From the opening tongue in cheek no names credits sequence which simply lists British Villain, CGI Character, Gratuitous Cameo (Stan Lee’s best ever) etc., and, as director, An Overpaid Tool, to the post end credits sequence directed at those waiting for the post end credits sequence, this exuberantly excessive addition to the Marvel movie canon, its first 15 certificate, is a blast.
Directed by first timer Tim Miller (a former visual effects man worth twice whatever they paid him) and starring Ryan Reynolds (finding superhero redemption after Green Lantern, which gets a couple of sly references here) as the titular wiseass, eviscerating anti-hero (“I may be super, but I’m no hero”), it gleefully deconstructs the whole superhero movie concept as it pokes fun at the X-Men franchise (Hugh Jackman gets an amusing nod), breaking down the fourth wall as, playing the metafiction card, Reynolds directly addresses the audience, stepping out of the action to acknowledge they’re watching a movie before resuming where he left off. In the early running, it also cuts back and forth in time, opening half way in with a blood spattered shoot out and skewering before flashbacking to explain how it got there.
Which, in a nutshell, involves Special Forces tough guy turned hired muscle for the underdog Wade Wilson (Reynolds) meeting, having kinky montage sex with, falling for and proposing to equally wild but golden-hearted prostitute Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, Jim Gordon’s squeeze in Gotham) only to learn he’s got terminal cancer. Enter mysterious man in black with an offer he can’t refuse, to cure the cancer and make him superhuman. Which he does, just not quite in the way Wade expected, triggering his mutant genes and leaving him with Wolverine-like healing powers, but also looking like walking scar tissue (or, as he puts it, “a testicle with teeth”). So, armed with a new name (inadvertently courtesy of his bartender friend at the Sister Margaret’s Home for Wayward Girls biker bar and armoury) and some snazzy, tight fitting red and black spandex, he sets out to find Ajax (Ed Skrein), the sadistic ‘British Villain’, who made him and claims to hold the cure, and his superstrong sidekick Angel Dust (Gina Carano), so he can get his life and girl back.
The rest is basically a blackly comic bloodbath, liberally littered with inventive sexually explicit banter (“ Today was about as much fun as a sandpaper dildo”) and knowing self-referencing, not only embracing the genre clichés, but also commenting on them as it goes. Plus tie in cameos with a couple of X-Men (Stefan Kapicic voicing the metallic Colossus and Brianna Hildebrand as fireball generating moody teen Negasonic Teenage Warhead) trying to keep him in line.
While there’s inevitably there’s very little scenery left for anyone else to nibble let alone chew ( though Leslie Uggams does her best as feisty old Blind Al, who serves as his Deadpool’s housekeeper), Reynolds, his gift for comedy long undervalued, lets rip like a funnyman force of nature with razor sharp timing and inspired snarky repartee that embraces everything from Sinead O’Connor and Wham to Basil Fawlty and Wolverine’s balls (even taking the self-mocking piss out of the actor Ryan Reynolds) in a way that makes Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark seem the epitome of decorum. It’s like a Grindhouse Guardians of the Galaxy on ecstasy with the dial turned up to 11. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (U)
Perhaps only the prospect of yet another Smurfs movie could be less of a nightmare than the arrival of a fourth outing by the helium-voiced animated furry trio of Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney). This time round, an assortment of misunderstandings leads them to believe their ‘father’, Dave (Jason Lee), who’s off to Miami to launch the new album by Ashley (Bella Thorne), is going to propose to his new surgeon (we know this as she’s always wearing stethoscope) girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley).
Worse, they’ve been convinced by her mean teenage son Miles (Josh Green) that once he has they’ll then be dumped back in the forest. Since none of them want the marriage to go ahead, they join forces to stop it happening and head for Miami. All of which entails shoehorning in a clutch of gratuitous – and dull- musical numbers (Miles turns out to be a nifty guitarist and not such a bad guy after all), interludes of the Chippettes (Christina Applegate, Anna Faris, Kaley Cuoco) as judges on American Idol, and an overdone slapstick running joke in which they’re pursued by an obsessed, recently jilted, buffoonish air marshal (Tony Hale) after causing chaos on a plane. And, of course, some fart gags and, oh the hilarity, a scene at the airport check-in where a security guard thinks Miles, who has a chipmunk hiding in his trousers, has just urinated down his leg.
Slung together with little care, commitment or craft (though, to be fair, the animation where Theodore gets soaked in a fizzy drink shower is impressively rendered), there’s times when you can’t actually make out what the Chipmunks are saying (though that’s not bad thing) and the whole thing just reeks of lazy filmmaking. Parents will wish it was titled Road Kill but under 10s will love it, though they’ll hopefully not be inspired by Alvin’s familiarity with Pink Flamingos, an X-rated film from the 70s by a cameoing John Waters, to seek out a DVD. On the plus side, it’s not in 3D (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
A Bigger Splash (15)
Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton, largely mute or huskily whispering throughout), a former wild child Ziggy era Bowie-esque rock star recuperating from an operation on her vocal cords on a Sicilian island with filmmaker boyfriend Paul (soulful Matthias Schoenaerts), is taken by surprise when her former flame and his old friend, extrovert motormouth producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes in another dark-comedy manic turn), turns up with Penelope (Dakota Johnson), a moody 20-something he says is his newly found daughter. It’s soon apparent that he’s not just there to renew old acquaintances.
