Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)
It starts brilliantly. As, hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.
Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell), who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of 70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s an immortal Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.
It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empathy with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.
Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child trafficking by its leader, a cameoing Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser Face (his name a source of much amusement for Rocket) mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Soverign. Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.
Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered judgmental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. Go break the law. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
A Bunch of Kunst (18)
Whatever you may think of their music, and I have to say that, while finding some of the songs and observations powerful stuff, I’m not a huge fan of their musically primitive, raw, aggressive proto-punk in your face rants in which seemingly every other line contains one obscenity or another, German music journalist turned filmmaker Christine Franz’s documentary, the play on words title referring to the German for art, is compelling stuff.
Hailed, rather hyperbollocksally by Iggy Pop as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band”, the Sleaford Mods comprise 40something working class Nottingham duo Jason Williamson (who, of course shares his surname with Ig) and Andrew Fearn. The former sings, or rather shouts and spits, the lyrics while, bobbing up and down behind him on stage, Fearn provides the electronic beats. Married with a couple of kids, the gobby Williamson, a former chicken factory worker and more recently benefits officer, writes the words and is the more articulate of the two, Fearn remaining pretty much silent throughout the film, with no details of his background worth mention.
In the tradition of John Cooper Clarke, the Pistols, Angelic Upstarts and, to an extent Sham 69, they give voice to the country’s disaffected, disenfranchised working class, the songs chainsawing through any number of social issues, Williamson seeing themselves as something the country needs, although one suspects that a good many of the audience, who seem to be mostly male, are simply there to get aled up and mouth the words back of him, more in thrall to the trend than the movement.
The documentary follows their two year journey from playing the toilet circuit to selling out 2000 seater, a slot at Glastonbury, an appearance on Later With.. and, eventually, signing with Rough Trade, even if that caused their down to earth former bus driver manager, Steve Underwood, a few moments of moral quandary. As such, it spends much of its time in shitty little venues and cramped studios, mirroring the frustration that explodes through Jason’s abrasive songs. Although some might take issue with his justification of the swearing as being just normal everyday words as well as the sweeping dismissal of pretty much everything in the album charts as shit, his arguments are undeniably well-grounded and he has a welcome self-deprecatory streak, amusingly taking himself to task for having referred to himself as a rock n roll star to wife, Claire. She makes some significant contributions too, most notably in talking about her husband as someone who, prior to the spotlight the band has brought, would have been someone who fell off the radar and died without anyone being aware. Given the passion Jason brings to his onstage delivery and his lyrics and their refusal to make a cleaned up version of the album for the BBC, it’s a little surprising to hear him talk about music being not that important to him and how he’d give it up if he had too, likewise his request not to film the street where he lives because he’s had some weirdo fan letters. Very much one for the hardcore fans, but a potent insight into a social and musical UK culture rarely visited by the mainstream media. (Sat-Wed: Mockingbird)
Lady Macbeth (15)
Adapted from Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s 1860 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and relocated to the bleak County Durham moors of Victorian England , while its titular character may well have the single-minded ruthlessness of Shakespeare’s schemer (though not her subsequent guilt), there’s also a strong touch of Lady Chatterley here too along with the gothic sensibilities of Emily Bronte.
The feature debut of theatre director William Oldroyd, there’s some effective theatrical touches to his period piece in the use of still moments in which the camera simply focuses on the character as she sits staring out of the screen that compound the air of unease that permeates this bleak and emotionally brutal work.
Bought as domestic property by elderly and sadistic wealthy miner Boris (a superbly loathsome Christopher Fairbank) as a bride for his hard-drinking obnoxious and ineffectual son Alexander (Paul Hilton), who runs their large farm, the young Katherine (Florence Pugh) quickly finds her life is not one she relishes, her husband showing no hint of affection (he orders her to undress but never consummates the marriage) and even the servants treating her with disdain. Often left alone save for her Black maid Anna (Naomie Ackie), a virtual prisoner in her own home, she’s bored and restless, until she meets new mixed race stable-hand Sebastian (singer Cosmo Jarvis) whose brusque manners and sexual magnetism quickly bring out her wild side as they embark on frenzied and frequent sex while Alexander if off dealing with some colliery incident and his father’s in London.
