Movie Round-up: This week’s new film reviews, May 6-May 12

NEW RELEASE

Florence Foster Jenkins (PG)

Following swiftly on the heels of Marguerite’s French fictionalisation of her story, this is Stephen Frear’s affectionate account of the unlikely rise to fame of the titular Alabama heiress (Meryl Streep), a woman whose love of opera and determination to sing was second only to the fact that she couldn’t hold a note. Not that anyone in her circle (Toscanini and her fawning singing teacher, Metropolitan Opera conductor Carlo Edwards, included) is about to mention the fact, not when, a wealthy 1940s New York socialite, she has the connections they were keen to exploit. Of course, Jenkins herself, initially introduced as the star turn in a shoddy supper club, is totally deluded about her abilities, a delusion protected by her husband-manager, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a failed actor (and the club’s owner) well aware of his wife’s shortcomings, but, despite the fact he has a mistress (Rebecca Ferguson),  genuinely devoted to ‘Bunny’ and determined no-one burst her bubble, even if that means having to bribe music critics to write favourable reviews.

Given her insistence on singing and determination to give concerts, he hires a young pianist, Cosmé McMoon (The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg) to accompany her. Initially bemused and baffled, McMoon too soon falls under Florence’s spell, though even he’s pushed to the limit at the prospect of having his reputation and career shredded when he and Bayfield discover that, following a wave of public enthusiasm when a  private recording is broadcast over the airwaves), she’s booked Carnegie Hall and given away 1000 free tickets to disabled servicemen with the other 2000 available to the paying public.

Walking a well-judged line between comedy and poignancy, while there is obvious humour in the way its plays scenes with the tone-deaf Jenkins, it also celebrates her passion without any sense of irony, the sell-out Carnegie crowd initially erupting in laughter before being shamed by others who also once mocked but have come 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 (afflicted with syphilis from her doomed first marriage, she nevertheless outlived all her doctors’ expectations).

In terms of plot, it’s actually rather insubstantial and, in the second half, somewhat repetitive, but Frears’ lightness of touch and a trio of superlative performances from Streep (who works wonders in overcoming her actual impressive singing talent, though we get to hear her in full non-screech flow in the final moments) , Grant (his best work in years) and Helberg should see hefty returns from the grey pound audience, if not, necessarily, music lovers.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  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. Advance screenings weren’t held, but you can safely expect to see a retread of all the same gags and 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)

I Saw The Light (15)

I Saw the lightNot given any advance UK screenings and pretty much buried away, this  marks something of a hiccup in Tom Hiddleston’s continuing ascent. Even so, he still emerges with critical kudos for his lead performance in Marc Abraham’s biopic of country legend Hank Williams. It focuses on the period between 1944, when 21-year-old Hank married the bullying (she insisted she sang on his records, despite her lack of ability) Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) at an Alabama gas station to his alcohol and drugs (he became addicted to morphine and other painkillers taken to relieve his spina bifida) 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. (Cineworld NEC;  Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Robinson Crusoe (PG)

crusoe 1A 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, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

NOW PLAYING

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

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (12A) Despite a somewhat messy plot that has to shoehorn in some backstory and teasers for the Justice League movies (cue cameos by The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg), this should more than satisfy the fans. Following a prologue detailing Man of Steel’s  final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and  General Zod,  with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing in from Gotham in time to see one of his buildings collapse, crushing the legs of an employee (Scoot McNairy), things fast forward 18 months and, while a hero many, others, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) included,  regard him as a potential super-powered alien threat. Wayne is one of those who reckons such power should not be allowed to go unchecked, while, over at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is having concerns over Batman’s increasingly brutal vigilante actions in Gotham.

Someone else who’d like to see an end to Superman (for reasons that probably won’t be clear until; the extended cut DVD) is billionaire industrialist Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s got his hands on a chunk of kryptonite and persuaded the authorities to give him access to Zod’s downed ship. It’s his intention to turn the tide against Superman and to manoeuvre Batman into taking him down.