Contriving to get Marianne alone while leaving Paul (whom, as flashbacks show, he encouraged to take up with her) with the Lolita-like Penelope (who has her own agenda), he proceeds to try and reclaim the woman he once gave away. Looking to crack apart Marianne’s relationships, he even invites over his cocktail-swigging mother and daughter communist chums (Aurore Clement, Lily McMenamy) to try and push recovering alcoholic Paul into a relapse.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, it’s another remake of 1969 French psychodrama La Piscine (previously remade as Swimming Pool in 2003 with Charlotte Rampling and Charles Dance), it’s a measured melodrama of ever tightening tensions and emotions that ultimately boil over into fatal tragedy. Stirring together the heady combination of stunning landscapes and rustic food with smouldering sex and full on nudity (mostly by Fiennes), there are some missteps, a police chief’s tangential concerns about the growing number of immigrants and the audience teasing final scene, but, driven by powerful performances (Fiennes devouring scenery as he dances to the Stones’ Emotional Rescue), its flaws are easily forgiven. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Vue Star City)
In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Nigerian-born pathologist with the Pittsburgh morgue, was called upon to examine the body of Mike Webster (David Morse), a former star player with the Steelers, the city’s football team, who had been suffering from depression and severe mood swings.
During the course of the autopsy, which he funded himself, he found inexplicable irregularities in his brain, a discovery which, in tandem with an autopsy on another player who committed suicide after experiencing similar symptoms, led him to diagnose a neurological deterioration he named chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, linking it to the repetitive blows to the head sustained in the game. Naively, he thought this might prompt efforts to be taken to safeguard those involved. But, given that football is a multi-million dollar industry and pretty much emblematic of America, the Steelers, and indeed the entire NFL, refuted his claims and set out to discredit him, a scenario strikingly similar to the experience of whistleblower Jeffrey Wigland a few years earlier, when he took on the tobacco companies. It also resonates with a story closer to home, that of Jeff Astle.
Straightforwardly directed by Peter Landesman, its fact-based screenplay does a solid line in moral outrage at self-serving corporate greed with a subtext about how people are discarded once no longer of use, but despite a quietly understated and committed performance by Smith, who subtly registers Omalu’s dream of America and the disillusionment he subsequently feels, it never really ignites. There’s a little too much exposition, some vague hints of intimidation (at one point, Prema, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the Kenyan immigrant who becomes Omalu’s wife, is seemingly tailed as she drives home) but never any real sense of what they suffered when the full force the NFL – and even the FBI – was turned on them, and very little in the way of character shading.
Alec Baldwin’s the former Steelers team doctor who joins the crusade because he can’t deny the medical evidence while Albert Brooks is Omalu’s wryly cynical boss and mentor who’s targeted for the support he gives. Overly earnest, and prone to cliché, it seeks to simplify things for easy understanding while constant switches of focus to Omalu and Prema’s personal lives undercuts the dramatic momentum. It’s a gripping story, just not a gripping film. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Jem and the Holograms (PG)
Based on an 80s cartoon series that accompanied a line of Hasbro dolls, this has been updated as a live action feature for the tweenage YouTube generation. Living with her aunt (Molly Ringwald) and her sisters, biological sibling Kimber (Stefanie Scott) and the adopted Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau) in smalltown California, Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) becomes an overnight internet sensation when a video of her playing one of her songs is uploaded and she and the band are signed by manipulative record boss Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) who insists that, like Hannah Montana, their true identities kept secret. wants to ditch the backing band and whose son provides the romantic interest.
For reasons that probably made sense to the screenwriter, this poprock rags to riches tale is twinned with a plot in which the girls go on a late-night mission to discover how to assemble the hologram-projecting robot, Synergy, left to Jem by her late inventor father. Neither its songs nor its mix of find your specialness and seek your own destiny and importance of family messages persuaded American audience to flock to the cinemas, and it died a horrible box office death. A fate likely to be repeated here. (Cineworld NEC; Vue Star City)
Oddball and the Penguins (U)
At one point there used be thousands of Little Penguins, the smallest of the species, on Middle Island, a sanctuary off the coastal town of Warrnambool in Victoria, Australia. However, by 2005, as a result of attacks by foxes, the population was down to just 10 breeding pairs. If it were to have fallen below that, the island would have lost its sanctuary status. That it didn’t was down to Swampy Marsh, an eccentric local chicken farmer who wondered whether his Maremma Sheepdog, Oddball, could protect penguins from foxes as well as chickens.
