Movie Round-up: this week’s new film releases May 13-19


The Angry Birds Movie (U)  Pecking at the heels of Ratchet & Clank, this is the second animated adaptation of a videogame in a month. Launched in 2009, this Finnish game,  initially developed for the Apple  iPhone, took the world by storm, with some 50 million downloads to date, and is now available on PCs and consoles. Whether that’s enough to pull in massive crowds for a non-interactive big screen version is another matter, but while it might not  amass Zootropolis or Jungle Book numbers,  it’s certainly going to prove one of the year’s biggest hits.

Quickly 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, by and large, live a contented, harmonious and good-natured existence. There are exceptions, of course, most notably Red (Jason Sudeikis doing a sort of Tony Stark-style feathered flippancy), a sarcastic cardinal bird with big eyebrows and anger management issues (not least from being ostracised as a hatchling), to the extent that he’s been exiled from the village to live in a house on the beach.

After one particular outburst, he’s sentenced by the judge to anger management classes under mauve-plumaged, New Agey, ‘free rage chicken’ therapist Matilda (Maya Rudolph), where he meets up with three other anger-prone avians, hyperactive Goldfinch Chuck (Josh Gad), basically The Roadrunner of the bird world,  quite literally short-fused blackbird Bomb (Danny McBride), who has a habit of exploding when he loses control, and the bulky, monosyllabic Terrence (Sean Penn).

After some comic business involving their attempts to control their tempers, the main plot finally kicks in as a  ship rolls into the island (part demolishing Red’s house in the process), from which emerges Leonard (Bill Hader), a bearded green pig, and his assistant, proclaiming that they come in peace, bearing gifts, but who patently have a hidden agenda. Naturally, even after loads more green pigs turn up, the birds refuse to pay heed to Red’s suspicions until it’s too late after 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 three new buddies, sets off to find the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), the island’s long missing guardian, and, employing the very catapult gifted by the pigs,  take the fight to Piggy Island.

While the subtext about colonial exploitation of an  indigenous  population will go over the heads of the young target audience, they’ll recognise the tried and trusted plot about the misfit coming good and the message about accepting who you are and the strength of family. There’s also the obligatory bodily functions and bottom gags to keep them happy. Meanwhile, the older members of the audience can have fun spotting the pop culture puns and references, among them nods to The Shining, Fifty Shades of Black, Tex Avery  and, ahem, Jon Hamm.

With a simplistic featherlight plot, it’s fitfully rather than consistently amusing (Sudeikis having the best of the one-liners) and naturally wings its way to the big action sequence as the birds attack the pig city and Leonard’s citadel, shoehorning in excuses for musical numbers  like 2 Unlimited’s Get Ready For This along the way and, for the end credits, Demi Lovato doing I Will Survive. Unambitious  perhaps, but 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. Or perhaps not. ( Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

The Darkness (15)

darknessYet another churn ’em out horror relying on boo moments and soundtrack cues to keep the audience awake, this is all the more disappointing since director Jaume Balagueró taps into something of real primal fear, what lurks in the darkness. There’s some effective touches, such as briefly glimpsed shapes or a man engulfed by the shadows, but otherwise this walks a familiar path.  Returning to dad’s childhood home in rural Spain after a family holiday in the Grand Canyon, the father suddenly starts experiencing supposedly long-cured life-threatening, the power inevitably keeps going on the blink and there’s an obligatory hidden room, the contents of which include a photo of three blind women, and the young son starts obsessively drawing pictures of children. Plus, of course, those odd noises. It turns out the house was once the scene of child sacrifices during a full eclipse, one of whom escaped. Was that the father? And if so, why has he returned, with another eclipse just days away? Given the nigh incoherent plot and a film so murkily lit it’s almost impossible to see what’s going on, who cares.  (Cineworld  5 Ways;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Everybody Wants Some (15)

