rocket takes off early, with not only Mike, but his friend Amy and his granddad too. Now they have their work cut out to rescue the American flag and put an end to Carson’s plans. Moving briskly along with a solid mix of action and sentiment, as well as techno-equipped lizard to amuse the youngsters, this Spanish-made CGI animation may not rival Pixar or DreamWorks, but it’s a lot of fun. (Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Commitments (15)
Alan Parker’s ebullient story of the rise and fall of a Dublin soul band, screened to mark its 25th anniversary. (Thu: MAC)
Daddy’s Home (12A)
As expected, the pairing of Will Ferrell as insecure but steady nice guy stepdad Brad competing with Mark Wahlberg as the kids’ unreliable Alpha male biological father, Dusty, suddenly back in their lives after several years absence, is a bland sub-sitcom as the latter seeks to undermine and embarrass the former at every opportunity, Brad becoming ever more erratic in his attempts to measure up. In-between predictable knockabout slapstick there’s the equally predictable genitals size comparisons gags and assorted other obligatory raunchy banter (mostly from Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss) as well as tired racist misunderstanding set-ups. Avoid. (Vue Star City)
Dad’s Army (PG)
Unquestionably the best thing about this feature revisit of the beloved BBC comedy series is the casting, not only to the actors perfectly channel the original’s cast characters, in some cases they even look like them. A pity then that, directed by Oliver Parker, it’s in the service of such a ponderous film with a screenplay peppered with innuendo and farcical slapstick. Set in Walmington-on-Sea towards the close of WWII, a misfit group of Home Guard reserves, led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) are charged with patrolling the coastal path near an alleged camp for the Allied invasion. There is, however, a German spy on the loose. Enter Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a reporter there to write a feature about the Home Guard and – oh, you already guessed. Her true nature revealed early on, the plot revolves around how long it will take before the men discover the truth. Especially when they’re all dazzled by her beauty, particularly mummy’s boy Pike (Blake Harrison), posh Sgt Wilson (Bill Nighy), who tutored her at Oxford and still harbours a crush, and Mainwaring, whose ego she flatters by comparing him to Churchill. Other than the introduction of the men’s other halves (including Felicity Montague as Mrs. Mainwaring, who commands a women’s unit, and Sarah Lancashire as Pike’s mom), this is pretty much content to mirror the original, except without being nearly as funny. Much falls leadenly flat and some scenes are plain embarrassing. The cast (which also includes Michael Gambon as the doddery Godfrey, Tom Courtney as Private Jones, Daniel Mays as the spivvy Walker and Bill Patterson as dour undertaker Frazer) seem to be having fun, probably considerably more so than those in the audience. Dud’s Army. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Having taken over $600million in the US alone, this latest addition to the Marvel movie universe has proven itself the polar opposite of Ryan Reynolds’ last outing as a superhero, Green Lantern, which gets an amusing reference here. Following an experiment to give him superpowers (by triggering his mutant genes) after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, former urban mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) dons the black and red spandex and sets out for revenge on the equally enhanced sadist (Ed Skrein) and his superstrong sidekick (Gina Carano), who left him hideously scarred, determined to have the process reversed so he can get his life and his girl (Morena Baccarin) back. With cameo appearances by a couple of X-Men (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) trying to keep him in line, it’s not only viscerally ultra-violent and peppered with inventive sexually explicit dialogue, but knowingly self-aware, Deadpool constantly stepping out of the action to address the audience and acknowledge they’re watching a movie, poking fun at the superhero franchise conventions as he goes. Blackly comic and explosively entertaining, with Reynolds letting rip with razor sharp timing and inspired repartee that references everything from Sinead O’Connor to, well, Ryan Reynolds, it’s like a Grindhouse Guardians of the Galaxy on ecstasy with the dial turned up to 11. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Dirty Grandpa (15)
Robert DeNiro hits an all time low in this crass, crude Judd Apatow knock-off as a horny widower who, the day after his wife’s funeral, persuades his grandson Jason (Zak Efron) to go with him to Daytona Beach so he can bed potty-mouthed college girl Lenore. With scenes of DeNiro’s character (aptly named Dick) jerking off to porn, regularly prodding Efron in the balls and backside, and Jason being constantly mistaken for a lesbian and penises in the shape of a swastika drawn on his forehead, this surely has to be the worst things you’ll see all year. (Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Finest Hours (12A)
One night in the winter of 1952, off the coast of Cape Cod, a ferocious storm of hurricane-force winds and 60-foot waves ripped two oil tankers apart. With the main Coast Guard engaged in a rescue mission for one of the ships, on discovering there was a second, the Pendelton, a mostly inexperienced four man team of set out in a 36-foot lifeboat to try and save the 33 sailors trapped on its crippled stern.
