The plot can be pretty much summed up as ‘omigod, we found life on Mars. Omigod, it’s trying to kill us’, a set-up that’s served several movies well enough and, directed by Daniel Espinosa, does serviceable duty here too, at least in as much as it’s better than Passengers. It’s set on a manned NASA space station where, in the opening sequences, the six-strong international crew (no Russkies or Chinese though) of the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission have to snag a specimen-collecting capsule as it shoots past.
Duly accomplished by astronaut Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), English scientist Hugh Derry (Arlyon Bakare), who, disabled, joined because he doesn’t need a wheelchair in space, sets to work examining the micro-organisms found in the soil and, in the process of experimenting, awakens a single cell from dormancy.
In a celebratory Q&A educational broadcast between the station and Earth, the organism is officially named Calvin and everyone’s very happy. But then Calvin, a sort of jelly-like squid thing starts growing, and, next thing you know, possibly pissed off at being prodded with an electric wand, it’s mangled Derry’s hands, escaped from the containment chamber and is trapped in the lab with Adams, whose attempts to destroy result in, well let’s just say viewers there or Reynolds might leave early.
Then, when it manages to escape the lab, the survivors have to find a way to get it off the ship, a task taken upon herself by the mission commander, Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya). And so, were soon down to the long-serving David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a medic who, after experiencing Syria, prefers the isolation of space, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), the official rep from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in charge of security protocol, and senior crewmember, and new father, Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada). With the now even larger creature on the loose that, having presumably wiped out any original life on Mars, they have to stop getting to Earth. Given it can survive in sub-space, withstand fire and go for long stretches without oxygen, that might be easier said than done/
A sort of meeting between Alien and Gravity, it’s superbly designed, the station layout detailed in a lengthy single take, so you can see those hatches the crew really should keep shut but are always opening for to try and save someone or the other, something that ties in to the film’s musing on the biological imperative for the survival of the species.
Well-served by solid and effective performances, Espinosa ratchets up some nail-biting suspense, compounded by the confined spaces and the creatures ability to squeeze through small gaps, leaving audiences with a twist ending which, while it may be a touch obvious, lays the ground for a possible sequel – Death. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Another Mother’s Son (12A)
During WWII, Jersey, in the Channel Islands, was the only part of Britain to be occupied by the Germans. As in other territories under Nazi rule, there were both collaborators and resistance, ordinary people trying to help fugitives elude the enemy and neighbours all too willing to inform anonymously, often out of petty spite rather than as Nazy sympathizers. Directed by Christopher Menaul, this worthy but rather middling offering tells the story of Louisa Gould (Jenny Seagrove), the great aunt of the film’s screenwriter, Jenny Lecoat, who, proprietor of the local grocery store from where she sold the food rations, sheltered Fyodr Burriy (Julian Kostov), a young Russian airman, who, brought to the island along with other PoWs, had escaped from the hard labour gang.
In so doing, she risked arrest and deportation to a camp in Germany, along with her family and anyone else who was involved. This would include her teacher brother Harold (Ronan Keating in his first dramatic role), sister Ivy (Amanda Abbington) and close friends Arthur (John Hannah), who worked at the local post office, intercepting ‘snitch’ letters to the Germans, and the more elderly Elena (Susan Hampshire).
Louisa, who learns one of her two sons has been killed in action, develops a sort of maternal bond with her guest, whom she nicknames Bill, teaching him to speak English and setting him up with a room in her house. Although concerned about the danger this presents, friends and family rally round to help keep his presence a secret. Which makes it seem odd that, as Gould did in real life, she should take him out for bicycle rides or walks round the town, even, at one point, visiting an out of town bookshop, precipitating one of several nail-biting close calls where their discovery by the Germans seems likely.
However, eventually, one of the letters gets past Arthur (thanks to Nicholas Farrell’s postmaster who insists its their job to deliver the mail not stop it) and the Germans come calling and, as history, relates, Gould’s activities were exposed. By whom remains unknown.
Very much an old-fashioned sort of British movie, it’s all rather stiff, predictable and somewhat calculated in its seesawing with the emotions. The Germans, who are never subtitled, are naturally cruel and despicable almost to a man, although there is a fleeting scene with one token young lad who, dating one of the locals, protests he’s not a Nazi, while the locals are mostly salt of the earth types pulling together under adversity. Seagrove is terrific, delivering a performance that captures both Gould’s stoicism and warmth and a brooding Kostov does a good job of capturing both Bill’s happiness at his new family and his palpable fear of being discovered, but the rest of the cast aren’t really called on for anything of a stretch. As a celebration of an unsung hero, it warrants plaudits, but as a cinema experience it belongs on a Sunday afternoon on BBC. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Certain Women (12A)
Following on from eco-thriller Night Moves, writer-director Kelly Reichardt returns to her more familiar understated melancholic drama territory of Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy for this adaptation of short stories by Maile Meloy that also marks her third collaboration with Michelle Williams.