everybody-wants-someOpening on the immediately upbeat notes of the Knack’s My Sharona and billed as a “spiritual sequel” to 1993’s Dazed and Confused, after the intensity of Boyhood, director Richard Linklater hangs loose with an 80s set campus comedy about a student house of  college baseball players  spending the first weekend of the new academic year at their southeast Texas university getting high, getting drunk and trying to get laid in between crashing parties,  visiting a wide range of music clubs and dancing to disco, hip hop, punk and country. Testosterone is pretty much on tap as is male-ego competitiveness as freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at his digs and hooks up with his housemates and fellow players, cocky and competitive moustachioed alpha male McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), nice guy Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), the team’s sole black player, hayseed  and much-ribbed roommate Billy Autry (Will Brittain), belligerent and boastful minor baseball star Niles (Juston Street), smooth talker Finn (Glen Powell) with his pick up line about only having a modestly-sized dick , pack leader Roper (Ryan Guzman) and laid-back philosophising bong maestro Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). While most of the interactions between the boys and the girls on campus involve being horny, Jake develops a sweet courtship of Fine Arts freshman Beverly (Zooey Deutch).

Those who don’t get baseball needn’t really worry, as there’s only one scene on the field, and only then a practice session towards the end of the film, and all you really need to know is that hitters have a natural contempt for  pitchers, something that facilitates any amount of banter and insults amid the barbed camaraderie.

The loose limbed and affectionate storytelling is essentially a series of scenes and set-ups, and Linklater keeps the rhythm fluid, the dialogue often crackling with wit and one-liners and while the characters may act brash, Linklater subtly explores themes of self-identity and there’s a self-awareness among the team that this may well prove to be the best days of their lives and that baseball fame will never be theirs. There’s also a gag about how one of them turns out to be in his 30s, a failed jock trying to avoid growing up. However, given most of the cast look like they’ll never see 25 again, this falls rather flat.

It’s great in parts, but the problem is that while these guys are fun to hang with for a while, almost two hours of screen time is pushing it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman)

Green Room (18)

green room 2Jeremy Saulnier follows up quirky but intense suburban crime drama Blue Ruin with a taut hillbilly survival horror on the lines of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, except these backwoods butchers aren’t cannibals but white supremacists. Touring cross country playing whatever dives they can, scrappy DC punk outfit The Ain’t Rights – guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin), singer Tiger (Callum Turner), drummer Reece (Joe Cole) and bassist Sam (Alia Shawkat – are offered a gig playing to a bunch of skinheads at a private neo-Nazi heavy metal club in the Oregon wilds and, though initially reluctant, the fact they’re so broke they have to siphon gas to be able to travel, is a persuasive incentive. The gig goes well enough, but, having packed up their gear ready to leave, Pat nips back to the dressing room only find a woman he saw earlier in the bar stretched out on the floor with a knife in her head.

Unable to leave, they barricade themselves in the room, along with Amber (Imogen Poots), another punter who has a connection with the dead girl, and, eventually, one of the bouncers, while the heavily tooled-up staff and owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), try to figure out what to do.  Since talking them out, is clearly never going to work (though they are persuaded to hand over their loaded gun), things naturally quickly turn very violent and grisly involving  various characters having their throat torn out by attack dogs, being repeatedly knifed, their hand virtually severed (though nothing some gaffer tape can’t fix) and shot.

It’s a familiar set-up, but Saulnier gives it a fresh coat of paint, focusing on character as things build to a very gory retribution climax to deliver a genuinely gripping, nail-biting experience. And, delivered in the glow of a cigarette lighter, Poots’ ‘careful now’ may well prove the line of the year.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Knight of Cups (15)

knight 2Having taken 25 years to make three films, since returning in 2005 with The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick has been positively churning them out. This is his third since 2011 and he already has another due later in the year. However, it does seem that the more he makes, the less comprehensible he becomes. Here Christian Bale stars as Rick, a shaggy-haired, hedonistic Hollywood screenwriter who’s been handed a wad of cash for some new project, but is caught up in some sort of existential mid-life crisis. Told in chapter headings taken from the Tarot deck, this involves a series of relationships with a variety of women, among them Imogen Poots, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto and, as his ex-wife, Cate Blanchett, as well as a turbulent relationship with his father (Brian Dennehy) and troubled brother (Wes Bentley) and memories of another who committed suicide.

