Movie Round-up: this week’s new film releases, May 20-26

NEW RELEASE

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 is a powerful telekinetic with mind control powers that rival the professor’s. She’s given to nightmares, such as her latest one about the end of the world. Xavier assures her it’s just a dream, but the reality is she’s tapped into a vision of the film’s uber-villain, the immortal En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), henceforth Apocalypse, to whom we’re introduced in the impressive prologue where, set in Ancient Egypt, his followers transfer his consciousness from his dying body to a new one, only for him to be entombed following a revolt. As later noted by CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne), Xavier’s former romance, her memories of their relationship now wiped, he was the world’s first mutant.

Meanwhile, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) – in her Raven look – is out and about in East Berlin rescuing endangered mutants such as betailed and 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 wife and daughter.

All that changes when Apocalypse is awakened and freed and tragedy befalls Erik’s family. Resolved to eradicate the centuries of progress that have occurred since he was betrayed and rebuild the world as he envisioned it, with himself its ruler, Apocalypse sets out to recruit his traditional four followers, here the winged Angel (Ben Hardy) first seen battling Nightcrawler as a mutant Berlin cagefighter), Psylocke (Olivia Munn),a  Ninja-like warrior with a lethal powerbeam arm, weather-controlling African street orphan Ororo (Alexandra Shipp), later to become Storm, and, eventually, the understandably embittered Magneto. Enhancing their powers (setting up a powerful scene as he returns Eric to Auschwitz, where his parents died, an ironic note given his involvement in a new genocide), he duly sets out to first eliminate the planet’s nuclear weapons and then destroy the human race and the civilization it’s built, to which end cue yet another vision of mass global infrastructure destruction.

All of which leaves Prof X, Beast, Mystique, the novice new recruits and, making a welcome return, the cockily good-humoured Quicksilver (Evan Peters), pretty much reprising his standout sequence from the previous film as he rescues all the students from the mansion following Apocalypse’s attack.

Also back behind the camera for the fourth time is director Bryan Singer (Brett Ratner’s woeful Last Stand gets a sly throwaway dismissal), his investment in the flawed and wounded characters clearly evident in the depth of emotion on display, while also delivering some bar-raising set pieces and visual effects.  Having to account for the whereabouts of various characters and introduce new ones, it does take a while to get up and running after the prologue, but, once the main thrust of the plot kicks in, the pace and thrills never slacken as it builds to its Phoenix crescendo. And, of course, picking up a storyline from Future Past, there’s also the much anticipated cameo of a certain steel-clawed military experiment known as Weapon X, which, in turn, provides the obligatory post-credits sequence setting up things for future Wolverine and Deadpool developments. It doesn’t quite have the emotional clout of Civil War and it’s difficult to see where the X-Men franchise goes from here, having basically come full circle back to where it began, but this is Apocalypse now and it doesn’t disappoint. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Golden Years (12A)

golden_years Tapping into the recent pension scandals that have left thousands of senior citizens facing a financially difficult if not impossible future, as well as casting an eye over carehome that have been revealed to be anything but, this modestly entertaining contribution to Silver Cinema partakes of the spirit of Ealing  comedies in the West Country set tale of a bunch of bank-robbing pensioners. Faced with casual if not contemptuous indifference on discovering his pension pot has been eroded and that he can’t get the loan he needs to pay for his wife’s (Virginia McKenna) medical treatment now she’s fallen victim to the postcode lottery, when a fortuitous accident outside the local bank almost literally shoves a security van’s safebox into his hands, or more specifically shopping trolley, Arthur (Bernard Hill) impulsively makes off with the money. When the missus discovers what he’s done, she becomes his partner in crime, the pair of them donning OAP masks and, with cucumbers wrapped in plastic and disguised  as guns, knocking over more banks. With no witnesses to the original robbery, the cops, headed up by Sid (Alun Armstrong), are baffled, but Stringer, the force’s blowhard detective, cockily assures them it’s the work of criminal masterminds and he’s going to bring them down.

By now, Arthur and Martha have been joined in their Robin Hood escapades by their equally elderly friends and neighbours (Phil Davis, Una Stubbs and Simon Callow) as, despite a tragedy along the way, they plan one final big job in order to save the local bowls club from being developed.