The true story is the basis for this delightfully old fashioned Australian family feature with Shane Jacobson (looking like a cross between Ricky Tomlinson and Mark Addy) as Swampy. Of course, being a movie, things have been changed. Here Swampy’s daughter, Emily (Sarah Snook), is the wildlife ranger responsible for the sanctuary and who has the obligatory cute daughter, Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies), who loves her grandpa and his dog. She also has an American boyfriend, Bradley (Alan Tudyk), who works for a tourism organisation and supports a plan to turn the island into a whale watching station, although that’s more a case of practicality rather than him being the true villain of the piece. There is one, though their identity isn’t revealed until the final scenes and is impossible to see coming. There’s also the decidedly weird Dog Catcher (Frank Woodley) obsessed with putting Oddball (who, to be fair, has caused a fair degree of chaos in the town) in a cage. The dog’s rescue by young Olivia will undoubtedly please the youngsters, as will some slapstick when Emily accidentally shoots Jack, her assistant and admirer, with a tranquiliser dart.
Often feeling like something from the 30s (especially the evening scenes shot against the backdrop of the island sunset), it’s warm and fuzzily uplifting and carries a positive environmentalist message, the end credits revealing how, since the Maremma dogs were introduced, there’s been not a single fox attack and the decline in the penguin population has been reversed. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (15)
Recent years have seen a number of genre mash ups involving the walking dead, Cowboys vs. Zombies and Cockneys vs. Zombies to name but two. However, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestseller reimaging of Jane Austen’s classic, this is by far the biggest budget, even if its chequered production history (at one point David O. Russell was to direct with Natalie Portman starring) means it’s arrived some time past the mash up sell date.
It does exactly what it says on the label, following Austen’s essential plot (and several of her lines) regarding the romantic fortunes of the Bennet sisters and, in particular, the prickly sexual tension relationship between Elizabeth (Lily James) and the proud Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), but in another universe where she and her sisters have been trained in Shaolin martial arts (because the Bennets – Sally Phillips and Charles Dance – are ‘poor’ they couldn’t afford to send their daughters to Japan, hence are seen as social inferiors) and Darcy is a colonel in charge of trying to rid England of the zombie hordes (who, in an important plot point, don’t become full zombies until they eat human brains) that are preparing to attack London.
And that’s pretty much it. Jane (Bella Heathcote) still falls for Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), another soldier here, only to have the romance sundered by Darcy who mistakenly thinks she’s only after his fortune, Darcy and Elizabeth engage in a series of battles of wits (and, following his ill-judged proposal, an actual literal battle) , Elizabeth is still courted by odiously self-important parson Mr. Collins (a delightful comic turn from Matt Smith) and young Lydia still runs off with the schemingly duplicitous (though in a rather different manner) Wickham (Jack Huston). And bosoms still heave. Albeit more often from the exertion of slicing up the living dead than from passion. Though, in slyly noting the juxtaposition between love and violence, the two are not necessarily unconnected.
It’s an uneven affair. On the one hand, both the balls and the bloody (within certificate parameters) action scenes are well mounted, but, on the other, the chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy is all rather damp, largely relying on intense stares, and it seems a bit pointless to transform Lady Catherine (Lena Headey) into an eye-patches sword-wielding superwarrior and then give her almost nothing to do. As a one joke premise, it works well enough, but, ultimately, you can only tell the joke so often. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Survivalist (18)
Nominated for an Outstanding Debut BAFTA for director Stephen Fingleton, this is getting a very low key and almost unpublicised cinema run prior to an on demand release four days after opening. A minimalist but poetic dystopian thriller, it stars Martin McCann as the titular survivalist who, following society’s collapse, is eking out a subsistence existence from his garden in the forest, brutally fighting off interlopers, when white-haired Kathryn (Olwen Fouéré), a mysterious healer, offers to trade sex with her daughter Milja (Mia Goth) in return for food. Persuaded to let them join him, he drops his guard with almost fatal consequences in a portrait of the power embodied in sexual and emotional relationships. (Everyman)
Zoolander No. 2 (12A)
Fifteen years on from the original (and at the time underperforming) comedy that teamed Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as dim but beautiful narcissistic supermodels Derek Zoolander and his frenemy Hansel, the pair reunite for an even more out there sequel. A quick montage details the intervening years as, after his wife (Christine Taylor) is killed in the collapse (thanks to cut-price materials) of his book-shaped Centre For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too and his son, Derek Jr. is taken away by social services, Zoolander has quite the fashion world and become a recluse. Likewise Hansel, ‘horrifically disfigured’ in the same tragedy, who has retreated to the mountains to live with his Orgy who, to his horror, discovers they are (Keifer Sutherland included) all pregnant.
Both are, however, lured back to the catwalk by Billy Zane at the behest of Alexanya Atoz (a deliriously unrecognisable – and sometimes incomprehensible – Kristen Wiig), a walking installation in league with hot new fashionista Don Atari, only to be humiliated by the latter’s androgynous protégé All (a drolly hilarious Benedict Cumberbatch).