Directed by Zack Snyder, although sometimes hard to keep up with the narrative tangents,  it basically sees a soulful Superman questioning if it’s possible to remain good in the face of evil and an obsessed Batman shedding any scruples about taking lives. Just as it takes a while to see the fully cowled and caped crusader, so the film holds back the appearance of  Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) until the final battle as Luthor unleashes his hybrid monster, Doomsday, on the world

Balancing the action with more intimate moments, including more sage wisdom from Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and a contrived ghostly Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Cavill again does sterling work as Superman while Affleck proves the best Batman this side of Christian Bale, and an even better Bruce Wayne. Gadot makes a suitably dramatic appearance while Jeremy Irons provides a world weary turn as Alfred and Amy Adams serves as the usual woman in peril Lois Lane. The fact that the big showdown fizzles out when both protagonists realise their mothers have the same name (had someone been listening to Rupert Holmes?) may induce more mirth than poignancy, while the already announced JLA roster rather undercuts The Force Awakens style shocker here, but, while it doesn’t scale the same heights as The Avengers: Age Of Ultron it’s definitely on the same playing field.  (Vue Star City)

The Boy (15) Yet another in a long line of possessed doll horror movies, this sees Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) bailing on a bad relationship by landing a job as   nanny for a wealthy elderly couple at a remote English estate. However, she’s understandably taken aback to discover their 8-year-old ‘son’, Brahms, is actually a life-size porcelain doll. It seems their actual son died 20 years earlier in a fire following a girl’s murder in the woods, and the doll is their way of coping with the grief. Greta’s expected to care for it as if it were a real boy and given a whole list of rules (never cover his face, never go in the attic, etc) she’s told she must, under no circumstances, break. At which point the pair take off, leaving her alone with the doll save for occasional visits from Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who delivers the groceries.  Naturally, Greta reckons the rules are ridiculous and quickly dispenses with them. Which is when strange things start to happen. Like the doll inexplicably moving from where she left it.

It’s a well worn premise and plays out the scenario with all the usual bells and whistles, including strange noises, windows that don’t open, vermin infestations and dream sequences. So, is Greta going nuts or is it all for Chucky real? Effective enough as creepy goes, but the last act twist (a touch of Phantom of the Opera perhaps) is less of a surprise than it thinks and makes what’s gone before even more implausible. (Vue  Star City)

Captain America: Civil War (12A)

cap2Echoing  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)

The Club (18)  A Chilean drama in which four middle-aged  ex-priests and their nun housekeeper find their lives suddenly disrupted by the shocking violence provoked by a newly arrived lodger. (Tue/Wed: MAC)

Demolition (15)

DEMOLITION 2 Dallas Buyer’s Club director Jean-Marc Vallée returns with another intense personal journey, this time starring Jake Gyllenhaal. When his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), is killed in a car accident which he survived, successful Wall Street financier Davis Mitchell attempts to buy a pack of M&Ms from the hospital vending machine, only for it to get stuck. Informed he’ll have to contact the company direct, he duly does. Except, instead of the usual letter of complaint, he decides to unburden himself and, over the course of several letters, relate in brutal honesty  all the details about how he feels he became dislocated from his marriage and life, numbing his ability to even summon cry after the funeral.

Adopting the maxim that to fix things you first have to take them apart, Mitchell starts to deconstruct his life, quite literally, first dismantling the fridge and working his way up to eventually taking a sledgehammer and bulldozer to his luxury home.  Understandably, his father-in-law and boss, Phil (Chris Cooper), is first concerned and finally angry at Mitchell not acting like someone who’s lost their wife

To further complicate matters, Mitchell is contacted by the vending machine company’s customer services, Karen (Naomi Watts), who tells him “Your letters made me cry.  Do you have anyone to talk to?”  Sensing in him a common sadness, a relationship between the two gradually grows, Initially platonic, it gradually deepens, as does Mitchell’s bond  with her  troubled  teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis),who’s confused about his sexual orientation. There’s also another unexpected confession awaiting Mitchell that will force him to reassess his marriage even further.