When Boris returns and sniffs out what’s been going on, Katherine disposes of him with poison mushrooms (you hear his agonies off screen while Katherine engages the distracted Anna in conversation) and then when his son returns and confronts her with the same accusations, he too meets a bloody fate.
However, Katherine and Sebastian’s murderous lustful union then faces another setback with the arrival of a refined black woman and her child claiming a connection to the family. Clearly further obstacles need to be removed.
Oppressed by a patriarchal tyranny (figuratively embodied in the corset’s Katherine’s forced to wear) , initially a figure of sympathy whose actions could be argued as justifiable, especially from a feminist perspective, her subsequent crime, with Sebastian as accomplice, and her manipulation of blame in her power games are decidedly less so, the film confronting audiences with one especially hard to watch sequence. Rarely off screen, Pugh is mesmerising while, making hugely effective use if an austere budget to create the sense of oppressive claustrophobia, both physically and psychology, Oldroyd delivers a very different sort of period piece from the usual heritage cinema that also touches on questions of class and race. Stunning. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
The Promise (12A)
Another film looking to illuminate little known historical events, having previously made Hotel Rwanda, director Terry George now addresses another genocide, that conducted by Turkey against the Armenian people from 1915-1923 and for which the Turkish government has, to this day, never acknowledged responsibility.
However, unlike his previous film, where the genocide was the central focus, here sets it as a backdrop to a clichéd romantic triangle and takes forever in getting to the crux of the issue.
The local apothecary, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) wants to become a doctor but can’t afford the fees. So his parents arrange a marriage to Maral (Angela Sarafyan) and Mikael duly set off to medical school in Constantinople using his 400 gold coins dowry to pay for his tuition. Taking lodgings with his wealthy businessman uncle, he meets Ana (Charlotte LeBon), a fellow Armenian who’s nanny to his two nieces, while at the Imperial Medical School he becomes friends with Emre (Marwan Kenzari), the son of a high ranking Urk who has only enrolled so as to avoid military service.
Mikael is drawn to Ana, and she to him, however he doesn’t mention his fiancée back home and she’s in a relationship with Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a reporter for the American Press Association who’s covering the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany. He’s also documenting the growing tensions between Turkey and Armenia and, as WWI hostilities break out., the systematic attempt by the former to wipe the latter from the face of the earth, which quickly leads to Mikael being rounded up for forced labour and Emre being forced into the army. Meanwhile, Chris attracting attention with his coverage of atrocities.
Unfortunately, while there are some harrowing moments along the way, until the last act when fleeing Armenians take a stand against Turkish troops on a mountain outside Aleppo and a French warship steams into rescue them, the narrative focus is firmly on the relationships between Ana, Mikael and Chris, the three of them frequently separated by events, Ana, at one point, believing Mikael to be dead.
It’s unfortunate – not to say offensive – enough that the genocide plays second narrative fiddle, even more so since the romantic drama is a rather lifeless affair with no chemistry sparking between any of those involved.
It’s patently obvious that Bale is only really there for financing reasons, which no doubt also explains brief cameos by Tom Hollander, James Cromwell and Jean Reno in roles that could have been played by anyone. It runs through some familiar clichés and overused machinations in workmanlike fashion while the dialogue often creaks and the performances occasionally slip into melodrama. However, while wearily overlong and at times rather dull, it’s watchable enough and George’s earnest attempt to put the genocide back in the spotlight is admirable. But, save for one scene of slaughter, it says much that the most effective things here are the opening and end credit title cards detailing how 1.5 million Armenians were killed, leaving any promise decidedly unfulfilled. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Beauty and the Beast (PG)
Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating. And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.
The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.
You’ll know the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.
Lost during a storm, Belle’s father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere, her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.
At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately, when it isn’t, it falls rather short, and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Belko Experiment (18)
Director Greg McLean and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of office drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO, Barry (Tony Goldwyn), reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted in their heads start going off, that’s clearly not the case.
At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.
Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker Michael Rooker, stoner Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Boss Baby (U)
If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to BabyCorp management. The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work, which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty Staci and the gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.
Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.
Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Fast And Furious 8 (12A)
Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.
Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.
Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family, is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.
As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye, she now wants him to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.
Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a heart to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Get Out (15)
Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.
A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed, neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re like part of the family. Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.
Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield) of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’
It is, of course, rather too late for that and it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.
Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Ghost in the Shell (12A)
Director Rupert Sanders brings Mamoru Oshii’s cult cyberthriller creation to the big screen for its first live action adaptation. Those familiar with the Manga comic and animations will be more conversant with things, but, for newbies, this serves as an origin story, detailing how the unnamed Major (Scarlett Johansson) became a cyborg cyberterrorism fighter, her brain – her ghost or soul – transplanted to an artificial body by Hanka Robotics. However, working for the government’s cyberterrorist division, under Aramaki (Takeshi Takano) alongside fellow agent Batou (Pilou Asbaek), she’s experiencing glitches in her programming, flashbacks to memories that don’t gel with what she knows of her past.
To put this into context, events are set in Japan in a future where technological advancement has allowed humans to enhance their bodies giving them, for example, cybernetic eyes and limbs, existing alongside robots in a high-tech city where giant holograms such as geishas, joggers and swimming fish are projected across the cityspace. It’s all the work of Hanka, whose chief scientist, Cutter (Peter Ferndinando), headed up the project through which Dr. Oulet (Juliette Binoche) transformed the unnamed girl, badly injured in the terrorist attack that killed her parents, into The Major.
However, when Hanka’s boss is attacked and killed by robots and enhanced thugs while hosting a business lunch, going ‘deep’ into the deactivated geisha robot, the Major gets a look at Kuze (Michael Pitt), the person behind the attack, but the experience also causes further glitches. Meanwhile, other Hanka scientists are being targeted, all of whom turn out to have worked on a secret project, with Dr. Oulet now the only survivor.
With the Major accused of having her programming corrupted by the terrorist network, she and her fellow squad members find themselves in a race to find and take down the cloaked Kuze, except, as the Major discovers, not everything she’s been told or remembers is the truth.
Wasting little time on exposition, the film hurtles along, Sanders dropping in visual references that fans of the 1995 animation will recognise, cramming in considerable action and ideas into the 107 minutes. The visual design is breathtaking in its CGI, whether in the sprawling techno city, the darker, more dystopian zone or Johansson’s costume, a sort of fleshtone body suit that enables her cyborg self to disappear into the pixels and which, as her workings are exposed, both disturbing and beautiful, conjures thoughts of Japanese body-horror movies.
Inevitably evoking thoughts of Blade Runner, Scott’s film clearly offers the template for the film’s look as well as its themes about identity and humanity. Undeniably glossily and sleekly thrilling and with a pulsing score by Clint Mansell, on the downside, it’s singularly lacking in humour and, with rather damning irony, despite the title, it’s an entirely soulless affair. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Going In Style (12A)
A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch always going on about how he could die any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.
Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.
Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here.(Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
I Am Not Your Negro (12A)
Returning to America from self-exile in Paris in the late 1950s after seeing images of black teenager Dorothy Counts being jeered and spat at white youths on her way to her newly integrated school, novelist, playwright, and essayist, his work focused on the complex racial, sexual and class distinctions in Western societies, Black and gay James Baldwin became a leading voice in the civil rights movement. He died in 1987, leaving behind an unfinished work, Remember This House, a memoir of himself as a witness to events and his personal recollections Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin In The Sun, all of whom were assassinated.
Now his words, given eloquent voice by Samuel L Jackson, form the narration of Raoul Peck’s documentary, a powerful and, with the current Black Lives Matter protests, timely exploration of America’s race relations, drawing on archive interviews, newsreels, film clips (among them Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Dance, Fools, Dance and Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and photographs, featuring such figures as Harry Belafonte and Bobby Kennedy.
Most potent though is the extensive footage of Baldwin himself, whether holding forth on a Dick Cavett TV interview or at a debate at Cambridge University, in his deeply articulate discussions of American history and identity, of denial and forgiveness, of guilt and rage, complicity and resistance. “I’m terrified at the moral apathy, at the death of the heart, which is happening in my country” he said on a 1963 TV panel alongside King and X, words that ring as resonantly now as then. But Baldwin clung to and struggled to engender hope, famously noting “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. I’m forced to be an optimist.” Thirty years after his death, in the face of everything that would deny it, his words, his thoughts and his arguments keep that hope alive. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)
Kong: Skull Island (12A)
Following Peter Jackson’s bloated 2005 remake, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts takes another swing at reviving cinema’s most famous ape. And knocks it out of the park.