There is, however, another agenda going down, one connected with the murders of the world’s best looking pop stars. The film opens on a wish fulfilment note with the gunning down of a self-mockingly game Justin Beiber in front of Sting’s Rome home (he himself playing a subsequently crucial role in the increasingly lunatic plot), his dying selfie being, like all the others, a distinctive ‘look’. One which Melanie Valentina (Penelope Cruz), a former swimwear model now with Interpol’s Fashion Police, believes to be Zoolander’s infamous ‘Blue Steel’. To which end, promising to reunite Derek with his son (Cyrus Arnold), she recruits him and Hansel to help find out who’s behind it.
All of which is linked to a legend involving the fountain of youth and the descendents of the world’s first supermodel, created by God alongside Adam and Eve, and leads to the escape from prison of flamboyant arch nemesis evil mastermind Mugatu (Will Ferrell at his most outrageously cartoonishly expansive) seeking revenge. It makes sense, honest.
Beyond the realms of silliness, it freewheels along with wild abandon, spraying verbal and visual gags in all directions, some of which stick, some of which don’t, and rarely more than few minutes away from a celebrity cameo by the likes of Demi Lovato, Lenny Kravitz, Macauley Culkin, Kim Kardashian, Anna Wintour and Kanye West as well as top designers Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino and Alexander Wang gleefully sending themselves up rotten. Defying any simple critical categories like bad or good, it exists on a planet of its own. Inhale and enjoy. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (15) Directed by Michael Bay, this recounts the true story of how, when, on September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the American Special Mission and a secret CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing the US ambassador Christopher Stevens, and several others, a small security team held off the insurgents until rescue finally arrived. Bay details events before, during and after the attack, underlining the lack of proper security at the embassy and the failure of those in charge to be alert to possible militant action on the anniversary of 9/11, as well as the refusal of the State Department to allow reinforcements to help the Americans under attack.
John Krasinski stars as Jack Da Silva, newly returned to Libya, to join his friend Tyrone Woods (James Dale) as part of the six man team charged with protecting the CIA personnel but under strict orders from the Chief (David Costabile) not to engage with any militants. Told to do nothing when the Ambassador’s compound is breached, Woods defies orders and leads his men to try and save him and his security team, eventually forced to flee back to the CIA Annex where they have to defend the 32 Americans trapped inside against repeated attacks. Although Bay clearly has spineless bureaucrats and liberal politicians in his sights as responsible for the loss of American lives, there’s no big gung ho speeches, merely almost two hours of on the ground confusion and chaos (in many ways this resembles Blackhawk Down) as the team try to distinguish who among the Libyans and local militias are on their side and who are not (the Libyan police don’t come out of it well, but it doesn’t tar everyone with the same brush), punctuated by some intense firefights as seen through night-vision glasses. Although it takes some heavy-handed time out to detail the personal side of things with the guys Skyping their families or talking about trying to be a good husband/father, as a visceral action movie it’s genuinely tense, gritty and involving and there’s nothing glamorous about the bloody battles that Bay stages with a frightening authenticity. (Vue Star City)
The Big Short (15) Adam McKay’s inspired indignant satire on the mortgage housing crisis of 2005 that led to 2008’s global financial meltdown is a serious Oscar frontrunner. Based on a book about the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market and driven by hyper-caffeinated energy, whimsical touches like Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie delivering to-camera lessons explaining financial concepts such as collateralised-debt obligations mirror the sheer absurdity of what happened while still delivering a stinging, attack on those that let it.
Although the timespan’s never quite clear, it follows three parallel stories across three years. Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an autistic, glass-eyed, metal loving hedge fund manager, reckons the US housing market bubble will burst and sets out to short (bet against) it, investing millions that the likes of Goldman Sachs, thinking he’s off his head, are more than happy to take.
Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a brash, Deutschebank egotistical trader gets wind of Burry and decides to cash in too, leading him team with Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), a self-loathing idealist who heads a credit-default-swap team under the Morgan Stanley umbrella. Then there’s Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, start-up whizz kids looking to play with the big boys, who, stumbling on Vennett’s prospectus, call on retired investment banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them out.
With frequent to camera explanations of the jargon, it invites audiences to root for characters who, rather than exposing the frauds and assuming the banks genuinely have no idea what’s going on, set out to profit from what will, ultimately, prove the collapse of the economy. There are no heroes here, just winners and losers.