Set in winter and structured as narratives interwoven around the lives of four small town Montana women, it opens with Laura Wells (Laura Dern), a lawyer trying to make it in a man’s world who sneaks out of the office for lunchtime sex with her married lover (James LeGros) and finds herself in a hostage situation when who, after refusing to listen to her advice that he has no case for compensation, her client (Jared Lewis), suffering mental breakdown, takes things into his own hands.
The second woman is Gina (Williams), whose husband just happens to be the man Laura’s sleeping with. Unaware that the marriage is in jeopardy and trying to deal with a moody teenage daughter, she’s looking to build a weekend retreat in the country and wants an elderly family friend (Rene Auberjonois) to sell her some vintage sandstone (from an old schoolhouse) for which he no longer has use. Then there’s Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a Native American whose life revolves around the horses she looks after on a remote local ranch until she meets Beth (Kirsten Stewart), an out of towner who teaches a night class on education law at the local school, and mistakes their connection for more than it is.
Essentially a story of alienation, dislocation and small lives trying to find their place in a big world, confronted with sexism, disillusion, disappointment and betrayals, it takes its time, never forcing the connections between the women. However, the core performances, the authenticity of the women’s experiences and emotions, and the strong sense of place it evokes in the process reward the patience. (MAC)
CHIPS: Law and Disorder (15)
Set around two highway patrol cops, played by Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as mixmatched partners with the California Highway Patrol, a light and often cheesy, crime drama, CHiPs ran for a mammoth 139 episodes between 1977 and 1983. Now, like so many other bad but cult shows from the era, it’s been revived for the big screen, still with the same central characters but remodeled as a crass mix of crude humour and violence.
Michael Pena is Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, except he isn’t because that’s an alias given him by the FBI to go undercover in the CHP and ferret out a bunch of crooked cops who’ve stolen $14million. Writer-director Dax Shepard, an actor best known for his TV work, is assigned as his rookie partner, Jon Baker, a former motocross rider who’s now just a walking (sometimes barely) catalogue of injuries and, unable to shoot straight, only got the job because the personnel officer (Maya Rudolph) identified with his last ditch attempt to save his marriage to swim instructor Karen (Kristen Bell). It goes without saying that Frank’s the macho, rule-breaking loose cannon with an eye for booty and who regularly has to take toilet breaks for some self-stroking while Jon’s the over-enthusiastic, straitlaced type who babbles on about therapy and closure.
It quickly becomes clear that the leader of the dirty cops is Lt Vic Brown (D’Onofrio, who seems to think he’s in a serious drama) who wants to money to get his son, also a former bike rider, off heroin, and that there’s been some sort of fall out with two other members of the gang (one of whom chooses to take a nose dive from a helicopter). There’s also a couple of female cops (Jessica McNamee and Rosa Salazar) who have a thing for the pair, though, naturally, one of them’s not what she seems.
The plot is about as generic as it gets, so while that’s going through the motions, Shepard’s screenplay trowels on the inevitable dick and homoerotic panic jokes, including some scrotum bumping, a nuts in face moment and several conversations about how oral anal is now all the rage, plus, of course, the gratuitous bare boobs shots.
Pretty much none of this is remotely funny, certainly not the running joke about how the CGP uniform makes them look like UPS delivery men, but at least the action (Shepard did most of his own stunt bike work) offers some marginal relief from the tedium, the violence including a decapitation and someone having their fingers blasted off.
Nowhere near the same league as the revival of that other 80s cop buddy series, 21 Jump Street, Estrada puts in a cameo in the final moments. Has the man no dignity? (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Lost City of Z (15)
Another name lost to history, Percy Fawcett (played here by Charlie Hunnam) was a fascinating character, an army officer, briefly part of the British Secret Service, he was also, like his father, a member of the Royal Geographical Society and a surveyor, While serving in the war office in Cork, in 1906 he was made a major and dispatched to South America by the RGS, as an uninterested party, to map the border between Brazil and Bolivia in an attempt to prevent war and its impact on the price of rubber. His accounts of his Amazonian exploits would form the basis for his friend Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Lost World.