Clocking in at a tightly packed two hours, it balances explosive action, breathtaking effects, throwaway humour and some respectful nods to the original (effectively recreating that iconic Fay Wray/Kong moment) to wildly entertaining effect. However, the most striking thing is that, set in 1973, it’s essentially Apocalypse Now with a 100 foot gorilla, Coppola’s movie very clearly referenced in any number of shots recreating that iconic image of the red streaked sun, both with and without helicopters blaring out rock music. In Samuel L Jackson as Lt Col. Preston Packard, the army officer who doesn’t want to the war to end, especially not in ‘abandonment’, as he terms it, it also has its own crazed Kurtz.
Opening with a brief WWII prologue as two young pilots, one American, one Japanese, are fighting to the death after crashing on some island when two giant hairy hands appear on the cliff top, it fast forwards to Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads up Monarch, a secret agency seeking “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” as he convinces a senator (Richard Jenkins) to back an expedition to a hitherto uncharted island “where myth and science meet.”
Requisitioning a military escort headed up by Packard and his chopper squad (among them Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell and Toby Kebbell) most of whom serve as cannon fodder along with the assorted scientists, Randa and his team (Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing) also recruit ex SAS officer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as their tracker while, sensing a story, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also inveigles a place on the mission.
However, no sooner have they battled their way through the electrical storm shrouding the island and started dropping seismic bombs, than they’re being swatted out of the sky by an angry Kong.
Initially separated, the film charts their attempt to survive as they head for the pick up point, Conrad, Weaver and the rest of his group encountering Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), the American pilot from the opening, who has been living with the natives ever since and warns of even more dangerous beasts, against which Kong, the last of his kind, has become the island’s protector. Which means they now have to stop Packard from blasting the monkey to pieces. With familiar don’t screw with nature messages and observations on how war can make a man see enemies everywhere, it wastes little time on exposition and gets on with mounting its spectacular action, introducing docile giant water buffalos, towering killer spiders and a humongous octopus before finally bringing on lizard-like monsters to raise the bloody body count tally further.
Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note references to such other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
The third and final chapter in Wolverine’s standalone story wears its template on its sleeve in both referring to and showing clips from classic Alan Ladd Western Shane, the story of a loner drawn into a fight not of his making but which becomes inescapably personal. Not to mention Terminator 2.
Set in 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are the last of the X-Men (it’s never stated what happened to the others, but an enigmatic reference suggests a cataclysmic tragedy) and something has blocked the birth of any new mutants. The conflicted Logan is now old, grizzled, limping, his eyesight failing, his healing powers on the blink and the adamantium in his body poisoning him. Deadening his physical and emotional pain with drink, he’s working as a limo driver in Texas, shacking up at an abandoned industrial site near the Mexican border where, along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant-tracker, he’s looking after the nonagenarian Professor X, who, hidden in a rusting toppled water tower and suffering from Alzheimer’s, needs constant medication to prevent his powerful mental powers running out of control and causing seizures for anyone in the vicinity.
In one of his lucid periods, Xavier insists that he’s senses a new mutant, something Logan dismisses. Until, that it is, he encounters Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse offering a considerable wad of cash to drive her and her Hispanic daughter Laura ((Dafne Keen) to Canada. However, arriving at the motel to collect them, he finds the woman dead and, on returning to his hideout, discovers the girl had stowed away in the car. Although, she says nothing, it seems she is the mutant Xavier sensed. As to her powers, they’re bloodily revealed with the arrival of Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the cyborg head of the paramilitary Reavers. Much to Logan’s shock, she too sprouts deadly adamantium claws and has the same fast healing abilities. It transpires that she was genetically bred, along with other young mutants, by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who runs shady bioengineering program Transigen, using Logan’s DNA. As Xavier points out, basically, she’s his daughter.
From here, the film becomes a chase road movie as the three set out to find Eden, the supposed mutant safe haven in the Dakota hills, despite Logan insisting it’s merely something dreamed up in one of the X-Men comics for which he has no time, with Pierce, Rice and the latter’s genetically created secret weapon, in pursuit.