With a cast that also features small but effective turns by Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall and Karen Gillan, it rattles along, sharp humour and biting indignation consistently underlining the sheer brazen audacity of those culpable, such as the smug CDO manager only too happy to smilingly confirm all of Braun’s worst fears about the system’s corruption. And, as the end pointedly makes clear, who got away with it too. (Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Capture The Flag (PG) Young Mike Goldwing’s dad, Scott, and grandfather, Frank, were both astronauts. However, the cancellation of the space programme means Scott’s dreams will never come true while Frank’s were crushed when he was replaced in the final manned Apollo mission. After which he turned his back on his family and now lives in an astronauts’ retirement home. However, when billionaire oil tycoon Richard Carson announces he’s going to the moon to prove the Apollo XI moon landing never happened and claim the planet for himself (so he can mine it for a new energy source that will give him control over the Earth) and Scott’s appointed as commander of a NASA mission to stop him, Mike sees a chance to reconcile the two by persuading Frank to join the team of trainers. But, when sabotage puts his dad out of commission, Mike decides to sneak onboard and go to the moon himself. Things don’t go to plan, and the rocket takes off early, with not only Mike, but his friend Amy and his granddad too. Now they have their work cut out to rescue the American flag and put an end to Carson’s plans. Moving briskly along with a solid mix of action and sentiment, as well as techno-equipped lizard to amuse the youngsters, this Spanish-made CGI animation may not rival Pixar or DreamWorks, but it’s a lot of fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Creed (12A) Although its star (Michael B Jordan) and director (Ryan Coogler) have been snubbed by the Oscars, Sylvester Stallone seems a sure thing for Best Supporting Actor, reprising his role as Rocky Balboa. This time round, he’s on the other side of the ropes when he’s persuaded to come out of retirement and train Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the illegitimate son of his late opponent and friend, Apollo Creed, as he seeks to make his name in boxing without trading on his father’s reputation.
Plotwise, it follows a predictable path, playing a familiar surrogate father/son riff as it casts an eye over themes of legacy and black youths/absent fathers, throwing in a health scare along the way to cement the bonding process. However, aided by strong performances, Coogler mostly avoids manipulative sentimentality as the film makes its way to the inevitable big fight, here staged at Liverpool’s Goodison Park as, pressured to box under his father’s name, Creed takes on the defending British lightweight champ retired Rocky to be his trainer. Naturally, after initially refusing to be drawn back into that world, the pair eventually team up as the predictable plot sets up the inevitable big championship fight, here between Adonis and the defending light-heavyweight champ, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Solid stuff that fully deserves to wear a champion’s belt. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Daddy’s Home (12A) As expected, the pairing of Will Ferrell as insecure but steady nice guy stepdad Brad competing with Mark Wahlberg as the kids’ unreliable Alpha male biological father, Dusty, suddenly back in their lives after several years absence, is a bland sub-sitcom as the latter seeks to undermine and embarrass the former at every opportunity, Brad becoming ever more erratic in his attempts to measure up. Inbetween predictable knockabout slapstick there’s the equally predictable genitals size comparisons gags and assorted other obligatory raunchy banter (mostly from Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss) as well as tired racist misunderstanding set-ups. Avoid. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Dad’s Army (PG)
Unquestionably the best thing about this feature revisit of the beloved BBC comedy series is the casting, not only to the actors perfectly channel the original’s cast characters, in some cases they even look like them. A pity then that, directed by Oliver Parker, it’s in the service of such a ponderous film with a screenplay peppered with innuendo and farcical slapstick. Set in Walmington-on-Sea towards the close of WWII, a misfit group of Home Guard reserves, led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) are charged with patrolling the coastal path near an alleged camp for the Allied invasion. There is, however, a German spy on the loose. Enter Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a reporter there to write a feature about the Home Guard and – oh, you already guessed.
Her true nature revealed early on, the plot revolves around how long it will take before the men discover the truth. Especially when they’re all dazzled by her beauty, particularly mummy’s boy Pike (Blake Harrison), posh Sgt Wilson (Bill Nighy), who tutored her at Oxford and still harbours a crush, and Mainwaring, whose ego she flatters by comparing him to Churchill. Other than the introduction of the men’s other halves (including Felicity Montague as Mrs Mainwaring, who commands a women’s unit, and Sarah Lancashire as Pike’s mom), this is pretty much content to mirror the original, except without being nearly as funny. Much falls leadenly flat and some scenes are plain embarrassing. The cast (which also includes Michael Gambon as the doddery Godfrey, Tom Courtney as Private Jones, Daniel Mays as the spivvy Walker and Bill Patterson as dour undertaker Frazer) seem to be having fun, probably considerably more so than those in the audience. Dud’s Army. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Danish Girl (15)
Having already won an Oscar playing someone physically trapped inside their own body, Eddie Redmayne is Oscar nominated for doing it again in director Tom Hooper’s classically styled factional story of Lili Elbe, an early recipient of sex reassignment surgery.
