MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Releases, Fri May 26-Thu Jun 1




Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (12A)

After the last instalment, On Stranger Tides, it would have seemed a good idea to consign the franchise to dry dock, but no, six years on and this time with two Norwegian directors, Kon-Tiki’s  Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, at the helm, the core cast have been reassembled for a further folly. This one also sees the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will and Elizabeth, albeit only in book-ending sequences, the latter not putting in an appearance until just before the end credits.

It opens with their young son, Henry, tracking down The Flying Dutchman on which dad;s cursed to sail for eternity and promising to find Poseidon’s Trident, an artefact that can reputedly lift all sea curses. Fast forward five years and the now adult Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is still in pursuit of the trident, a quest that brings him into contact with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario),  whose skills in astronomy have seen her condemned as a witch, who, guided by her unknown father’s diary, is searching for an unseen map to an uncharted island, though she has no time for myths or supernatural mumbo jumbo. Inevitably both their paths also cross with that of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), first seen quite literally robbing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building thrown the two in an impressive set piece of destruction.

Now, as it happens, Henry was part of a British Navy crew pursuing a pirate ship that sailed into the infamous Devil’s Triangle and was overrun by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish former pirate hunter who, along with his mutilated crew, are cursed to live as dead men (some of them missing assorted body parts). He spared Henry to deliver a message to Sparrow with whom he has unfinished businesss (you’ve not forgotten anything, their connection is later explain in a backstory about how Jack – a CGI youthful Depp – got his surname and captain’s hat), but is unable to escape his watery prison unless Sparrow parts with his magical compass. Which, of course, he duly does, sending Salazar back to the world to resume his pirate killing spree, which, in turn, leads to him striking  deal with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s now the pirate top dog, to get his hands on Jack.

Narratively bloated,  there’s about three different plots going on at the same time, gradually coming together as yet more backstory is thrown into the mix with, essentially, everyone, including David Wenham’s colonial naval captain, chasing Jack, Henry and Carina. All of which results into a lot of noise, action and some spectacular CGI (Salazar’s crew and some zombie sharks among the best) but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohension. Thwaites and Scodelario  basically take the Bloom and Knightley roles from the first two films, and do so engagingly enough, while, as ever, Rush brings more heart and gravity  to proceedings than they warrant. Bardem makes for a driven obsessed villain, but his character and performance are eclipsed by the special effects of his seaweedy hair, squid ink blood  and ravaged face. Which brings us to Depp.  He does pretty much what he always does with his pirate parody, the drunken slurring, the sexual innuendos,  but what was once amusing is now just tediously annoying. There’s times when it captures the spark of the original, but, when  a cameoing Paul McCartney as Jack’s uncle is one of the highlights, perhaps, despite the post credits clip,  it’s time to consign this to David Jones’ locker once and for all.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (PG)

Although set  only a year after Dog Days, the five-year gap between films means the young cast are now too old to reprise their characters, so returning director David Bowers, who co-scripted with the books’ creator, Jeff Kinney has opted to give everyone a new face.  So young Greg Heffley is now played by Jason Drucker, while his here older, and rather dumber, rock drummer brother. Rodrick is Charlie Wright, although facially it’s hard to believe they’re from the same gene pool, while stepping into the slightly younger skewed mom and dad shoes are Reese Witherspoon and Tom Everett Scott. The youngest Heffley, toddler Manny, is played by twins Dylan and Wyatt Walters while Owen Asztalos makes a brief appearance as Rowley.

As the title would suggest, this is a road trip movie and, essentially, it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation but with more poop jokes. The set-up is that this year’s annual Heffley trip in the name of family time will be cross country to Meemaw’s 90th, all the luggage piled into the boat the’re trailing behind them. Needless to say, neither Greg nor Rodrick are keen on going, especially not since mom’s insisted on everyone, her husband included, checking in their cellphones, laptops, etc  for the duration. However,Greg’s persuaded that, if he can engineer some change in directions, this is an opportunity to visit a big video gamers’ convention and get to appear in the next YouTube video with his hero, Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover), which, he figures, will make everyone forget about the video of him getting a  diaper stuck to his hand at a family diner that went viral and earned him the humiliating sobriquet of Diaper Hand. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan, with Greg accidentally getting on the wrong side of  the beefy beardo father of a snotty family at one of the motel stopovers and Manny accidentally winning a piglet at a county fair, giving rise to just one of the many scatological gags.

Cast change aside, this pretty much sticks to the familiar formula with Kinney’s stickman line drawings punctuating the live action, Greg’s voiceover and  a steady stream of broad physical slapstick and getting covered in assorted liquids as its cranks out its message about the importance of family and spending time together.