Given Jackman’s stated this is his last outing as the character, the way things end won’t come as any real surprise. The fact that it is profoundly moving may well. Directed by James Mangold, from the opening scene as Logan slices his way through a bunch of would be carjackers, the film is spectacularly violent, both Logan and the feral Laura’s claws ripping off limbs and slashing through skulls in graphic detail. Yet this is balanced with moments of humour and the tender ruminations on family (if Laura’s Logan’s genetic daughter, Xavier is his surrogate father), loneliness and redemption.
Giving a superbly nuanced performance, ranging from extreme rage to heavy weariness the mesmerising Jackman is terrific, as indeed is Stewart who lends the film his own imposing gravitas, while, in her debut role, an impressive eleven-year-old Keen, although wordless until the final stretch, has striking presence and a penetrating stare, something that bodes well should the Wolverine saga spin off to a second generation. In recent years, superheroes have become darker and more grown up, ending with an inspired final image this is among the best of them. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Mulholland Drive (15)
A welcome reissue of the 2001 thriller involving the convoluted, twisted, dark and dreamlike narrative patterns that spawned the term Lynchian, as the title suggests, this is David Lynch’s answer to Sunset Boulevard, a disturbing nightmare plucked from the Hollywood dream factory. Originally conceived as a pilot for an open-ended TV series the network rejected it as too slow and too weird, French studio Canal Plus stumping up the finance to film a further 45 minutes worth of material and reconfigure it into a feature film.
The result is a slice of schizoid Chandler-like neo noir that makes Twin Peaks look like Janet and John. Initially it pans out in not dissimilar manner, a mystery thriller unravelling in a dream. An opening jitterbug contest credits sequence cuts to a sleeping woman, then we’re on the titular LA thoroughfare as a limo pulls up and the driver points a gun at his brunette female passenger (Laura Harring). Before he can fire, speeding joyriders crash into the car, killing everyone except the woman in the black cocktail dress. She crawls from the wreck and staggers into the night, slipping into an apartment as its owner is driven off in a cab.
Re-enter the jitterbug girl, now identified as Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a relentlessly perky blonde Canadian ingenue in town to try and make it as an actress. It’s her aunt’s apartment. She finds the woman who, suffering from amnesia, tells her her name is Rita (after seeing a poster of Rita Hayworth film Gilda on the apartment wall).
Discovering ‘Rita’ has a bagful of cash and a mysterious blue key, the two women set out to learn who she really is, falling in love along the way. So far, so coherent. Well, as coherent as any plot that also involves a man being scared to death by a dreadlocked vagrant who lives behind a coffee shop, movie director Adam (Justin Theroux) being heavied by a mobster to cast an unknown actress called Camilla as the lead in his latest film, and a punky contract killer whose latest hit has turned into a bit of a body count farce. And let’s not forget the mysterious menacing midget who lives in a vacuum sealed glass room. The shudderingly unsettling cackling elderly couple Betty meets on the plane. Or the decaying corpse of the woman named Diane.
At which point, and following a steamy lesbian sex scene, just as you think you’ve got it relatively sussed Lynch doesn’t so much as pull the rug from under your feet as demolish the entire floor, turning the film’s tone on its head and switching names, identities, personalities and situations in a manner that makes Lost Highway seem an object lesson in logic.
Teeming with red herrings and throwaways (Robert Forster appears for all of a minute as one of two cops investigating the opening crash), Lynch obsessives will revel in the proliferation of his trademark signatures, including a classic coffee moment and, in echo of Blue Velvet, an erotically charged rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying – in Spanish. But what will delight most is the way he brilliantly orchestrates the film’s dream logic, Chinese (blue) box structure and tinseltown references. Characters such as apartments manager Coco (veteran legend Anne Miller) and the menacing Cowboy reappear in their ‘real’ selves, colours and names take on deep Freudian connotations and buffs will note that it is awash with allusions to Hollywood lore.
Visually and stylistically dazzling, and with awe inspiring performances topped off by breathtakingly sensational newcomer Watts, it may not at first sight appear to make rational sense. However, veined with themes of wishful illusion and bitter reality and a bleak through line about the corruption and betrayals of the cruelly destructive movie industry, the more you think about its tale of the disintegration of one woman and her dream(s), the clearer the parallels with Billy Wilder’s masterpiece become. It may be a swimming pool or it may be a dingy apartment, but in Hollywood all losers’ roads ultimately lead to the same metaphorical destination.