A successful Danish landscape artist, Einar Wegener (Redmayne) is married to less successful portraitist Gerda (Alicia Vikander, another Oscar nod); however, when she asks him to stand in for a sitting by prima ballerina Ulla (Amber Heard), Einar’s contact with the stockings and dress unlocks something buried inside. Initially, his new cross-dressing predilections serve to spice up their sex life, but when first Gerda proposes he attend a reception dressed as Lili, Einar’s supposed cousin, and ‘she’ is propositioned, and then Gerda’s portraits of Lili become all the rage, so his female alter-ego assumes dominance. Seeing himself as a woman trapped in a man’s body, supported by Gerda and childhood friend art dealer Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), Lili seeks to make the ultimate transformation. Elegant, tasteful and understated, it eschews some of the actual facts and events, but, driven by outstanding performances, it’s an utterly mesmerising work. (Vue Star City)
Dirty Dancing (12A) Rolled out for Valentine’s Day, Patrick Swayze reminds that nobody puts Baby in the corner. (Sun 14: MAC)
Dirty Grandpa (15)
Robert DeNiro hits an all time low in this crass, crude Judd Apatow knock-off as a horny widower who, the day after his wife’s funeral, persuades his grandson Jason (Zak Efron) to go with him to Daytona Beach so he can bed potty-mouthed college girl Lenore. With scenes of DeNiro’s character (aptly named Dick) jerking off to porn, regularly prodding Efron in the balls and backside, and Jason being constantly mistaken for a lesbian and penises in the shape of a swastika drawn on his forehead, this surely has to be the worst things you’ll see all year. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Good Dinosaur (PG) Set in a sort of vague Prehistoric Wild West, Pixar’s latest animation skews young and low on plot in a variation of the boy and his dog chestnut, the difference being that the boy is a dinosaur trying to find his way home and the dog is the feral young human with whom he forges a bond. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Jack Black’s best since School of Rock, he plays a fictionalised version of R.L. Stine, creator of the phenomenally successful Goosebumps young adult horror books, now hiding out in smalltown America with daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) under the name of Mr.Shivers. This is because, the monsters he created in his stories became real and he’s got them trapped inside sealed copies of the manuscripts. At least until the arrival of new neighbour Zach Cooper (Dylan Minette), the son of the new high school principal(Amy Ryan), who, thinking Hannah’s in danger, breaks into the house with nerdy new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee) and accidentally unleashes the Yeti. Shivers manages to get him back into the book, only to find he’s not the only one to have escaped.
So too has his evil alter ego, Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Black), who, out for revenge, releases all the other monsters, among them a bunch of homicidal garden gnomes, and destroying the books so they cannot be sucked back in.
What follows is your usual trash the town monster mash fare, but director Rob Lettermen infuses it with a gleeful exuberance that rattles things along in hugely entertaining manner, throwing in gleeful self-awareness and a moving twist along the way. Simultaneously intimidating and droll, Black is terrific, while Minnette, Rush and Lee are engagingly likeable support with Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund a very funny double act of a couple of local cops. The final scene sets things up for a sequel, the first Jack Black movie in 13 years where that’s actually a welcome proposition. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Groundhog Day (PG) One of Bill Murray’s best, Harold Ramis’s redemption fable as a cynical, self-absorbed weatherman finds himself having to constantly relive the same day until he finally learns the meaning of life and changes his ways. (Sat 13: Electric)
The Hateful Eight (18)
Channelling Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns via Agatha Christie’s country house murder thrillers, Tarantino’s eighth feature is every bit as graphically visceral, coolly smart and brutally amoral as you’d expect. Snowbound in a Wyoming trading post, you’ve got bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), fellow bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), hangman Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), taciturn cowpoke Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), former Confederate General Smithers (Bruce Dern), Tom (Demian Bichir), the Mexican who claims to be looking after the place while the owners are away, and former Confederate marauder Chris Mannix (Warren Goggins), the new sheriff of Red Rock, where Daisy’s to be hung and the hunters will get their bounty. Not unreasonably, given the $10000 reward, Roth’s wary that someone may want to take his prisoner. He’s right, but not for the reasons he thinks. And, among the enforced company of strangers, who might not be who or what they claim?
It’s some 100 minutes before the first bullets fly, but then the blood quickly flows as the body count rises and truth purposes are revealed, the last act delivering reveal flashbacks to earlier that day. Laced with social commentary on America’s racial and political divides, the dialogue crackles with barns and gallows humour, the cast chewing eagerly on the meat it offers. Jackson, Russell and Goggins are terrific, but it’s arguably Jason Leigh who steals the show as the magnificently unpleasant Daisy, strangely unperturbed by her approaching fate. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; MAC; Vue Star City)
Joy (12A) Her third film for director-writer David O’Russell, casts Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a divorced New York mother of three who, sharing house with her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) and divorced dysfunctional parents (Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen), has long since lost sight of the potential she once showed. That is until, cleaning up a broken class on the yacht of her dad’s widowed new Italian girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Huppert), she comes up with the idea of a self-wringing mop. Persuading Trudy to invest, she eventually manages to get a shot on QVC, a new cable TV shopping channel run by Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) and, after an initial hiccup, her mop becomes a runaway success. However, the involvement of dodgy business partners, threatens to turn triumph into bankruptcy disaster until Joy finally takes matters into her own hands. A true American Dream fairy tale with a few bumps in the road along the way, narrated by Joy’s supportive grandmother (Diane Ladd), it’s uneven and at times eccentric, Lawrence delivering a straight and often intense dramatic performance that won her a Golden Globe Best Actress award while those around her are more caricatured, but, as inspirational against the odds entrepreneurial stories go this is like The Apprentice with brass knobs on. (MAC)
Point Break (12A)
A remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s cult 1991 action-thriller starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves swaps surfing for extreme sports as athlete-turned-FBI-agent-in-training Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrates a gang of Robin Hood eco-activists who, headed up by the brooding Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), are knocking off corporates and redistributing the loot to the people, honouring nature by completing the Ozaki Eight, a series of spiritual enlightenment ordeals, in the process. Becoming part of the crew, he joins them as they follow their paths and take on death-defying challenges, getting involved with female gang member Samsara along the way, until forced to try and stop their latest job. Now he has to bring them down before the final challenge and Bodhi disappears.