Abandoning linear narrative almost entirely, the film shifts between  time and place (including the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Warner Bros. studio lot, the Venice boardwalk, Huntington garden) to take the form of a succession of beautifully photographed (by Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki) montages, tableaux and vignettes, throughout which Bale wanders in a somnambulant vacuum. There’s no point in relying on dialogue to make sense of things either. Much is either barely audible or delivered as voice over monologue with Malick utilising visual metaphors more extensively than words. Those seeking anything resembling a readily digestible plot should look elsewhere, but as a visually intoxicating art house tone poem drenched in a melancholic otherworldly atmosphere this takes some beating. (Sat –Wed: Electric)


Louder Than Bombs (15)

louder-than-bombsThe first English-language film from Norwegian director Joachim Trier, this is a mannered and somewhat clinical affair as mild-mannered teacher Gene (Gabriel Byrne), withdrawn and moody teenage son Conrad (Devin Druid) and his older PhD brother and new father Jonah ( Jesse Eisenberg( are still trying to come to terms with the death of wife and mother Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert), a renowned but depression-prone war photographer whose fatal car crash, four years earlier, may have been suicide. On top of which, unknown to his kids, Byrne is also having an affair with Conrad’s teacher (Amy Ryan). Demons need to be put to rest for the family to heal and move on, though, naturally, nobody’s opening up or talking to the others.

Taking its title from The Smiths song, its artful melodrama about a dysfunctional family unable to communicate shifts back and forth in time and involves a couple of dream sequences, but, while there are a  couple of poignant moments, it is too detached to involve you in any of the characters’ pain. (Sun/Mon: MAC)


Our Kind of Traitor (15)

traitorFollowing on from the TV success of The Night Manager, here’s another John le Carre adaptation, although one that falls somewhat shorter. On holiday in Marrakesh, trying to repair their marriage after he had an affair with one of his students, poetry professor Perry (Ewan McGregor) and barrister wife Gail (Naomie Harris) become mixed up with Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a flamboyant Russian accountant who, when Gail leaves Perry alone in a restaurant, invites him to join his party for drinks. This turns into an invite back to his place and a game of tennis before he takes him aside and confesses to being the chief money launderer for the   Russian mafia He tells him that his partner and family were murdered after signing over their accounts to a mafia figure known as The Prince who is planning to open a bank in the City of London, and that the same will happen to him, giving Perry a memory stick to pass to MI6 when he gets back to England.

Enter Hector (Damien Lewis, an MI6 agent who sees Dima’s list of those involved in greasing the wheels to get the bank sanctioned as a way to bring down his corrupt former boss and now a top MP. But he needs full names and accounts before he’ll agree to bring the family over, thus recruiting Perry and Gail to again meet up with Dima and negotiate terms. The only snag being that this whole operation is not authorised by his superior.

All of which should have served as a tense cloak and dagger espionage thriller, but it never quite fires up. The intrigue is never that compelling (you know who’s who and everyone is what they seem to be), motivations never properly explained, events are predictable and, while Lewis nicely underplays, in contrast to Skarsgard’s big performance, Harris has precious little to do and McGregor tends to rather walk through things like someone with his mind half on other matters.  “Why are you still here?” asks Dima. “I’ve no idea,” says Perry. Come the end credits, audiences might feel the same way. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall)



Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (15)

wtfWhen an ostensibly mainstream film with star names like Tina Fey, Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton fails to get screened to the press or a single city centre booking, it’s usually a sure sign the distributor reckons it’s a bomb. That seems to be the case here, especially in the light of some iffy US reviews (although Fey emerges with honours) for this Afghan warzone comedy based on real life news writer Kim Barker (Fey, giving an impressive line in swearing).  Set in the early 2000s, with the Iraq invasion overshadowing everything else, insecure,, unmarried 40s something Barker volunteers to cover “the forgotten war” and heads for Kabul where, much to the consternation of Marine commander Gen. Hollanek (Thornton) with whom she’s embedded, she quickly proves a hapless and naïve fish out of water taking stupid risks in pursuit of a story.