On one of his several expeditions, he came upon what he took to be remnants of a lost city, which he termed Z and, after serving in the army again during WWI, in 1920 he returned to Brazil on a solo expedition to find it. This failed, but, in 1925, this time funded by a group of London financiers, he went back, this time with eldest son Jack (Tom Holland), neither of whom were ever heard of again.
Condensing this somewhat to just three trips (as well as ignoring the third person on the final expedition, Jack’s best friend Raleigh Rimell), writer-director James Gray (best known for Littler Odessa and The Yards) delivers an engaging slow burn, if somewhat emotionally detached account of Fawcett’s obsession, as well as its impact on those caught up in its wake. These include supportive wife Nina (Sienna Miller), a spirited intellectual, who, while supportive, rather resents being left at home to bring up the kids for years at a time, Henry Costin (a nigh unrecognisable heavily bearded Robert Pattinson) who accompanies Fawcett on his first forays, but cannot be persuaded to return in the search for Z, and explorer James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), who becomes patron and fellow traveller for the narrative’s second voyage in 1911, much to his regret.
Gray’s script affords some backstory to explain why Fawcett’s so driven, such as smarting at never getting a medal because, as one upper class snob puts it, “he’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors”, a reference to his father’s drink and gambling. Keen to restore the family name, earn respect and do his bit for mankind, he duly sets off into the South American jungle where he comes across some pottery, prompting his belief in Z, as he terms it. Back home, now acclaimed as “England’s bravest explorer”, this sets up his presentation to the RGS where, in what may or may not be factual, but undeniably plays well, he rebukes those scoffing at the idea of half-naked primitive savages having an advanced civilization.
Shooting on celluloid, not to mention a modest budget, cinematographer Darius Khondji brings the Amazon to vivid life and, in a sort of narrative interlude, also does sterling work creating a brief sequence at the Battle of the Somme, while Gray’s screenplay balances the intellectual and psychological heft with striking unexpected moments such as a hail of arrows from natives hidden in the foliage showering the men as they journey up the river on their raft.
Miller is excellent in a limited role and Hunnam does a solid job as a not always likeable character and, while the film may, ultimately, fall somewhat short of its potential, it does serve as a fine example of what Fawcett tells Jack, that “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Power Rangers (12A)
And here’s yet another revival, this time of the, originally Japanese, mid-90s (and still ongoing) kids 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.
Despite criticism of being overly violent, it became a massive international hit, spawning a mega-selling merchandise line and two feature films. Directed by Dean Israelite, who made the found footage sci fi Project Almanac, 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 Repulsa (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 and demons, 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, Goldgar (yes, it’s a monster made from gold, some rather gruesomely extracted from a tramp’s teeth) 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 Ranger’s 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Found Footage Festival
The one day showcase of videos found in garage sales, charity shops, warehouses and rubbish skips throughout North America returns with curators and live commentators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher serving up another feast of oddities and the bizarre. This year’s collection includes a collection of satanic panic videos from the 80s, such as The Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults, a little-seen Welcome Home Desert Storm parade featuring Roseanne Barr, bloopers from a decade’s worth of North Dakota local news and choice picks from David Letterman’s very own VHS Collection. (Mon: Electric)
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 accened 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; Electric; 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, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Earning Isabelle Huppert a Best Actress Golden Globe and several other gongs, the latest controversial offering by director Paul Verhoeven underlines her status as one of the best actresses of her generation.
Decidedly French, as such contains an inevitable couple of awkward dinner table scenes, one involving a Christmas part that sees Michele Leblanc (Huppert) running her foot up the crotch of Patrick (Laurent Latiffe), the hunky neighbour married to devoted Catholic Rebecca (Virginie Efira), who we’ve already seen her masturbating over while watching him through binoculars.
The other is a small get together with her ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), best friend Anne (Anne Consigny), with whom she runs a company specialising in sexually charged violent video games, and her husband, Robert (Christian Berkel), who she just happens to be screwing. It’s here that she drops the bombshell about a masked intruder breaking into her apartment and violently raping her. They’re understandably shocked, all the more so that she hasn’t reported it. However, given she’s the daughter of a mass murderer who butchered 27 people on their street and, as a child, was seen as guilty by association, she’s keen not to attract either police or media interest. Especially as dad’s mounting his latest appeal.
There’s also the fact that Michele’s a decidedly psychologically complex, emotionally damaged character who’s drawn to risky relationships and may or may not actually have gotten off on the assault, which both opens the film and is revisited in increasingly savage – and ultimately fictionalised – flashbacks. After the attack, she simply sweeps up the mess and has a bath. The next day she has the locks changed, buys some self defence gear and carries on as normal. Is that trauma or something else entirely?