It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with  a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Red Turtle (PG)

Featuring absolutely no dialogue,  but rather natural sound and a sympathetic score,  this collaboration between Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Dudok de Wit is a stunning animated tale, part CGI, part hand-drawn, about a man shipwrecked on a desert island who determines to escape, but finds every attempt ruined by a mysterious red turtle. Why doesn’t it want him to  leave and what’s going on when, after his attempt to kill it, he takes pity, gives it water and  the creature transforms into a woman and they have a child together?

A poetic at times surreal allegory about time, nature, survival and companionship that relies more on tone and feel than narrative, and, even if there is a particularly powerful tsunami sequence and a tense moment when it seems the man might drown, this isn’t for those who prefer their animation to be fast and funny (which rather rules out the child audience, though they’ll be amused by the supporting crabs), but it’s a gorgeous looking, thoughtful and touching work that rewards patience.   (Electric)

Spark: A Space Tail (U)

A teenage monkey living on the remnants of Bana, a planet that was torn to pieces by the power-mad ape General Zhong(voice hammed by Alan C. Peterson), who also  killed his ruler dad and abducted his mom (Hilary Swank), Spark (Jace Norman), learns Zhong now plans to unleash the Space Kraken, creating black holes and ruling the whole universe. So, even though he doesn’t believe he’s up to the job,  it’s up him and his friends, Vix (Jessica Biel), the martial artist fox and Chunk the tech-whiz warthog to stop him. Despite star voice turns thet also include Susan Sarandon as Spark’s robot nanny and Patrick Stewart as an eccentric army captain, this Canadian-South Korean hotchpotch is decidedly at the bottom end of the animation ladder that lacks any real charm and simply builds its plot and characters from other, better films. The only spark here is in the title. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)




A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)


Alien: Covenant (15)

Set 10 years after Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the Alien saga offers further insights into the creatures’ origins, although the film itself feels more like a  bridging link to the next chapter rather than a self-contained narrative in its own right.  It’s 2104 and Covenant is taking 2000 sleeping colonists and several trays of embryos to a new habitable world. The ship and its systems (Mother) are under the control of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the latest upgrade of the original David model from the last film, the latter seen as the film opens talking with his creator (Guy Pearce) in an airless, sterile white room, naming himself after Michelangelo’s statue and already displaying a sense of superiority over his human ‘father’.

Fast forward and, aboard the ship, a solar storm causes malfunctions that require the crew to be woken from their hyper-sleep early, unfortunately one of them (James Franco, seen via a home video), the husband of first officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is burned to death in his pod, leaving the faith-driven Oram (Billy Crudup) as next in charge. In the process of making repairs, they intercept a radio signal which Tennessee (David McBride) identifies as someone singing Take Me Home Country Roads.  With the signal’s source tracked to a planet that seems to be the perfect new Eden they’re seeking, Oram decides to investigate and possibly use this as the resettlement base rather than the one planned, which will take a further seven years to reach.  Daniels advises otherwise, but is overruled. So you already have a good idea of what’s in store.

Headed up by Oram and Daniels, the search team includes a clutch of assorted disposable characters, among them Oram’s own wife, and, ploughing through the cosmic storm and landing they find not only fields of wheat, but also the rusting remains of the Prometheus. With things already looking ominous, they get trouser-soilingly worse when two of the team are infected by some sort of spores and have baby aliens bursting out of their bodies, resulting in the landing ship and anyone onboard going kaboom,  leaving the survivors stranded. Clearly being hunted by the creatures, they’re rescued (but not before Walter sacrifices his hand to save Daniels) by a mysterious cloaked figure who leads them to an abandoned city full of Pompeii-like  petrified corpses. The figure, of course, turns out to be David (Fassbender again) who tells how they crashed, killing expedition leader Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in the process as well as releasing the deadly pathogens they were carrying and wiping out all life.

Naturally, that’s not strictly how it happened, David’s flashback revealing he deliberately dropped the virus and himself killed Shaw as part of his God-complex experiments on destroying and creating life, essentially an excuse for Scott to serve up several genetic-mutation variations on the familiar alien, including one of spookily humanoid form.

So, their numbers gradually whittled down, it’s up to Tennessee to rescue those left alive. However, even though  he, Daniels, Walter and one of the remaining disposables make it back aboard  the Covenant, that’s not the end of things by far, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, with two synthetic lookalikes, which on is on the ship and which is lifeless back on the planet.