She’s not the only reporter stuck in this backwater, there’s also sexy and savvy Tanya (Margot Robbie) who tells her that while she may be a 6 or 67 in New York, out here, where white women are few and far between, she’s a 10, and war-weary foul-mouthed Scottish photographer (Freeman) with whom Barker will inevitably become embedded in a very different sense. There’s also Alfred Molina doing another of his Middle Eastern turns as an opportunist local politician.

There’s action, but this is generally played for broad laughs. It is, however, no Catch 22 or M*A*S*H and some may find its stereotyping and comments about assorted aspects of Islam (a burqa is a ‘blue prison’) a touch misplaced. Based on Barker’s more insightful memoir, The Taliban Shuffle, the narrative often seems fragmented and it’s never sharp enough to be a biting satire, more interested in charting Barker’s midlife crisis and personal growth through her experiences in the combat zone. The title refers to the military acronym WTF, though perhaps a more fitting one for the film might be SNAFU. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)



Bad Neighbours 2 (15)

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

Bastille Day (15) Functional rather than inspired, The Woman In Black director James Watkins has a stab at a Hollywood action thriller with somewhat mixed results. When American pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden) lifts a bag in Paris, he removes the mobile phone and tosses the bag, A few seconds later there’s an enormous explosion killing four people. The bag contained a bomb that the girl, Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), was supposed to have left at the Paris headquarters of the French Nationalist Party, but changed her mind. Now, his image captured on CCTV, Mason is being fingered as the chief terrorist suspect. To which end, to get to him before French Intelligence, “reckless, insubordinate and irresponsible” CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) sets out to bring him in.

Suffice to say, Mason convinces Briar he’s not a terrorist and  is duly dragged along to track down Zoe before French intelligence boss Gamieux (Jose Garcia) manages to identify Mason . However, when the pair are attacked by a couple of heavily tooled men also looking for Zoe it swiftly transpires that the anti-terrorist cops  are not what they would appear.

Without giving away too much of the credibility-challenged plot, the anti-terror squad are involved in a conspiracy (using hashtags of all things) to incite the crowd to rise up against the fascist cops, like they did back on the original Bastille Day, creating a diversion while they pull off their real agenda.

It’s nonsense, but it does have a certain style  and  Elba is  a charismatic presence while, Mason’s sleight of hand tricks have a pleasing slickness. There is, naturally, the obligatory banter between the mismatched reluctant partners, the desk jockey boss who things Brier is barking up the wrong tree and the inevitable characters marked for death in the equally inevitable betrayal reveal. The action sequences are solid, especially the rooftops chase and a fight inside a speeding police wagon, ultimately delivering enough fun to overlook the contrivances it employs in the process.  (Cineworld NEC;  Vue Star City)


Captain America: Civil War (12A)

cap3Echoing  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.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)


Eddie the Eagle (PG) The British love an underdog makes good story and, in 1988, there was no bigger underdog than Michael Edwards, the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. He came last in both the 70m and 90m events (though he did set a new British record), but became internationally famous as a heroic failure and his  perseverance in the face of the hostility of the British Olympic Committee, who saw him as an embarrassment.

Now, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton with Hugh Jackman as Eddie’s fictional coach, Bronson Peary, a former ski jump champion with a drink problem and in need of redemption, his story is the feelgood movie of the year.

Charting young Eddie’s early failed Olympian ambitions (much to the irritation of his builder dad, Keith Allen), it follows his rejection as a skier by the establishment (Tim McInnery as snooty British Olympics executive Dustin Target) and his decision to switch to ski jumping, since  there were no other British participants for selection.  Self-training in Germany, much to the disparagement of pretty much every other skier, he seems destined for further failure until his refusal to give up eventually persuades Peary to become his coach. With all the odds against him, he eventually heads to Calgary and the 1988 Winter Olympics to prove he can truly fly.