Departing from the philosophical set up whenever it suits narrative demands and with Bracey lacking in the on screen charisma department, there’s some breathtaking stunt work and stunning natural landscapes, but involving characters, emotional connections and consistent logic were clearly not on the final checklist. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Revenant (15) It looks like a close fight between this, Spotlight and Mad Max for the Film/Director Oscars, but Leonardo DiCaprio will finally get to walk away with a golden man for his portrayal of Hugh Glass, a real life frontiersman and trapper who, in 1823, attacked by a bear and left for dead by those supposed to ensure him a proper burial, over the course of six weeks, crawled and rafted the 200 miles back to Fort Kiowa in South Dakota before setting back out to seek revenge on the two who had abandoned him. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, this embellishes the true story by giving Glass a half-Pawnee son who is then murdered in front of his eyes by the brutal Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), thereby driving his determination to survive and gain vengeance. From the brutal ferocity of the opening attack by a tribe of Native Americans to the grizzly attack and painful, slow trek across forbidding frozen terrain, Glass taking shelter in the carcass of a dead horse, it’s a relentlessly harrowing, bleak story that was clearly just as tough to film. Diversions into hallucinatory flashbacks and present delirium underscore the film’s existential spiritual drama while the stunning photography reinforces the man vs. nature themes, but at a punishing and oftimes extremely graphic 156 minutes you’ll need every bit the same fortitude as Glass. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Ride Along 2 (12A) A loud, brash spot-the-difference sequel to the 2014 black buddy cops comedy that one again shows you should never underestimate the power of low brow. Set a year on, screw-up security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) is due to wed Angela, sister of top cop buddy Ben (Ice Cube), but first he gets to accompany his future brother-in-law to Miami on a drug ring case. Here, they quickly get involved with AJ (Ken Jeong doing his usual comic relief shtick), a local hacker who has evidence implicating sleazy businessman Pope (Benjamin Bratt) as South Florida’s drugs kingpin. As well as simply reworking the original, it also recycles pretty much every other cop/buddy comedy set up too, including having Hart pretend he’s royalty and Cube his underling and being attacked outside a building (by a croc) while his buddy chats away obliviously by the window. It’s karaoke filmmaking at his screechiest. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Room (15) With several of the other major trophies already under her belt, Brie Larson seems a safe bet for Best Actress in Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own bestseller. Helmed by Britain’s Lenny Abrahamson (himself among the director nominations) it also features an astonishing performance from Jacob Tremblay as Jack, the six-year-old son of Larson’s Joy who has never experienced the world or life outside of the 10×10 garden shed in which his mother had been kept captive since she was abducted as a teenager. Eventually, Joy enlists her son to pull off a daring escape, freeing them both from the claustrophobic prison, as the drama shifts it focus to how Jack adapts to a world he’s never known other than through his mother’s stories and interference-riddled TV programmes, while Joy endures a post-traumatic breakdown trying to cope with her regained freedom and feelings of guilt over her son. There’s some obvious plot holes and the emotional charge isn’t as strong in the second act, but, fuelled by its terrific central performances (a small but potent cameo by William H. Macy as Joy’s father), this powerful psychological drama will stay with you. (Electric; Showcase Walsall)
Sisters (15) Discovering their folks have sold the family Florida home and are moving into a retirement condo, middle-aged siblings, Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura (Amy Poehler) decide to throw one final house party. Except this time, terminally sensible Maura wants to let her hair down and for party animal Kate to stay sober as the “designated mom”. Add to the mix that, embarrassed by mom’s irresponsibility, Kate’s teenage daughter has been secretly staying with her aunt, but has come to Florida under the impression her mom’s got a job and they’ll both be moving in with her grandparents. This is basically all a preamble to the party itself where, with their old unfulfilled classmates, nice guy neighbour James (Ike Barinholtz) and Kate’s school nemesis Brinda (Maya Rudolph) indulging in booze and drugs, everything descends into predictable house trashing chaos before more lessons about growing up, facing responsibilities and being who you are not who you think you were are duly trotted out. Not consistently funny, but the central deadpan performances are a treat. (Vue Star City)
Snoopy and Charlie Brown : The Peanuts Movie (U) Animation studios Blue Sky affectionately and faithfully revive Charles M. Schulz’s classic characters, following the comic strip formula of running parallel, thematically linked, stories about both Charlie and his pet beagle, Snoopy. Thus, the former shyly tries to get new neighbourhood arrival Little Red-Haired Girl to see him for who he really is, not the loser his friends all regard him as while Snoopy sets about writing a book about himself as a famous World War I fighter pilot battling legendary German flying ace, The Red Baron. Schulz’s cartoons generally saw the world as one of constant disappointment, the message here is more upbeat, about striving to be the best you can, even if you don’t succeed. Firmly skewed young, its gentle melancholia and ultimate upbeat ending should strike a chord with kids who feel themselves sidelined among their friends but it isn’t going to give the Minions any sleepless box office nights. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Redditch, Star City; Tue 16/Wed 17: MAC)
Nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Film), directed by Tom McCarthy this is another true story, telling how Spotlight, the Boston Globe’s investigative team, editor Robby Stewart (Michael Keaton) and reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachael McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), uncovered systematic child abuse by the city’s Catholic priests and a cover up that embraced the highest levels of the city’s religious, legal and governmental bodies, triggering further revelations that went all the way to the Vatican.