It’s a night out in the hallucinatory freak circus of a schizophrenic Los Angeles where creepy characters (the grinning old folks who haunt Betty are terrifying) pass across the screen, nothing is what it seems, the red herrings swim in shoals and the arch humour comes thick black like the coffee. It’s hysterical, it’s frightening, it’s mesmerising. It’s Raymond Chandler’s Alice in Wonderland with a blue box instead of a rabbit hole It’s nothing Lynch hadn’t done before. But never as such an intoxicating a drug. (Mon-Thu: MAC)
Power Rangers (12A)
And here’s yet another revival, this time of the mid-90s (and still ongoing) live-action TV series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers about five ‘teenagers with attitude’ recruited by the wizard Zordon to battle the evil (and risibly named) Rita Repulsa as she attempts to conquer Earth, each of them having their own super-powers and wearing individually colour-coded spandex suits and helmets.
Directed by Dean Israelite, this latest entry takes things back to the start for an origin story that kicks off 67 million years ago as Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his team are defeated by rogue Ranger Rita (a gleefully hamming Elizabeth Banks), taking her out with him in one last act, but not before burying the Rangers’ power crystals to be found by those next worthy of using them. Cut to the present as sports star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) pulls off a high school prank involving a bull, crashes his car, is busted, thrown off the team and sentenced to Saturday detentions, where he meets autistic Billy (RJ Cyler) and cool chick Kimberly (Naomi Scott) who apparently punched some boy’s tooth out. Jason steps into protect Billy from the class bully and agrees to drive him out to some quarry in the neighbouring hills where it seems Kimberely goes to chill out. It also happens to be frequented by fellow screw-ups/misfits Zack (Ludi Lin), who escapes there when caring for his sick mom on the trailer park gets too much, and Trini (Becky G.), who’s dealing with her own identity issues.
Anyways, Billy sets off a charge and all five find themselves plummeting into some cavern, discovering what seems to be an alien spaceship, falling into water and inexplicably waking up back home the next day and discovering they’ve acquired superstrength. So, it’s back to the site where they get to meet a wisecracking talking robot (Bill Hader) and Zordon, or rather his essence which is now trapped in some sort of giant 3D pin-art sculpture, who informs them they’ve been chosen to be the new Power Rangers, but they have to prove themselves worthy before they can summon up the armour within them.
Which means, what with everyone having to confront their dark secrets, it’s almost 80 minutes into the two hours before the familiar red, blue, purple, blue, black and yellow suits appear and the film can get on with the action as, behind the controls of their Dinozords, they face off against the now resurrected Rita who, with her equally naffly named creation, Goldar (yes, it’s a monster made from gold) and rock-creatures army, is destroying the town looking for the energy source which will ensure her conquest and which just happens to be located beneath the film’s glaring product placement, a Krispy Kreme store.
With its joke about ‘milking’ a bull along with inference that Trini’s a lesbian (thus Hollywood’s first gay superhero) and the focus on her fellow Rangers’ personal issues, this skews older than the TV series, and, while, closer to The Fantastic Four than Captain America: Civil War, despite the CGI confusion of the finale, is, as such, rather more fun than might have been expected. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Rules Don’t Apply (12A)
Taking the rumour that eccentric billionnaire recluse Howard Hughes maintained a stable of young women at his Beverly Hills Hotel and reworking this has having a string of attractive young aspiring starlets on rolling contracts with RKO Pictures, which he ran in the 50s, Warren Beatty, in his first outing as writer and director in almost twenty years, has crafted a slight, but entertaining romantic comedy.
Newly appointed as one of the many drivers hired by Hughes to ferry the girls around, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, a sort of charisma-free DiCaprio) is assigned to Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), an equally church going (Baptist to his Presbyterian) virginal Virginian who, Hughes’ latest ingenue, arrives with her protective mother (Annette Bening) expecting to meet Hughes and be given a screen test. Like all the others, she’s to be disappointed. Frank too has never met his boss, but lives in hopes of getting the call.
Since the film opens with him in an Acapulco hotel room trying to persuade Hughes (concealed behind a curtain) to make a call to a Hollywood press conference and refute some writer’s book claiming he’s got dementia, it’s clear he eventually does and the bulk of the film is played out in flashbacks leading up to this point.