Opening with a prologue wherein by-the-book Coast Guard Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) falls for Miriam (Holliday Grainger) on a blind date, having established the relationship stakes it then shifts forward a year, as she proposes to him but before he can follow protocol and ask his brusque commanding officer (Eric Bana) for permission to marry, news of the wreck arrives, He’s ordered to pick a crew and get out there, despite it being unlikely they’ll ever make it past the sandbar in one piece. As he says, you have to go out there, no one says you have to come back. So, joined by two fellow members of the team (one of whom he has history with over some past unsuccessful rescue) and a sailor who happened to be there for the night, they set out, losing their compass pretty early on.
Meanwhile, out at sea, bookish chief engineer Ray Sebert (Casey Affleck) takes command, much to the resentment of one insubordinate seaman, and seeks to keep what remains of the broken tanker afloat until the scornful survivors can be rescued, on the off chance anyone actually knows they’re out there or can find them. And thus the film cuts back and forth between the two boats while also intermittently following events back on land as Miriam discovers that Bernie’s been sent to what might prove his death.
Like the stock one dimensional stereotype characters (including a salt of the earth, jolly cook), this is a familiar old fashioned disaster/against the odds movie and, as such, goes through all the predictable paces and guff about masculinity, breaking rules and leadership. With the crashing waves a constant threat of being ripped apart or sunk, the scenes at sea are well mounted (though the fact they’re so dark renders the 3D pointless), but whenever the focus shifts to shore, any tension the film achieves dissipates. Both Affleck and Pine are solid as men having to show leadership under duress, finding redemption in the process, but ultimately the film never really engages, a less than perfect storm. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
The Forest (15)
A clichéd, contrived and confused horror as Sara (Natalie Dormer) travels to Japan to try and find her identical twin Jesse (Dormer with a different hair colour) who’s gone missing in the Aokigahara, the so called “suicide forest”. Hooking up with a travel journalist and his local ranger mate, she’s warned not to go ‘off-path’ or believe everything she sees. Naturally she does both, prompting the inevitable screaming at figures she alone can see, one inevitably dressed like a creepy Japanese schoolgirl. Two dimensional characters, generally wooden acting and a muddled script that never fully explores the repressed memories of the childhood tragedy at the root of the sisters’ troubles suggests no one involved could see the forest for the trees (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Good Dinosaur (PG)
Set in a sort of vague Prehistoric Wild West, Pixar’s latest animation skews young and low on plot in a variation of the boy and his dog chestnut, the difference being that the boy is a dinosaur trying to find his way home and the dog is the feral young human with whom he forges a bond. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Vue Star City)
Jack Black’s best since School of Rock, he plays a fictionalised version of R.L. Stine, creator of the phenomenally successful Goosebumps young adult horror books, now hiding out in smalltown America with daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) under the name of Mr.Shivers. This is because, the monsters he created in his stories became real and he’s got them trapped inside sealed copies of the manuscripts. At least until the arrival of new neighbour Zach Cooper (Dylan Minette), the son of the new high school principal(Amy Ryan), who, thinking Hannah’s in danger, breaks into the house with nerdy new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee) and accidentally unleashes the Yeti. Shivers manages to get him back into the book, only to find he’s not the only one to have escaped. So too has his evil alter ego, Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Black), who, out for revenge, releases all the other monsters, among them a bunch of homicidal garden gnomes, and destroying the books so they cannot be sucked back in.