Assigned by new editor in chief Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) to check out a previous story in the paper about how the Cardinal knew about but never acted on a Catholic priest who had allegedly molested children in six different parishes over the last 30 years. With Rezendes pushing Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), the victims’ lawyer, for information, his colleagues pursue other avenues, including a lawyer (Billy Crudup) who handled earlier molestation cases against another priest, and which were settled out of court. The further the team dig, the deeper and wider the problem clearly goes.
A classic investigative journalism drama, it carries you along on a wave of righteous anger as the team is consistently blocked by those in high positions, yet persevere to confront those responsible with exposure. Fuelled by electric ensemble performances, it sweeps you along as its addresses both personal pain and the far wider corruption in the system. You want an argument for not neutering the freedom of the press to pursue stories in the public interest? Here it is. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Vue Star City)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (12A)
With George Lucas taking a backseat, director JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt dispel sour memories of Episodes I-III with a triumphant resurrection that may tread familiar narrative ground, but does so with a fresh heart. Set some 30 years on from the destruction of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing and the dark forces have regrouped as the First Order, its stormtroopers led by the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who possesses both the Force and a red light sabre. Built around the search for a map revealing Skywalker’s location, the film’s basically a lengthy chase between Ren and his forces and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and renegade stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) who have come into possession of BB8, a droid belonging to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot for the Resistance now headed by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), that contains the vital key. Their eventually joined by returning legends Han Solo (a soulful Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as the plot turns into a race against the clock to stop the First Order launching planet-destroying weapon as the force also proves strong in another of the new characters. Rattling along from explosive opening to nail-biting climax by way of a stunning shock revelation and death, the force is strong with this one. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Titanic (12A) Valentine night at sea with Leo and Kate and a big ship. (Sun 14: Everyman)
During the height of the Cold War, the House Un-American Activities Committee pursued all or any Americans who were – or were suspected of being – members of the Communist Party. Hollywood was part and parcel of the witch-hunt, blacklisting writers, actors and directors whose political sympathies did not toe the All-American line. Most notable among these were a group dubbed The Hollywood 10, among them Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a self-confessed party member and Oscar winning screenwriter. Refusing, along with the others, to testify before the Committee, sold out by his friend Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), whose leftist leanings crumbled under the pressure of unemployment, he was found guilty of contempt and jailed.
On release, blacklisted by the studios, he began writing under pseudonyms to keep afloat, getting work with a B movie company headed by Frank King (John Goodman) and, in turn recruiting other blacklisters to churn out scripts. Then, in 1953, while credited to his friend Ian McClellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), Trumbo’s screenplay for Gregory Peck/Audrey Hepburn romcom Roman Holiday won the Oscar as did The Brave One in 1956, this time credited to Robert Rich.
With rumours circulating as to the real author, backed by arch-patriot John Wayne, poisonous Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) used all her influence to blackmail or intimidate producers, directors and stars into not working on anything Trumbo touched. However, refusing to be threatened, Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) hired him to work on Spartacus as did director Otto Preminger for Paul Newman starrer Exodus. Both won Oscars, and both credited Trumbo, effectively ending the blacklist.
Directed by Jay Roach, it’s a striking departure from his Austin Powers/Meet the Fokkers usual fare, but still enfolds serious concerns with a considerable humour, particularly in Cranston’s droll performance. A largely faithful account of events and those involved, with Diane Lane as supportive wife Cleo and Elle Fanning as his budding civil rights activist daughter, while there’s arguably a far more harder-hitting story to be told about the toll taken by McCarthyism, as a wittily entertaining and ultimately uplifting tale of how fundamental right triumphed over misguided wrong this fully deserves its Academy nominations. (Electric)
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