Warm, funny and inspirational, with Jo Hartley as Eddie’s supportive mom, Christopher Walken as Peary’s grouchy former coach Warren Sharp, and driven by an irresistible open-hearted performance by Egerton and a nicely tuned comedic turn from Jackman, this soars on wings of sheer joy. (Vue Star City)

Eye In The Sky (12A) Directed by Gavin Hood, this is basically a UK answer to Andrew Niccol’s drone debate thriller Good Kill, here with  Helen Mirren’s Col. Powell overseeing an operation to capture an Englishwoman who’s joined up with Al-Shabaab terrorists and who, intelligence reveals,. Is having a meeting at a safe house in a Nairobi neighbourhood, However, when high-tech surveillance courtesy of a Somali agent (Barkhad Abdi) reveals the group preparing to carry out a  couple of   suicide-bomb attacks, Powell contacts her superior,  Lt. Gen. Benson (Alan Rickman) and requests the mission be changed from  capture to kill.

This is to be carried out using a US military drone operated by Steve Watts (Aaron Paul). However, when a young girl sets up a stall selling bread in the kill zone, he insists the mission demands clarification. And so the film devolves into an argument as to whether the loss of one civilian justifies potentially saving the lives of countless others. Meanwhile, as the politicians dither, the window of opportunity is slowly closing. Taut and claustrophobic, it juxtaposes serious moral issues with dashes of incongruous humour (the British Foreign Secretary with an upset stomach and the US Secretary of State playing ping-pong with the Chinese) while underlining the use of sanitised evasive language about prosecuting the target and collateral damage. With a solid performance from Mirren and an even better one from Rickman in his last film, it may adopt familiar clichés, but it ultimately subverts these to leave you with more questions than answers. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City; Until Wed:MAC)


Florence Foster Jenkins (PG)

ffj2Stephen Frears delivers an affectionate account of the unlikely rise to fame of the titular Alabama heiress (Meryl Streep), a wealthy 1940s New York socialite whose determination to sing was second only to the fact that she couldn’t hold a note. Not that anyone in her circle is about to mention the fact, not when she has connections they’re keen to exploit. Of course, Jenkins herself is totally deluded about her abilities, a delusion protected by her failed actor husband-manager, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant),  who’s well aware of his wife’s shortcomings, but, despite having a mistress (Rebecca Ferguson),  is genuinely devoted to ‘Bunny’ and determined no-one burst her bubble, even if that means having to pay bribes for  favourable reviews.

He hires young pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) to accompany her and, while initially bemused, he too soon falls under Florence’s spell, though even he’s pushed to the limit when he and Bayfield discover that, following a wave of public enthusiasm for a   recording), she’s booked Carnegie Hall.

Walking a well-judged line between comedy and poignancy, while there is humour, it also celebrates her passion without any sense of irony, the sell-out Carnegie crowd initially erupting in laughter before coming to appreciate the heart and spirit of the woman on stage. Except that is for New York Post critic Earl Wilson (Christian McKay) whose coruscating review may well have precipitated Jenkins’ death (she was afflicted with syphilis from her doomed first marriage).

In terms of plot, it’s rather insubstantial and somewhat repetitive, but Frears’ lightness of touch and a trio of superlative performances from Streep, Grant (his best in years) and Helberg should see hefty returns from the grey pound audience, if not, necessarily, music lovers.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Friend Request (15) The latest in the new social network  horror genre, this one places Facebook centre stage. Having taken pity on  college loner misfit Marina  and becoming her only Facebook friend, when her neediness turns into obsession, popular classmate Laura (Alycia Debnam Carey) unfriends her.  Resulting in Marina committing suicide,. That, inevitably, is not the end of it as Laura and her friends start getting a flood of posts from Marina’s account and find themselves unable to remove the feeds. Naturally, the hate campaign from beyond the grave doesn’t stop there and, as per the genre,  Laura’s mates find themselves not only subjected to an assortment of psychological and physical assaults via the likes of insects and mirrors, but also start winding up dead. In obligatory violent ways. Other than the medium, there’s nothing new here and the  predictably useless cops were probably not a good idea, but if all you’re looking for is impressive visuals and a steady stream of  boo moments, you might want to log on.  (Showcase Walsall; Vue  Star City)


The Huntsman: Winter’s War (12A) Both a prequel and a sequel to Snow White and Huntsman, Snow herself has been dismissed from the story as being unwell, but Chris Hemsworth’s back as the hunky if oddly Scottish-accented Eric who, as we learn in the prologue, was abducted from his family, along with other children, by Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), the younger sister of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil queen despatched in the first film. She was once all nice, but turned into a literal ice queen when her baby was apparently burned to death by her lover, leading her to take off and form her own frozen kingdom, raising an army of Huntsmen forbidden to ever fall in love.