What follows is your usual trash the town monster mash fare, but director Rob Lettermen infuses it with a gleeful exuberance that rattles things along in hugely entertaining manner, throwing in gleeful self-awareness and a moving twist along the way. Simultaneously intimidating and droll, Black is terrific, while Minnette, Rush and Lee are engagingly likeable support with Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund a very funny double act of a couple of local cops. The final scene sets things up for a sequel, the first Jack Black movie in 13 years where that’s actually a welcome proposition. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Jaw-droppingly gross and crude, but also, at times, leg-wettingly funny, Sacha Baron Cohen’s spy spoof is stuffed to overload with Viz-like humour involving sex, sperm and jokes about being gay, fat and yobs. He plays Liam Gallagher lookalike Nobby, a Northern layabout father of innumerable kids who’s spent the last 28 years trying to find Sebastian (Mark Strong), the brother from whom he was separated when they were orphaned. He does so just as Sebastian, now a top MI6 agent, is about to foil an assassination attempt. Things go pear-shaped, and, forced to go on the run he’s suspected of having gone rogue, Nobby takes Sebastian back to Grimsby. From here, with a psycho MI6 hitman in pursuit, it’s off to South Africa to track down the real killer and foil a plot involving philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) to dramatically reduce the world’s underclasses, a plot that largely exists to facilitate a scene involving the pair hiding inside one elephant’s vagina and being rammed by another’s penis. A moment that makes an earlier scene of Nobby sucking Sebastian’s testicles seem positively subtle. On the downside, the supporting cast that includes Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, and, as a lovable paedophile, Ricky Tomlinson, have almost nothing to do and, while there’s some satirical one-liners, this is ultimately lazy, juvenile vulgarity and far less scabrously inventive than Borat or Bruno. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
How To Be Single (15)
Deciding she needs some time to find herself and discover what it’s like to be alone, Alice (Dakota Johnson) puts her relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun), her boyfriend since college on hold. Starting a new job with a law firm (though she never actually seems to go to work), she’s taken under the wing of party hard, drink a lot, shag everyone , wild child co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson) on a guide to living the single, independent Manhattan life. Alice has fun, but having decided to get back with Josh, she’s taken aback to discover he’s met someone else.
Meanwhile, her workaholic obstetrician older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), finds herself unexpectedly broody while Lucy (Alison Brie), a marriage-obsessed regular at the bar all the characters visit. And then there’s Tom (Anders Holm), the casual sex, commitment avoiding bartender equivalent of Robin who strikes up a friendship with both Alice and Lucy and widowed father David (Damon Wayans Jr.) with whom the former gets involved.
An uneven riff on Sex And The City (which, along with Bridget Jones, it references) that wanders between Christmas, New Year and Valentine’s Day as it flits between the vaguely interconnected characters, it’s sporadically very funny and, at times, quite touching, but is also too cluttered, ploddingly directed, thinly plotted and, constantly shifting in tone, never really strikes a romantic spark. Lucy’s storyline seems to exist separately to the others and, while the exuberant Wilson is the film’s raunchy comedic centre, without a story or arc of her own, that’s all she is, further muddying as to whether the film is advocating relationships or not. Never as entertainingly vulgar as Bridesmaids, never as warmly romantic as Love, Actually, it’s worth a one night stand, but you won’t want to stay for breakfast. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Mad Max: Fury Road (15)
George Miller’s reboot of his post-apocalyptic saga returns to the big screen after almost sweeping the board for the technical Oscars (surprisingly it failed to win Best Special Effects), but, while it does feature powerful turns from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, ultimately, it is really just a two-hour car chase across the desert. (Thu: Electric)
Point Break (12A)
A remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s cult 1991 action-thriller starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves swaps surfing for extreme sports as athlete-turned-FBI-agent-in-training Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrates a gang of Robin Hood eco-activists who, headed up by the brooding Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), are knocking off corporates and redistributing the loot to the people, honouring nature by completing the Ozaki Eight, a series of spiritual enlightenment ordeals, in the process. Becoming part of the crew, he joins them as they follow their paths and take on death-defying challenges, getting involved with female gang member Samsara along the way, until forced to try and stop their latest job. Now he has to bring them down before the final challenge and Bodhi disappears.