When she realises the rapist is stalking her, the waters are further muddied by a list of possible suspects, among them a game designer she suspects might have created the simulation of her being violated by a monster. Indeed, Michele’s life seems to involve many different kinds of monsters, she as much of one as any.
She’s also having to deal with her feckless son Valentine (Jonas Bloquet) and his bullying pregnant girlfriend (Alice Isaaz), the baby, when born, clearly having nothing to do with him, as well as the prickly relationship with her mother who’s shacked up with a much younger man.
The actual identity of the rapist is revealed relatively early one, but subsequent events and relationships only further serve to compound the film’s problematic amoral and ambiguous nature. At times, it is also darkly funny.
Addressing themes of the connections between sex, violence and power, it unfolds as a revenge thriller unlike most, never looking to underplay the effect of the rape, but also not defining the controlling Michele as powerless victim. It’s no easy watch and, arguably, it does falter in the schematic last act as Michele seeks, if not redemption, then at least to cleanse herself of the demons and guilt that have shaped her. Nevertheless, fuelled by Huppert’s mesmerising performance, this is raw and potent stuff. (Tue-Thu, Electric)
Hidden Figures (PG)
There’s a reasonable chance that you might know that, in 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. It is, however, extremely unlikely you’ll have ever heard of Katherine Johnson. And yet, without her input, the Mercury program might have taken a lot longer to achieve its goal or, had the launch gone ahead on schedule, Glenn could have died on re-entry. It was Johnson who did the calculations necessary to ensure the safe point of re-entry, but only now is her contribution, and that of many other African-American women who worked for the NASA space program, being recognised.
Directed by Theodore Melfi, this aptly titled true story puts the spotlight on Johnson (Taraji P Henson) and her co-workers, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and their vital roles in the program. A child maths prodigy, Johnson became one of the three black students to integrate into West Virginia’s graduate schools. In 1952 she got a job at Langley, working as one of the ‘computers’ in the segregated “West Area Computing” division (not machines, but an all black female unit of mathematicians) overseen by Vaughan and was eventually assigned to work on the equations necessary to compute the Mercury program flights, despite being given documents of redacted figures on account of not having security clearance. The same unit also included Jackson, a former maths teacher who became both the first black student to take an after-work course at the segregated Hampton High School, and, in 1958, NASA’s first black female engineer.
The film plays a little loose with the chronology of events (in the film, Vaughan – who teaches herself how to work the new IBM computer that baffles her male colleagues – is seen battling with the racist white department head – Kirsten Dunst – to secure the position of supervisor) while both the program manager, Al Harrison (an excellent Kevin Costner), and chauvinistic chief engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), who refuses to share either credit or coffee pot with Johnson, are composite figures, but the essentials are all true.
As well as charting the women’s fight to be taken seriously and achieve recognition and equality alongside their male and white counterparts, the film also finds space for a tender love story between the widowed Johnson and National Guard colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali).
Adopting a sophisticated approach to detailing the racism of the era and in the workplace without shouting from a soapbox, it quietly observes the conditions under which the ‘computers’ worked, as for example Johnson having to walk across the site to use the blacks only toilets in the West Compound, something that gives rise to a potent scene as Harrison literally tackles prejudice with a sledgehammer.
The dialogue and performances, especially those of the three female leads, are top notch, while Melfi deftly balances scenes like Johnson scrawling out calculations on the blackboard with archive footage from the era and recreations of meetings with the NASA team and its astronauts, delivering a film that is as entertaining as it’s inspiring, uplifting and illuminating. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
John Wick: Chapter 2 (15)
Keanu Reeves may not be the world’s greatest actor but he has a huge fan base. With John Wick having proven something of a surprise box office hit in 2014, a sequel was inevitable and this gets underway with what is, essentially, a coda to the original, tying up loose ends as taciturn assassin Wick (Reeves), nicknamed The Boogeyman, takes on the Russian crime organisation led by Abram (Peter Stormare) to recover his stolen classic Mustang. Having killed pretty much everyone else, and wrecked the car in the process, he and Abram, himself in awe of Wick’s skills (especially the legend of his killing three men with a pencil), agree a truce and Wicks goes home to memories of his dead wife, buries his weapons and looks forward to retirement from the life of a professional hitman.