As one of them, Eric grows up to become her best, alongside deadly archer Sara (Jessica Chastain), helping her conquer all the territories up north, only for the pair to break the rules and secretly get wed. Well, not that secretly, Freya having Sara killed before Eric’s eyes and him tossed into a river.

So, on to the sequel. Seven years later, the magic mirror, containing Ravenna’s essence, has gone missing while being transported to somewhere called Sanctuary and Eric’s enlisted to find it and ensure it gets there. So, off he sets, accompanied by a couple of comic sidekick dwarves, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon). They’re subsequently joined by two female dwarves, Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), allowing for yet more bickering banter as the four hurls insults at each other.  Along the way, Eric’s also reunited with Sara, who turns out not to be dead after all, but who thinks he ran out on her.

Eventually tracking the stolen mirror to a goblin infested forest, they recover it only to have Freya arrive and, in another turnabout of events, make off with it, apparently leaving Eric for dead. This is about halfway in, and the actual thrust of the sequel still hasn’t kicked off. That comes when Freya resurrects her sister, expecting them to work together to conquer the remaining lands, only to find Ravenna isn’t about to take orders from anyone.  Meanwhile, Eric (not dead, surprise), Gryff and Mrs. B are sneaking into Freya’s castle to try and put an end to things once and for all.

Padded out, it’s an uneven, at times overly busy affair, the middle-section only there only to justify a battle with the Goblin King. The visual effects are impressive, there’s some fascinating background detail and the action sequences with Hemsworth and Chastain are well handled. However, when a fabulously wicked Theron isn’t devouring things wholesale, it’s the dwarves (Smith especially) who steal the film.  (Vue Star City)


I Saw The Light (15)

light 3Something of a hiccup in Tom Hiddleston’s continuing ascent, even so, he still emerges with critical kudos for his lead performance in this biopic of country legend Hank Williams. It focuses on the period between 1944,  from when 21-year-old Hank married the bullying Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) at an Alabama gas station to his alcohol and drugs fuelled death in 1953 at the age of 29, following his rise from local radio performer to country superstar and taking in rocky marriage, divorce, remarriage (to Billie Jean Jones). booze binges and extensive womanising along the way.

As with I Walk The Line, Williams’s life and career offers  plenty of meat to chew on; however, despite the fact he scored 33 US hits (including eight No 1s)  before his death, inspired Presley and Dylan and is regarded as the father of country music, he’s considerably less well know over here than Johnny Cash. Hiddleston reportedly nails the singing, delivering solid takes on the likes of Lovesick Blues, Your Cheatin’ Heart and, of course, I Saw The Light, but stylistic confusion and a focus more on the man’s private life than his professional one, seems likely to see this making a fairly swift exit from the few screens where it’s playing. (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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) The third outing for  the fat and furry martial arts master offers a perfect conclusion to the saga, the culmination of the journey that Po (Jack Black) began in the first film when Master  Ooglay proclaimed him the Dragon Warrior of prophecy.  Now it’s time to really fulfil that destiny as Kai (J.K. Simmons), a  blade-wielding  yak, escapes from the Spirit Realm having  stolen the life chi of all its kung fu masters,  returning to the world of mortals to mop up the rest

Po, meanwhile, has his own problems, having being appointed teacher to replace the retiring Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a task neither Po nor the Furious Five reckon he’s up to. Then, who should reappear but Po’s long lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). Rejoicing’s cut short, however, when Kai’s jade zombies to attack the village and Po  has to return with his father to the secret Panda village and master his own chi if he has any chance of defeating Kai. The plot pretty much follows a similar path to the first film, and again delivers a message about discovering who you truly are and believing in yourself. Terrifically animated, Black, as ever, superbly brings Po to life with all his insecurities and vanities  A fitting end to Po’s journey to enlightenment, let’s not, ahem, panda to the box office and set him off on another (Vue Star City)