It’s all very sitcom gentle and genially amusing and while the unimaginative script  rarely rises above the slapstick of someone being knocked in the face by a door, the veteran cast (which also includes Sue Johnston as Sid’s wife) put in solid and affable performances. It’s not for those who like their heist movies to come with shootouts and car chases and, some may find its attitudes to twilight years ambitions somewhat patronising, but for those of a certain age and undemanding tastes, it might be worth getting the bus pass out for.  (Sat / Wed: MAC)

A Hologram For The  King (12A)

hologram_for_the_kingYou know something’s amiss when a film starring the ever bankable Tom Hanks has almost no advance buzz, opens on a very limited number of screens and the PR company won’t provide a ticket to go and review it once it’s opened. This might have something to do with iffy American reviews of its meandering and sprawling narrative, although critics have been reasonably positive in regards to Hanks’ turn as Alan Clay, a once  top salesman on a downward slope, divorced, financially strapped and having a mid-life crisis. In one last attempt to avoid going under, he calls in a vague connection to the nephew of the king of Saudi Arabia in an attempt to represent a company seeking to land the contract as IT provider 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’s forced to enlist the services of a local driver (Alexander Black) after he misses the shuttle to the site, then his government official liaison constantly fails to appear and there’s absolutely no sign of the king turning up so he can make the holographic teleconferencing pitch. On the upside, there is the attractive divorcee doctor (Sarita Choudhury) who’s on hand to treat Hanks’ assorted ailments and with whom he seems to have chemistry.

Directed by Tom Twyker, who made Run Lola Run and directed Hanks’ segments in Cloud Atlas, it’s a seriocomic lament for the American Dream that opens with a bizarre dream sequence of  Clay singing  a skewed  version of Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, and then getting strapped to a shaky  roller-coaster by way of summing up his present existential condition. Hanks fans should catch it now, as I suspect it won’t be taking up screen space for long.  (Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Sing Street (12A)

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

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

Having gotten a taste for this pop lark, and with Raphina suitably impressed, more songs following order to maintain her involvement  as the band gradually becomes more confident and polished,  dumping the covers and writing further stylistically varied songs, with outfits to match, while a hesitant romance between Conor and Raphina gradually develops. Eventually, they have enough songs to headline the school dance (cue a Back to the Future nod), but life, in the form of  his parents separation and an older romantic rival, has a way of never quite going as smoothly as you’d like it.

With a bunch of spot on pastiches of The Cure, Spandau Ballet. Joe Jackson, such as Drive It Like You Stole It and the ballad On My Way to Find You, any of which you could imagine being on Top of the Pops, even if its underdog comes good plot is a bit predictable, this is a real joy to watch, perfectly balancing poignancy and comedy with hugely likeable and relatable characters and climaxing with real punch the air showstopper.  Walsh-Peelo, Boynton and Carolan are particularly good, but arguably the star turn is from Jack Reynor as Conor’s older, drop out brother Brendan who gave up on his dreams and now just hangs around home getting high, but who, a music obsessive and failed guitarist, gives him a pile of albums, from Hall & Oates to The Jam, as homework to help make his dreams come true, setting up the film’s most moving scene. With  The Commitments and  Once, Dublin has already been the setting for two classic music-driven films about finding yourself and following your dreams and your heart. Sing Street makes it a trilogy. It was cheered when it played Sundance. Clearly none of the UK’s cinemas bookers were in the audience. (Empire Great Park)

Son of Saul (15)

saul

Winner of last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, first time director László Nemes’s debut is a detached but harrowing Holocaust drama that finds a spark humanity still flickering amid the unimaginable horrors of Auschwitz.  The year is 1944 and, losing the war, Germany is speeding up the extermination of the Jews, ferrying in transport after transport of ‘pieces’ to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp to be gassed and burned, their possessions sized, their identifications destroyed and their ashes shovelled into the lake. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian Jewish prisoner and one of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners given the job of  getting the new arrivals into the ‘showers’ and then carting away the bodies. knowing full well that, at some point, it will be their turn too.

Among the latest arrivals, a young boy survives the gassing, only to be subsequently suffocated by one of the officers and his body sent for autopsy. The rest of the film centres around Saul trying to seek out a rabbi to say Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, over the boy and then give him a proper burial. At one point, when asked why he’s “ betrayed the living to help the dead”  and put at risk the others and a planned uprising, he says that the dead boy is his son, His fellow Sonderkommando tells him he never had a son, but whether  he is or not is irrelevant, the important point is that the boy has stirred something within Saul that had all but been extinguished by the gruesome job he does. Saul seeks to bring meaning to a meaningless world.

Nemes mostly focuses the camera  on Saul’s face, a canvas of both agony and an emotional  blank, always keeping the horrors at the edge of the frame,  only indistinctly seen (echoing the way those involved had to essentially not see them either in order to survive), all of which makes the final shot of Saul all the more powerful. It’s a difficult watch, but an essential one. (Mon-Wed:MAC)

 

 

NOW PLAYING

The Angry Birds Movie (U)

angry4Launched in 2009, the  iPhone game goes big screen as, sketching in the origin story over the opening credits and with a couple of flashbacks, we’re introduced to the Bird Island paradise of assorted flightless birds who live a contented, harmonious and good-natured existence. There are exceptions, of course, most notably Red (Jason Sudeikis doing feathered flippancy), a sarcastic cardinal bird with big eyebrows and anger management issues to the extent that he’s been exiled to live in a house on the beach.