That doesn’t last long, however, as Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), an Italian criminal playboy to whom Wick owes a debt of honour, turns up to cash in his marker. Wick demurs, thereby prompting D’Antonio to blow up his house. Checking into the Continental, a luxury hotel for assassins run by Winston (Ian McShane), where rules demand no ‘business’ is enacted on its grounds, he’s reminded that he’s bound to honour the marker, D’Antonio’s request turning out to be the murder of his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), so he can take her seat at the High Table council of the world’s top criminals. Off to Italy and job grudgingly done, Gianna herself going a long way to relieving him of the burden, rather than being free to resume his life, Wick now finds himself the target of the city’s apparently countless undercover assassins when D’Antonio, cynically seeking to avenge his sister, puts out a $7m contract.
Having parked his new dog at the hotel, the rest of the film pretty much just involves Wick battling Gianna’s former bodyguard (Common), D’Antonio’s henchmen, led by mute Ares (Ruby Rose) and assorted assassins looking to cash in, delivering both kinetic, balletic action sequences and an incredibly high bodycount, Wick always ensuring to pop one final bullet into every body, just to be sure.
Chad Stahelski returns to the directing seat and delivers the bloody mayhem with stylish panache and visual flair, including a terrific climax in a hall of mirrors. Amid all the action and firefights, there’s a nice sense of humour at work too, underlining that things shouldn’t be taken too seriously, whether in the strict protocol governing assassin rules, the extensive network that takes in specialist tailors and Orthodox Jewish bankers, or a marvellous scene with Peter Serafinowicz as the Continental’s sommelier, advising Wick on choice of weapons as if they were fine wines. There’s also an appearance by Laurence Fishburne as inner-city assassin the Bowery King, while, dressed in his trademark cool three-piece black suit, Reeves makes hugely effective use of his expressionless style. It ends with Wick declared excommunicado for breaking hotel rules, setting up Chapter 3 in which the contract is extended worldwide. Can’t wait. (Vue Star City)
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 andwarns 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Lego Batman Movie (U)
The follow-up to 2014’s The Lego Movie is an irreverent send-up of Batman and the world of DC superheroes in general, but balances the comedy with a strong no man is an island message about not shutting yourself off from friends and family. Or, indeed, your enemies as, hurt that the humourless, narcissistic Batman (Will Arnett) won’t recognise they have a mutual hate relationship and refuses to accept he’s his greatest foe, the secretly sensitive Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hatches a plot to get sent to the Phantom Zone so he can free all the bad guys there to help him destroy Gotham. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Batman has to contend with eager new sidekick, Robin (Michael Cera), alias Dick Grayson, the orphan he accidentally adopted while dazzled as the Major (Mariah Carey) introduced the new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who wants him and the law to work together, and the attempts by tough-love butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to get him to face his greatest fear – family.
Opening with a Batman voiceover saying how every important movie starts with a black screen, the film is playfully self-referencing (there’s even a clip from the Adam West TV series) and plunges right into the action as Batman takes on and defeats a whole army of super-villains, is hailed as Gotham’s saviour once again and then goes home to the emptiness of Wayne Manor. Still scarred by his parents’ murder, Wayne has shut himself off from any emotional feelings or relationships, that way he can’t get hurt. He even watches the Tom Cruise romance Jerry Maguire as if it’s a comedy.
While the Dark Knight probed Batman’s dark side, it never went as deep into what makes him tick as this one does. And yet, for all its serious psychoanalytical observations, it remains a huge explosion of fun, which, let’s face it, is what the audience have gone for.
Goaded by The Joker, Batman plans to steal the weapon needed to banish him to the Phantom Zone (leading to an amusing scene as he visits Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to find the Man of Steel (Channing Tatum) hanging out with the other Justice League superheroes at a party to which he’s not been invited). Ignoring Commissioner Gordon’s warnings, Batman falls victim to Joker’s manipulations, leading to the escape from the Zone of the worst of the worst villains, among them Sauron, the Gremlins, Voldemort (Eddy Izzard), Godzilla, King Kong, Oz’s flying monkeys and even the Daleks.