A film about dealing with grief, emotional displacement and healing and the search for a catharsis that never comes, it’s a very slow burn that does require patience, But, punctuating the drama with off-kilter moments of humour, and anchored by Gyllenhaal’s soulful performance as a man trying to fill the empty shell he’s become, supported by a terrific turn from Lewis, it more than repays the effort. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park)

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. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Eye In The Sky (12A)

eyeDirected 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue 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.  (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue  Star City)

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (12A)

huntsman 2Both 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)

 

The Jungle Book (PG)

jungle book 4Directed by Jon Favreau, Disney delivers 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; Everyman; 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)

The Man Who Knew Infinity (12A) Writer-director Matthew Brown’s biopic of Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a name that will mean bugger all to the vast majority, but make the pulses of mathematicians beat faster. Growing up poor in Madras, self-taught he earned a place at Cambridge in 1914 and, under the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy, became a pioneer in mathematical theories, something to do with the negative values of the gamma function, apparently, which he said came to him from God. Not as sexy a story as that of fellow troubled mathematicians Alan Turing or John Nash, it’s still an earnest and absorbing maths bromance with Dev Patal as Ramanujan and, on a bit of renaissance at present, Jeremy Irons as the martinet atheist Hardy, alongside a brief Stephen Fry cameo as civil engineer Sir Francis Spring and Toby Jones and Jeremy Northam as Hardy’s fellow Dons, John Littlewood and Bertrand Russell, respectively. (Sat/Sun: Vue Star City; Sat-Wed:MAC)

 

Midnight Special (12A)  Writer-director Jeff Nichols returns with another enigmatic thriller that plays its cards close to its chest, revealing its hand only in the final moments, Again, like Mud and Shotgun Stories, set in grassroots America, here the bible belt swathe, it echoes a vast array of paranormal-tinged sci fi films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.,  The Man Who Fell To Earth, and, in the final scenes, even a touch of Tomorrowland, among them.

It opens in motel room, any source of light covered with cardboard. Inside are Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), childhood friend state trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), an 8-year-old boy whom they’re accused of kidnapping from a Doomsday cult run by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), the boy’s adoptive father. As it turns out, Roy’s his real father, the boy having given up to Meyer when his mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), ran off, unable to cope with the boy’s ‘special’ gifts. This being that he emits bright white light from his eyes and is given to talking on tongues, speaking numbers Meyer which has used as apocalyptic sermons, but which are, in fact, heavily encrypted top secret government transmissions, hence the FBI’s raid on the Ranch and their interest in recovering the boy. To which end, rookie NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) is enlisted to try and decipher the messages and track the trio cross-country to wherever they’re heading. Given Alton cannot bear exposure to sunlight, and wears blue goggles to shield his eyes, they can only travel at night, and have only a small window in which to reach the place where Alton needs to be, reuniting with Sarah and causing a satellite to plunge from orbit along the way.

This is pretty much all the information Nichols releases until the big reveal, allowing your imagination to work overtime to piece together whatever clues might litter the journey, the film’s dominant low-light further deepening the sense of mystery. But even when the CGI-heavy climax finally arrives, it remains open as to who or what Alton actually is, underpinning the film’s theme of belief and faith, whatever form that takes. There are flaws, the whole cult sub-plot is, along with Shepard and, to a large extent, the FBI, dismissed once the main thrust is underway, but, bolstering the intrigue with first rate performances, Shannon especially good as the devoted father, its slow burning fuse is compelling viewing. (Sat-Mon: MAC)

 

Ratchet & Clank (PG) 

Ratchet-and-ClankHaving 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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Zootropolis (U)

zootropolis 4Already 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; 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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