Departing from the philosophical set up whenever it suits narrative demands and with Bracey lacking in the on screen charisma department, there’s some breathtaking stunt work and stunning natural landscapes, but involving characters, emotional connections and consistent logic were clearly not on the final checklist. (Vue Star City)
Two Icelandic brothers, living as neighbours, tend their sheep in a secluded valley, regularly winning awards for their prized rams who carry an ancient lineage. However, they’ve not spoken to each other 40 years. When a lethal disease affects one brother’s sheep and threatens the entire valley, the authorities decide to cull all the animals in the area, forcing the siblings to come together save their special breed and themselves from extinction. (Until Tue : MAC)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (15)
What it says on the tin, an intermittently entertaining mash-up of Jane Austen and the living dead that mostly follows the novel’s basic plot regarding the romantic fortunes of the Bennet sisters and, in particular, the prickly relationship between Elizabeth (Lily James) and Mr. (here Colonel) Darcy (Sam Riley), but set in another universe where the sisters have been trained in the martial arts because England is plagued with zombies. It’s an uneven one-joke affair, well staged on the one hand but lacking the necessary chemistry between Darcy and Elizabeth on the other, featuring a delightful comic turn by Matt Smith as the self-important parson Mr. Collins but wasting Lena Headey as an eye-patched, sword-wielding Lady Catherine. (Vue Star City)
The Revenant (15)
Scooping Oscars for Director, Actor and Cinematography, but not Best Film, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, a real life frontiersman and trapper who, in 1823, attacked by a bear and left for dead by those supposed to ensure him a proper burial, over the course of six weeks, crawled and rafted the 200 miles back to Fort Kiowa in South Dakota before setting back out to seek revenge on the two who had abandoned him. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, this embellishes the true story by giving Glass a half-Pawnee son who is then murdered in front of his eyes by the brutal Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), thereby driving his determination to survive and gain vengeance. From the brutal ferocity of the opening attack by a tribe of Native Americans to the grizzly attack and painful, slow trek across forbidding frozen terrain, Glass taking shelter in the carcass of a dead horse, it’s a relentlessly harrowing, bleak story that was clearly just as tough to film. Diversions into hallucinatory flashbacks and present delirium underscore the film’s existential spiritual drama while the stunning photography reinforces the man vs. nature themes, but at a punishing and at times extremely graphic 156 minutes you’ll need every bit the same fortitude as Glass. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City; Sun-Thu: Electric)
Ride Along 2 (12A)
A loud, brash spot-the-difference sequel to the 2014 black buddy cops comedy that one again shows you should never underestimate the power of low brow. Set a year on, screw-up security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) is due to wed Angela, sister of top cop buddy Ben (Ice Cube), but first he gets to accompany his future brother-in-law to Miami on a drug ring case. Here, they quickly get involved with AJ (Ken Jeong doing his usual comic relief shtick), a local hacker who has evidence implicating sleazy businessman Pope (Benjamin Bratt) as South Florida’s drugs kingpin. As well as simply reworking the original, it also recycles pretty much every other cop/buddy comedy set up too, including having Hart pretend he’s royalty and Cube his underling and being attacked outside a building (by a croc) while his buddy chats away obliviously by the window. It’s karaoke filmmaking at his screechiest. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Vue Star City)
Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own bestseller deservedly saw Brie Larson walk off with Best Actress. Helmed by Britain’s Lenny Abrahamson, it also features an astonishing performance from Jacob Tremblay as Jack, the six-year-old son of Larson’s Joy who has never experienced the world or life outside of the 10×10 garden shed in which his mother had been kept captive since she was abducted as a teenager. Eventually, Joy enlists her son to pull off a daring escape, freeing them both from the claustrophobic prison, as the drama shifts it focus to how Jack adapts to a world he’s never known other than through his mother’s stories and interference-riddled TV programmes, while Joy endures a post-traumatic breakdown trying to cope with her regained freedom and feelings of guilt over her son. There’s some obvious plot holes and the emotional charge isn’t as strong in the second act, but, fuelled by its terrific central performances (a small but potent cameo by William H. Macy as Joy’s father), this powerful psychological drama will stay with you. (Empire Great Park; Sun, Wed/Thu: Electric; Everyman)
Secret In Their Eyes (15)
A compelling remake of powerful Argentinean thriller El Secreto de Sus Ojos, this shifts the setting to LA as, thirteen years after the brutal rape and murder of the daughter of his former counter terrorism partner Jess (Julia Roberts), ex-FBI agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) returns saying he’s finally tracked down the man responsible and asks old flame Claire (Nicole Kidman), now the District Attorney, to unofficially reopen the case. Through flashbacks, we learn that, in the wake of 9/11, her predecessor (Alfred Molina) and a fellow agent conspired to protect the killer from justice as he was an informer inside a mosque suspected of being a terrorist cell. Moving between two time frames, only gradually do the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, building a steely tension as it explores raw-nerved themes of obsession, grief, passion and compromise, but it’s not until the final reel that the whole chilling truth revealed. (Cineworld NEC)
Sleaford Mods Invisible Britain (15) Documentary about the uncompromising, f band who’ve articulated the rage of those without a voice in austerity Britain, it follows them on tour in the run up to last year’s General Election, providing a raw look at the state of the nation along the way. (Wed /Thu: MAC)
Snoopy and Charlie Brown : The Peanuts Movie (U) Animation studios Blue Sky affectionately and faithfully revive Charles M. Schulz’s classic characters, following the comic strip formula of running parallel, thematically linked, stories about both Charlie and his pet beagle, Snoopy. Thus, the former shyly tries to get new neighbourhood arrival Little Red-Haired Girl to see him for who he really is, not the loser his friends all regard him as while Snoopy sets about writing a book about himself as a famous World War I fighter pilot battling legendary German flying ace, The Red Baron. Schulz’s cartoons generally saw the world as one of constant disappointment, the message here is more upbeat, about striving to be the best you can, even if you don’t succeed. Firmly skewed young, its gentle melancholia and ultimate upbeat ending should strike a chord with kids who feel themselves sidelined among their friends but it isn’t going to give the Minions any sleepless box office nights. (Vue Star City)
Unexpectedly snatching the Best Film Oscar from the grasp of The Revenant, as well as lifting Best Screenplay, directed by Tom McCarthy this is another true story, telling how Spotlight, the Boston Globe’s investigative team, editor Robby Stewart (Michael Keaton) and reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachael McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), uncovered systematic child abuse by the city’s Catholic priests and a cover up that embraced the highest levels of the city’s religious, legal and governmental bodies, triggering further revelations that went all the way to the Vatican.
Assigned by new editor in chief Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) to check out a previous story in the paper about how the Cardinal knew about but never acted on a Catholic priest who had allegedly molested children in six different parishes over the last 30 years. With Rezendes pushing Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), the victims’ lawyer, for information, his colleagues pursue other avenues, including a lawyer (Billy Crudup) who handled earlier molestation cases against another priest, and which were settled out of court. The further the team dig, the deeper and wider the problem clearly goes.