To defeat them, he has to realise that it’s okay to accept help, just as it’s okay to accept family (and finally let Dick call him dad) as he joins forces with not only Alfred (wearing a retro Batman costume), Barbara and Robin (the origin of the costume another cute joke), but also pretty much every DC super hero and villain you can think of, including Harlequin, Bane, Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and, er, The Condiment King. Although there are moments of quite melancholy, for the most part this is a dizzying hyperkinetic whirlwind of nonstop entertainment. Top that Ben Affleck! (Cineworld Solihull; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza;Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
One night in 1986, Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year-old Indian boy from an impoverished village near Khandwa, where his illiterate mother (Priyanka Bose) works as a manual labourer, accompanies his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to a railway station. While Guddu goes to look for work, Saroo is left to sleep on a bench. Awaking, with Guddu not returned, he tries to look for him, climbs aboard a decommissioned train and falls asleep. When he wakes, he’s miles away and, unable to disembark, remains on the deserted train until it stops in Calcutta, 930 miles from his home, two days later. Wandering the streets, he’s eventually taken to an orphanage for street kids and, when attempts to find his village and family prove fruitless, it’s arranged for him to be adopted by a kindly Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham, Nicole Kidman), who live in Tasmania.
Some 20 years later, now with another adoptive brother, the troubled Mantosh, studying for hotel management and memories of his previous life having faded along with his ability to speak Hindi, a plate of jalebis prompts sensory memories of his childhood and, plagued by thoughts of his lost brother, mother and sister Shekila, Saroo (BAFTA winner Dev Patel) begins an intensive Google Earth search to track down his birthplace, Ganestelay, of which no one had ever heard, a quest that drives him to the edge of breakdown.
Making a few inevitable dramatic changes (fictional American girlfriend, Lucy, played by Rooney Mara, is based on his actual then girlfriend Lisa), director Garth Davis works directly from Brierley’s acclaimed memoir, A Long Way Home, to provide a first person perspective, though, thankfully, without any annoying voice over exposition.
A career best performance by Patel is well matched by an understated, but powerful Oscar- nominated turn from a deglamourised Kidman with Pawal especially endearing and vulnerable as young Saroo. However, while it never goes for manipulative sentimentality as it addresses themes of isolation, identity, family and brotherhood, the second half of Saroo’s story is never quite as engaging as the first with its images of life for India’s homeless and lost children. That said, as it reaches the eventual reunion, audiences will be reaching for their tissues. And the title? Like Saroo’s village, that’s a lexical misunderstanding you’ll have to wait until the final scenes to uncover. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Winner of the Best Film Oscar, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, this is an arty but emotional look at life for gay black men in America, one that, other than one brief moment, discreetly shot from behind, deliberately avoids any sexual elements.
Divided into three chapters, it opens with Little, detailing the life of the titular black schoolboy Chiron (Alex Hibbert), growing up in 80s inner city Miami, struggling with his confused sexuality, school bullying and a junkie nurse mother, Paula (ferociously played by Oscar nominee Naomie Harris), and taken under the wing of Juan (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who becomes his surrogate father and who, in one painfully poignant moment, is asked to explain what a faggot is. At school, Chiron strikes up a tentative friendship with classmate Kevin (Jaden Piner), developing feelings that play out across the following two chapters.
Juan having passed away, part two, Chiron, finds the boy now a teenager (Ashton Sanders), still harassed by school bullies (here Terrel, played by Patrick Decile), still befriended by Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who calls him Black, and still calling on Juan’s girlfriend Teresea (Janelle Monae) when things get bad at home. He’s learned to hide his sexuality and developed a tough attitude, but is still haunted by his uncertain identity, something that reinforces his position as an outcast. As the chapter moves to its conclusion, it shifts from the tender beach scene of the first sexual contact to Chiron exploding in anger at Terrel, who goaded Kevin into beating him up as part of a ‘game’, and being taken away by the cops.
The final chapter, Black, fast forwards ten years, a bulked up Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) now living in Atlanta and has followed Juan into pushing drugs. One night, he gets an out of the blue call from Kevin (Andre Holland), apologising for what happened and inviting him to visit. Briefly stopping over to see his mother, now a burned out woman in a rest home, wracked with guilt over the way she treated her son, he drives to Miami for a reunion, not quite knowing what he expects to happen, especially on finding Kevin a married father, full of regret that life didn’t turn out as he anticipated.
The classroom incident aside, there’s no major dramas, but rather a small scale, slow burn examination of identity, both as black and gay, of the effects of poverty and of masculinity and how it can become toxic in the face of destructive external influences and cultural pressures. Making effective use of soundtrack and imagery, Jenkins avoids both cliché and sentimentality, but never softens the blows in showing how the stigma of being gay in a macho black culture can lead to both devastating alienation and self-destructive violence. (Cineworld 5 Ways. Solihull; Tue/Wed Electric )
Personal Shopper (15)
Having played personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s actress in Olivier Assayas’s previous film, The Clouds of Sils Maria, this time Kristen Stewart takes centre stage as Maureen, the introverted personal shopper to demanding German supermodel/designer Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). She’s in charge of selecting and collecting the clothes, shoes and jewellery for her client’s appearances at assorted high profile events, but is under strict orders not to try anything on. She does, of course, both borrowing the items and staying in Kyra’s plush apartment whenever she’s out of town.