Sentenced by the judge to anger management classes under ‘free rage chicken’ therapist Matilda (Maya Rudolph),  he meets up with three other anger-prone avians, hyperactive goldfinch Chuck (Josh Gad), quite literally short-fused blackbird Bomb (Danny McBride) who has a habit of exploding, and the bulky, monosyllabic Terrence (Sean Penn).

The main plot finally kicks in as a  ship rolls into the island, from which emerge Leonard (Bill Hader), a bearded green pig, and his assistant, proclaiming that they come in peace, but who patently have a hidden agenda. Naturally, even after loads more pigs turn up, the birds refuse to pay heed to Red’s suspicions until the swine make off with all the eggs (green ham and eggs, geddit Dr Seuss fans!) which they intend to turn into a hard boiled banquet. Now it’s time to turn to Red  for help who, along with his new buddies, sets off to find the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), the island’s long missing guardian, and take the fight to Piggy Island.

With a staple plot about the misfit coming good and the message about accepting who you are and the strength of family, along with the obligatory bodily function gags, older members of the audience can have fun spotting the pop culture puns, among them nods to The Shining and, ahem, Jon Hamm.

Fitfully rather than consistently amusing as it wings its way to the big action sequence as the birds attack the pig city and Leonard’s citadel, it’s well animated and entertaining enough for a flutter, though having seen a mommy bird regurgitating into her chicks’ paper bags,  some kids might be well put off taking lunch boxes to school. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Bad Neighbours 2 (15)

bad2 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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; 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.  (Vue Star City)

 

Captain America: Civil War (12A)

cap1Echoing  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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

The Darkness (15)  Yet 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; Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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)

Everybody Wants Some (15)

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

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

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

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

 

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; Vue Star City)

 

Florence Foster Jenkins (PG)

ffj3Stephen 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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon 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)

Green Room (18)

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

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

Jane Got A Gun (15) The latest in the recent line of revisionist Westerns puts a vaguely feminist spin on the genre as Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) determines to take on the  gang of ruthless outlaws, headed up by the urbane John Bishop (an unrecognisable Ewan McGregor), who have put a few bullets into her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich), and are intent on finishing the job.  To do this, she seeks the help of   Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) who, as her embittered former fiancé (she got fed up of waiting for him to come back from the Civil War), is perhaps understandably reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, old feelings duly rule and turns up in time to save Jane from one of the gang before  booby-trapping the approach to the cabin for when the gang turn up.

Punctuated by a series of flashbacks detailing Jane’s story with both Frost and Hammond, and explaining why Bishop’s out for revenge, it’s a little jerky in the telling, but even so, with  Edgerton swinging between grouchy and soulful and Portman making Jane someone who, while not the best shot over a distance, is formidable up close, fans of the genre should not be disappointed. (Tue-Thu: MAC)

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; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City; Until Mon:MAC)

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)

Miles Ahead (15)

-Miles-Ahead In 1974, jazz  trumpet legend Miles Davis effectively retired from music, not releasing any new material until 1981. Making his directorial debut as well as starring, Don Cheadle’s fictionalised biopic picks things up ahead of Davis’ re-emergence, pivoting the story around a couple of days in the company of  Scottish journalist Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), who turns up at the musician’s home claiming he’s been by assigned to write up his comeback for Rolling Stone.

Based around the Maguffin of the theft of a tape of new recordings by an opportunistic  smarmy producer looking to leverage an opening for his trumpet protégé, the film flits back and forth in time for an impressionistic look at what led to Davis dropping out (a combination of cocaine, domestic abuse and the falling apart of his marriage to muse and first wife Frances Taylor, whose face adorned the cover of 1961’s Someday My Prince Will Come) and his difficult relationship with his own mythology.

Riffing facts (Davis’s infamous racially motivated 1959 arrest outside New York’s Birdland nightclub) and fiction (a car chase and some gunplay), drama and dark comedy, it’s an erratic affair as unpredictable as some of Davis’s music, but, whether as the slick suited Miles of the late 50s or the frizzed  afro-sporting  version of the 70s, Cheadle is a hypnotic presence, superbly capturing his characters mix of paranoia, arrogance, self-loathing  and vulnerability and, steeped in the man’s music, while it’s hardly a conventional biopic, as Miles tells Braden in the film’s opening scene, “If you’re gonna tell a story, come with some attitude”, Cheadle brings plenty.  (Until Mon:MAC)

Numbskull (tbc) Birmingham-made dark post-Shaksperean road movie buddy comedy about what really happened to the Bard’s missing skull. (Tue:MAC)

 

Our Kind of Traitor (15)

traitor Following 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;  Empire Great Park; Everyman;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)

 

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. (Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Teatro Alla Scala: Temple of Wonders (12A)   Documentary about one of the worlds’ most exclusive music and performing arts venues. (Thu:MAC)

Zootropolis (U) Already 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. (Vue Redditch)

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

The Electric Cinema  – 47–49 Station Street,  0121 643 7879

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich  0333 006 7777

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Redditch – Kingfisher Centre, Redditch 08712 240 240

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

 

 

 

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