A classic investigative journalism drama, it carries you along on a wave of righteous anger as the team is consistently blocked by those in high positions, yet persevere to confront those responsible with exposure. Fuelled by electric ensemble performances, it sweeps you along as its addresses both personal pain and the far wider corruption in the system. You want an argument for not neutering the freedom of the press to pursue stories in the public interest? Here it is. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City;)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (12A)
With George Lucas taking a backseat, director JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt dispel sour memories of Episodes I-III with a triumphant resurrection that may tread familiar narrative ground, but does so with a fresh heart. Set some 30 years on from the destruction of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing and the dark forces have regrouped as the First Order, its stormtroopers led by the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who possesses both the Force and a red light sabre. Built around the search for a map revealing Skywalker’s location, the film’s basically a lengthy chase between Ren and his forces and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and renegade stormtrooper Finn (BAFTA winner John Boyega) who have come into possession of BB8, a droid belonging to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot for the Resistance now headed by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), that contains the vital key. Their eventually joined by returning legends Han Solo (a soulful Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as the plot turns into a race against the clock to stop the First Order launching planet-destroying weapon as the force also proves strong in another of the new characters. Rattling along from explosive opening to nail-biting climax by way of a stunning shock revelation and death, the force is strong with this one. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Triple 9 (15) John Hillcoat previously directed The Proposition and The Road, two powerful films, the former written by Nick Cave and the latter adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel. This is the first produced screenplay by Matt Cook and it feels like both he and Hillcoat sat in a locked room watching Antoine Fuqua films on a loop before starting work. A gang of dirty cops (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr), an ex-cop (Aaron Paul and criminals (Chiwetal Ejiofor, Norman Reedus) are blackmailed by the Russian-Israeli mafia, (headed up by Kate Winslet in another unrecognisable turn) into pulling off a robbery. It goes smoothly, but then she demands another (part of her leverage is that her sister, Gal Gadot, is mother to Ejiofor’s son), except this one seems impossible. The only way to pull it off is by staging a triple 9, the police code for officer down, which will distract the cops. Casey Affleck, the rookie detective working with his uncle (Woody Harrelson) on trying to bring down the mafia, is the targeted to die, but inevitably things go pear-shaped, leading o a bloody finale of double crosses, shoot out and revenge.
It’s intense and bloody with plenty of involving twists and action, and the performances, Affleck especially, are all solid, but, at the end of the day, everything here has been done before and better. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel shine as, respectively, a retired composer-conductor and an arthouse film director planning his next project in a Swiss spa in director Paulo Sorrentino’s slow going, but melancholic, gently amusing film about lost hopes, ageing, passions, finding peace and the difference between simple and simplicity. For personal reasons Fred (Caine) is refusing to conduct his best known work for Prince Phillip’s birthday and is trying to deal with the fallout from the collapse of his daughter’s (Rachel Weisz) marriage (her husband’s taken up with Paloma Faith), while Mick (who’s her father-in-law) is faced with some caustic home truths from his Hollywood veteran muse (Jane Fonda) who he was expecting to star in his new film. Also among the guests is Sporting Fellini influences and populated by an array of eccentrics, including Paul Dano as a cerebral actor who resents being best known for playing a robot, who observes proceedings and occasionally dispenses words of wisdom, it’s a specialist taste but worth savouring. (MAC)
Zoolander No. 2 (12A)
A misfire at the US box office, fifteen years on from the equally flop original Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson reteam as narcissistic supermodels Derek Zoolander and Hansel, lured out of their reclusive existences for a convoluted storyline that entails Derek’s attempt to reunite with his young son and teaming up with Interpol fashion division agent Penelope Cruz to crack a case that has seen the world’s best looking pop stars murdered in what turns out to involve a legend of the fountain of youth and the descendents of the world’s first supermodel, created by God alongside Adam and Eve, and the escape from prison of revenge-seeking flamboyant evil mastermind Mugatu (Will Ferrell). With an unrecognisable Kristen Wiig as a scheming fashionista, a deluge of cameos that includes Justin Beiber, Sting, Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Wintour playing themselves and a hilarious Benedict Cumberbatch as androgynous supermodel All, it freewheels along with wild abandon, spraying verbal and visual gags in all directions. Beyond mere criticism, you either surrender to its self-indulgent silliness or you don’t. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
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Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield
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MAC – Cannon Hill Park
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