In addition, she’s also trying to make contact with her dead twin brother Lewis, who was also a medium and with whom she shares the congenital heart defect that killed him. They vowed that whoever went first would try and make contact with the other, which she’s trying to do in the decaying old Parisien house where he died, as well as seeking to rid it of any lingering spirits so his former girlfriend (Sigrid Bouaziz)) can sell it and move on.
She senses a presence, although, as a subsequent cary scene reveals, it’s not that of her brother. But this isn’t the only tension at play. Midway in, Maureen starts getting texts from an unknown caller, who creepily seems to know her every move as well as her fears and desires, providing her access to a hotel room where they never meet. And then there’s a murder to add another level of intrigue, though this and the killer’s reveal seem almost like a shrug in the narrative.
Weaving between states of mind and shifting genres, psychological or supernatural horror one moment, Hitchockian thriller the next, the film is as enigmatic and hard to read as its central character, who may or may not be psychotic, consumed by guilt or riddled with a dark desire to be something or someone she is not. Stewart delivers a compellingly blank performance, one which makes the emotions all the more powerful when they actually surface even when the film is frustratingly ambiguous, as for example, whether the mysterious texts are, as she messages at one point, from the living or the dead.
Even if does deliver the ectoplasmic shock audiences expect, it is, as you might surmise, all rather arty and experimental, exploring notions of dislocation, physically and psychologically, as well as fetishism and auto-eroticism, summoning an air of dread and foreboding, not least in a scene where doors open automatically to let through, well, apparently nobody . Its frequent fades to black and the open-ending won’t satisfy those who like things neatly tied up, but for those willing to succumb to its guile it has many rewards. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
Essentially an animal version of The X-Factor, Brit director Garth Jennings charts the well worn plot (last served in The Muppet Movie) of putting on a show to save the theatre. Here, the strapped impresario is a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who’s inherited his love of theatre, and the theatre itself, from his father,. However, times have changed and his productions have all been flops. He’s broke, the place has seen better days and his llama bank manager is looking to repossess the building.
So, he tells his wooly childhood chum Eddie (John C, Reilly) he’s going to mount a singing contest to pull in the crowds, pooling the last of his cash to offer a $1000 prize. Unfortunately, a slight mishap on the part of his doddery chameleon assistant Miss Crawly sees the posters printed up as $100,000 and spread all over town, inevitably attracting a whole host of hopeful contestants.
The auditions include a snail singing Ride like The Wind and three butt shaking bunnies, but the final selection comes down to Johnny (Taron Egerton), the soulful-voiced gorilla son of a local criminal, Ash (Scarlett Johannson), the talented half of a porcupine punk duo, Mike (Seth MacFarlane), an arrogant egotistical sax-playing mouse with a thing for Sinatra swing, the pairing of Teutonic hog Gunter (Nick Kroll) with Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), the beleaguered mother of 25 piglets and Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with serious stage fright issues.
Things play out pretty much as you’d expect with the backstage and homelife stories, things all falling apart (quite literally when Buster introduces a squid light show complete with a water tank to impress Eddie’s retired diva granny, Nana, into bankrolling him), the revelation that the prize money’s non-existent and, of course, everyone coming together to put on the show anyway.
It’s not hugely original, but it is colourful and energetic, packed with a bundle of familiar pop hits, plenty of laughs, some emotional touches and two knockout scenes, one involving Rosalita dancing in a supermarket’s aisles to The Gipsy Kings’ Bamboleo and Meena’s showstopping rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah while, as the young Nana, Jennifer Hudson also gets to deliver a stunning operatic version of Lennon and McCartney’s Carry That Weight. It’s never climbs Zootopia or Secret Life of Pets heights, but it’s infinitely more fun than anything Simon Cowell’s put his name to in recent years. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
T2 Trainspotting (18)
For many Trainspotting was the defining film about 90s Britain. Now, 21 years later, the original team, minus Kevin McKidd (but to whom homage is paid) return for the sequel, adapted from Irvine Welsh’s Porno. Returning from Amsterdam, where he’s been living for the 20 years since running off with the money he and his mates stole, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) first hooks up with Spud (Ewan Bremner), who’s back on heroin after his life and marriage fell apart, just in time to save him from suicide. Next on the reunion list is Simon, Sick Boy, who’s running a sex tape blackmail scam with his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). He’s rather less pleased to see Mark, but decides to pretend to be friends so he can stitch him up like he did to them. This entails enlisiting him to raise the money to transform the run down pub he’s inherited into a brothel, with Veronika as the madam. Meanwhile, Begbie (Robert Carlyle), as much as a hard man psycho has ever, engineers an escape from prison and sets about resuming his life of crime, roping son Frank in as reluctant accomplice. Although Simon keeps Mark’s return from him, the pair eventually bump into one another (in a very funny scene involving adjacent toilet cubicles), fuelling Begbie’s determination to get kill him.