Predictably, although he has a devout Christian fiancée back home, Frank finds himself falling for Marla, who would seem to reciprocate the feelings; the problem is anyone caught coming on to one of the starlets is summarily dismissed. Cue a scene where she gets behind the piano and croons him the titular song, something she does later, fuelled by her first taste of alcohol, in rather different circumstances and with very different consequences, to Hughes/
Meanwhile, Hughes’ TWA empire is under threat from airline investors, bankers and the government, he has a Congressional hearing to attend and his mental state is clearly suffering from his drug addiction and threats of being consigned to an asylum. On top of which, they’ve apparently stopped making his favourite ice cream flavour.
With the possible exception of the ice cream, everything actually happened, but over a considerably longer time span than the one year covered here, Beatty gleefully condensing into an eventful flurry of globe-hopping incidents. The tone’s somewhat uneven in the second less playful half, where it’s clear Hughes’ idiosyncrasies, such as repeating himself over and over, are more than just eccentricities and the relationship between Frank and Marla not only takes some convoluted turns, but drops out of the narrative for long stretch. Even so, with a nicely mannered turn from Beatty, a sparkling Collins and sprightly support and cameos from the likes of Martin Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Steve Coogan, Candice Bergen, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt and Alec Baldwin, this is well worth a look. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park)
The Sense of an Ending (15)
Tastefully adapted by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’ novel and directed in a gentle low key manner by Ritesh Batra, this is a bittersweet look at the memories we hide from ourselves in the reinvention of the past.
It’s built around a memorable, unassuming central performance by Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, an elderly, somewhat self-absorbed divorcee who runs a second-hand camera shop whose lawyer ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and pregnant lesbian daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) refer to him affectionately as The Mudge, as in curmudgeon.
One day, he gets a letter informing him that the mother of his teenage old flame, Veronica, has passed away and left him something in her will. Although, the now middle-aged Veronica (a coolly composed Charlotte Rampling) won’t release it to the solicitors, Tony learns that it’s a diary, written by an old schoolfriend of his, the intellectually sharp Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who inexplicably committed suicide. Annoyed at being denied what he regards as his property, Tony sets about trying to make contact with her, fantasising that there might still be a spark between them.
As Tony recounts past events to Margaret, the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother Jack (Edward Holcroft) and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tony’s forced to confront his actions.
Gradually peeling away false memories to get at the truth, although Broadbent’s inherent warmth somewhat softens Tony’s selfish and narcissistic character and the redemptive coda is an emotional cop out, it’s a slowburning work the impact of which creeps up on you, its small moments gathering to a heartbreaking climax. (MAC)
Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)
After being rescued by the clutches of her creator, evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), in the last film, Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is now living back with the other Smurfs in the Smurf village, but is sad that, unlike the others, such as Clumsy (Jack MacBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello), her name doesn’t define her character. She’s just ‘nice’. Plagued by existential angst, if that’s not too deep a concept for such a trivial film, she’s led to explore the Forbidden Forest where, accompanied by Clumsy, Brainy and Hefty, who have followed her, she discovers a whole new Smurfs community, and they’re all girls and, like Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez) often warriors, with Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts) their answer to Papa Smurf (Mandy Patikin). Unfortunately, Gargamel is also on Smurfette’s trail looking to finally get his hands on the Smurfs so he can drain their essence and become a sorcerer supreme. The new Smurfs are an unexpected bonus.
Ditching the last film’s ill-advised choice of setting things in the city, this is on surer ground, with Wilson as the only non-animated character also taking on a cartoonish performance. Despite the occasional grown up joke, adults will still probably find the experience of sitting through it rather like having their finger-nails extracted, but it has to be admitted that the animation is well handled, there’s some surreal touches (luminous giant rabbits), the songs aren’t bad and the plot is easy to follow, with messages about female empowerment, not being defined by a singular trait and finding who you are for those willing or old enough to look. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Vue Star City)
Their Finest (12A)
Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.
The film is to be based on the story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway
Then, to the consternation of all concerned, looking to get the US into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.
Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them. On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.
Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
A ludicrous thriller that revisits the tired psychotic ex genre, it stars Rosario Dawson as Julia, an editor for an online publisher who relocates from the city to share a house in sunny California with her fiancée, recently divorced David (Geoff Stults), who gave up Wall Street to run his late father’s small brewery. It’s not long before she meets the ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl), a Stepford blonde control freak who orders around her and David’s young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice)., just as her own mother (Cheryl Ladd) dominates her. The frosty pleasantries and intense stare of that first encounter tells you all you need to know, Tessa is, as one character puts it, Psycho Barbie. Initially it’s just barbed exchanges, but when she learns that she and David are getting married, her barely repressed crazed bitch bubbles over. Next thing you know, she’s stolen Julia’s phone, engagement ring, keys, panties and the watch she bought David, set up a fake Facebook page and is sending come on messages to Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides), Julia’s aggressive ex against whom she had to take out a (now expired) restraining order, and about whom she’s naturally not told David.
Given the film opens with a bloodied Julia being interviewed about the fact Vargas’ body was found in her house and that they appeared to have been carrying on a steamy Facebook conversation, not to mention those panties and photos they found, you’ll already have a good idea of where this is going before the flashbacks get there.
Feeling like a particularly trashy soap, with a screenplay so ridiculous it was presumably dashed off by Christina Hodson while leafing through a book of clichés over coffee, Heigl’s sociopathic Tess chews her way through the dialogue and physical stuff with a manic determination to take on every other Hollywood bunny boiler, but the ham and her one-dimensionally written character are likely to elicit more sniggers than gasps. But then no one emerges with much credit, Dawson acting with her mind seemingly elsewhere. There was potential to exploit the genuine issues of a child caught between two mothers, but sadly Lily’s just a prop to the narrative. Unforgettable it is, but not in the way they filmmakers intended. Still, as the coda suggests, Unforgettable 2- Grandma’s Revenge is surely not far away. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Zookeeper’s Wife (12A)
In occupied Poland, during World War II, Antonina Żabińska and zookeeper husband Jan sheltered 300 Jews from the Nazis in the Warsaw Zoo, recording her experiences in a diary, subsequently adapted into a book by Diane Ackerman on which this is based. Directed by Niki Caro, who has yet to better debut feature Whale Rider, it stars a distractingly accented Jessica Chastain in the title role with Johan Heldenbergh as Jan, opening in the idyllic summer of 39 as she cycles around the zoo greeting and feeding the animals. The imoment is abruptly shattered by the German invasion, the zoo itself being bombed, setting camels, tigers and other animals loose on the ravaged city streets in a series of somewhat strikingly surreal images as the invading army are given no option but to gun them down. It is, of course, a symbolic portent of what is to follow as the city’s Jews are systematically rounded up and herded off to concentration camps in crammed trains. Meanwhile, having convinced chief Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) to allow the zoo to remain open as a pig farm, providing meat for the solders while the surviving prize specimens are shipped to Germany for selective breeding as a sort of animal master race, she takes the courageous decision to shelter their Jewish neighbours in the basement of her house, shipped in from the Warsaw Ghetto by Jan in the truck he uses to collect the garbage to feed the pigs.
Just as she refers to the place as now being a human zoo, so does the film adopt a similarly literal narrative, underlining the image by Antonina looking after one traumatised teenager sheltering in one of the cages. As part of her efforts to keep the zoo open and her new charges safe, she starts flirting with the eugenics obsessed Heck, who has naturally fallen for her, which, of course, despite her intentions, doesn’t sit well with the stoic Jan.
Interspersed with third act scenes of the Resistance fighting the Germans in the streets, it’s all solidly made and, for the most, decently acted, but everything is about surface drama, Caro directing audience emotions with predictable shots of smilingly unaware young children being bundled into trains and such familiar Holocaust signifiers as piles of suitcases. It’s all nicely polished, but rarely engages with the complexity of the events or the emotions. Intercutting between the Ghetto’s destruction and a Passover meal is banal filmmaking, while Żabińska’s young son’s remark that it’s snowing as the ashes float gracefully through the sky should never have made it to the page let alone the screen.
Another problem is that, while the film celebrates the couple’s bravery, the Jews they shelter remain somewhat sketchy, emblematic characters. Tastefully done but ultimately perfunctorily told with only the faintest excursion into tension, it never rises to the heights of the recent similarly themed The Book Thief, far less Agnieska Holland’s Into Darkness, seemingly far more concerned with the visual details than the human ones, whose fates ultimately have less of an impact than those of the animals. (Vue Star City)
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 0121 446 3232
Mockingbird, Custard Factory 0121 224 7456.
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 Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240