Painting The Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (TBC)  Documentary about the rise of the modern garden in popular culture and the public’s enduring fascination with gardens. (Thu:MAC)

Our Little Sister (PG)  Japanese film about three twentysomething  sisters who live together in a tight-knit small seaside town outside of Tokyo. (Tue/Thu;MAC)


Ratchet & Clank (PG)  Having begun life as a  Playstation game, misfit mechanic Ratchet and sentient robot Clank now make their big screen debut in an animated origin story about how they met and came to become part the elite  The Galactic Rangers  (Ratchet having already been rejected once) when the Solana Galaxy comes under threat from evil alien Chairman Drek (voiced by Paul Giamatti). It’s the usual guff about heroism, friendship and discovering your true self, but  it looks good, the duo are voiced by the original videogame actors,  there’s the required knockabout comedy and  it ticks all the necessary boxes, not to mention featuring a voice cameo by Sylvester Stallone.  (Vue Star City)

Richard III (15)  Ian McKellen’s terrific interpretation of Shakespeare’s monarch as some sort of totalitarian leader, directed by Richard Loncraine who will be along for a Q&A. (Thu;MAC)


Robinson Crusoe (PG) A Belgian animation from the studio behind A Turtle’s Tale, revoiced into English with a predominantly unknown cast (kids may recognise Crusoe’s Yuri Lowethnal as the voice of Ben 10), this is an uninspired, flat affair. Bookended by narration from a red parrot dubbed Tuesday (as opposed to Friday, geddit), it retells Crusoe’s story from the point of view of the animals on the island  where he’s marooned (spiny anteater, chameleon, kingfisher, tapir and shortsighted goat among them). The plot’s divided into two parts as they first encounter the shipwrecked ginger-headed gangly Crusoe and his trusty dog and  help him build his tree house and then help him fight off a pair of mangy cats (the film’s equivalent of The Lion King’s hyenas) and their subsequent litter that have also made it to the island. The latter development results in a fast-paced, occasionally inventive but interminably repetitive series of chases making inventively effective use of 3D that actually makes it worth paying the extra .

The dialogue particularly unimaginative and lacking in wit (although adults may get a chuckle at the animal’s revulsion when Crusoe removes his jacket and they think he’s peeling off his skin), relying mostly on slapstick, this is pitched firmly at easily pleased five-year-olds and under. Be warned though, the fate of the dog may see tears. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Zootropolis (U)

zootropolis 1Already the prime contender for  next year’s best animated feature, Disney’s allegorical tale about prejudice, tolerance, stereotyping  and  following your dreams offers   plenty of food for thought for audiences young and old to chew over while being treated to an entertaining feast for the eyes and emotions.

Predators and prey now living together in harmony, regardless of species and classifications,  perky Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) aspires to become the first bunny cop in Zootropolis,  the titular city with its  four  climate-based hubs, ruled over by preening Mayor Lionheart (J.K.Simmons). However, despite coming all obstacles to pass first of her academy, buffalo Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) consigns Judy to parking meter duty and its only through the fortuitous appearance at the station of the Mayor’s sheepish assistant Bellwether (Judy Slate) reminding him of  her boss’s mammal-inclusion initiative, that she’s given the job of investigating the disappearance of Mr. Ottetton, one of several predators that have gone missing.  With only 48 hours to crack the case of reign, she ‘enlists’ the help of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a laid-back con artist fox with whom she had an earlier run in. Together, and with a little help from Mr. Big, the shrew Godfather of Zootropolis, they uncover a dark conspiracy causing predators to revert to their original savage nature.  Brilliantly animated, it marries its noir moods and police procedural narrative with sharp humour, most memorably so in Judy’s visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles staffed by sloths. Perfectly voiced, Judy and Nick make for a classic mismatched buddy cop teaming and their shared further adventures as the Starsky and Rabbit Hutch of the animal world are something to be eagerly anticipated. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch)





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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