With none of the four’s lives having amounted to anything in the past two decades, basing the narrative on the mantra ‘first comes opportunity, then comes betrayal’, that’s pretty much it for the plot. Mark and Sick Boy enlist Spud’s help in redesigning and refurbishing the pub while he himself comes off the scank and, encouraged by Veronika (with whom, naturally, Mark has sex) starts writing down stories about their past misadventures (essentially an excuse to revisit the original, both verbally and in flashbacks).
A run in with the law facilitates a contrived cameo from Kelly Macdonald as Diane Coulston, now a lawyer, as well as fleeting moments from James Cosmo as Mark’s dad and Shirley Henderson as Gail, now Spud’s estranged wife, but otherwise, as before it’s the dynamic between the four central characters that drives things along.
At one point Sick Boy accuses Mark of wallowing in nostalgia rather than moving on, and, to an extent, the same could be leveled at the film which looks to recreate the feel of the original with its hyperkinetic camerawork, trippy sequences and constant throbbing soundtrack. Some things work, others don’t. The plot isn’t especially inspired, so the film relies on the characters and the themes of friendship, self-interest and betrayal, but, while more melancholic this time around, it doesn’t have anything new to add to the original, history repeating itself in the final turn of events.
There’s a very funny vein of often dark humour and, rather like playing out the greatest hits, an updated revisiting of Renton’s Choose Life monologue where the film identifies mobile phones and social networking as the new heroin. As indeed is nostalgia, effectively using it to illustrate the danger of how, in trying to relive the past, we end up running to stand still. Which, to some extent, rather sums up the film itself. (Sun/Tue: Electric)
Vicerory’s House (12A)
Anxious to divest itself a troublesome part of the Empire it could no longer effectively or economically rule, in 1947 the British government stitched up the Indian people by partitioning the country into India and Pakistan. The film, a strong comeback by director Gurinda Chadha and her writer-husband Paul Mayeda Berges after the misfiring It’s A Wonderful Afterlife and Mistress of Spices, indicates (although many will disagree) that it also stitched up Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), who was charged with finding a solution and overseeing the handover, unaware that a deal had already been done with Nehru by Churchill for the creation of Pakistan.
Arriving with his wife, Lady Edwina (a perfectly accented Gillian Anderson), Lord Louis Mountbatten is to be the last Viceroy of India, his job to smooth the path to independence and self-governance, not an easy task given the country’s in turmoil with increasing conflict between Hindus. Sikhs and Muslims, the latter wanting their own nation. As such the film follows two parallel stories. The first focuses on the Mountbattens, she the voice of reason keen to see the people’s lot improved, he looking to maintain diplomacy while dealing with his own officials, notably Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay (Michael Gambon), who aren’t necessarily telling him everything, and the prime movers for independence, Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Jinnah (Denzil Smith) and Ghandi (a brief but striking turn by Neeraj Kabi), as well as Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow), the man brought in for the nigh impossible task of drawing up the actual Partition boundaries that would divide not only the country, but families and communities.
In much the same manner as the recent United Kingdom, set in the same year, all of this affords an insight into the duplicitous nature of English politics and the motives behind the way the Partition was eventually set, while, set against this, is the fictional account of two civilians, Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Aalia (Huma Querishi), he part of the Viceroy’s retinue, she part of his wife’s. They are in love, but he’s Hindu and she’s Muslim and has already been promised in marriage by her father (the late Om Puri), a former political prisoner who went blind, but was looked after in jail by Jeet.
Their story is a rather schematic and clichéd contrivance designed to serve the narratyive microcosm and, for all its romantic tribulations and some anguished moments, is less compelling than the account of the problems facing Mountbatten in trying to prevent the whole place descending into ever more ferocious bloodshed than it’s experiencing already.
Nonetheless, impressively mounted with some striking images and good use of original Movietone news footage, it holds the attention and casts light on a now rather overlooked period of British history, the end credits revelation of Chadha’s personal family investment in the telling bringing powerful resonance. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
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