Given the franchise trajectory and the in-production sequel, none of this is much of a spoiler, the real disappointment is how generic it all becomes with the assorted gun battles, acid sprays, dismemberments, face huggers and running through  dark narrow spaces pausing only for a discussion between Walter and the cool but patently deranged David on their different natures and the purpose of creation.

Fassbender does a great job in both roles, including an unsettling scene of sibling homoeroticism, Crudup layers complexity into his reluctant leader trying to do the right things and McBride gets to play the reliable man of action you need when it’s all going to hell. However,  despite everyone’s somewhat limited characterisation, it’s Waterson who is clearly the heart and soul of the film, delivering a spunky, gritty determination clearly intended to  echo  Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; 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.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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. (Empire Great Park; 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. (Tue: Electric)


Colossal  (15)

Thrown out of their shared New York apartment by boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) who’s fed up with her coming home hung-over from all night drinking sessions, online journo Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her now-abandoned family home in the sticks. Here she runs into, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a good-natured friend from junior school, who offers her a job at the sprawling family bar he’s inherited where she gets to both serve the drinks and sample them,  hanging out after closing timer with Oscar and his loser buddies, the bitter Garth  (Tim Blake Nelson) and the dim but good-looking Joel (Austin Stowell), the latter of whom she eventually ends up bedding.

Waking from another alcoholic binge with no memories of the night before, she finds the TV buzzing with reports about a giant lizard-like monster that appeared from a lightning cloud in the South Korean capital of Seoul, made some odd gestures, and vanished, leaving a swathe of destruction behind. It happens again, the next night, at exactly the same time and, for all her alcohol fuddled thinking, it doesn’t take long for Gloria to realise that the appearances coincide exactly with her making her drunken way back home through the local kids’ playground. Or that it mirror her nervous tic of scratching her head.

So, she drags the three guys down to the sandbox and gets them to watch an app on their mobile phones while she runs through a series of gestures and actions, the monster again appearing in Seoul and doing the same movements. It also transpires that this isn’t the first time it appeared. That would have been 25 years ago, something connected to Gloria’s repressed memories of  an incident as a schoolgirl. Then it gets more complicated when the monster is joined by a giant robot as she realises that Oscar, who turns out to have quite a jealous streak, has the same abilities.

The latest by cult Spanish writer-director  Nacho Vigalondo, it centres on an intriguing conceit, the monster and the robot clearly metaphorical manifestations of  Gloria’s messed up psyche and Oscar’s pent-up  resentment and anger. Although the root cause of all this is eventually explained, Vigalondo makes no concerted attempt to detail why events should take place in Seoul, its suspension of disbelief extending to some basic logic in terms of character motivations and action. Nor does there seem more than a cursory concern on Gloria’s part for the hundreds of deaths her towering metaphor has caused.

The supporting characters, Tim especially, aren’t given much more than a one dimensional treatment, indeed, save for one scene as Oscar’s nasty side ignites,  both Garth and Joel are pretty much dispensable to the plot. That said, blending in some black comedy, there’s a compelling psychological intrigue that keeps you involved as the film evolves from rom com to Godzilla-like disaster  movie to  a potent character-driven self-absorption melodrama about two psychological trauma. Playing against type, the two leads are the core, Hathaway turning in a disarming self-mocking note while Sudeikis perfectly shades his character’s transition from ostensible nice guy to one consumed by his self-pity and inner demons. In many ways it echoes the recent A Monster Calls, although its climax, while equally cathartic, is rather less redemptive and decidedly unforgiving. And oddity, but one well worth puzzling over.  (Electric)

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


Frantz (12A)

Only ever seen in a couple of flashbacks, the titular character is a German soldier killed during WWI, the fiancé of Anna (Paula Beer) who is now, in the spring of 1919,  living with his grief-ridden parents,  doctor  Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stoetzner) and his wife, Magda (Marie Gruber), in the small  German town of Oldenburg.  Then, one day, visiting his empty grave, she sees someone else has left flowers. This turns out to be Adrien (Pierre Niney), a  delicate young Frenchman who tells her he was a close friend of Frantz  who, before the war studied in Paris and  was a confirmed Francophile.

She takes him to meet the Hoffmeisters, thinking he may bring them some comfort. Although the father’s hatred of the French over his son’s death means this doesn’t initially go well, Adrien is gradually accepted and becomes a frequent, welcomed visitor as, a former orchestra violinist, he recalls teaching Franzt, who also played fiddle, and the two of them visiting the Louvre. An attraction also clearly grows between him and Anna; however, Adrien has a truth to confess in that his connection to Frantz was not what he has told them, but, although not what you’re teased into thinking from the Paris flashbacks, something far more significant and, potentially, unforgiveable, a revelation that sees him return to France and yet a further complicated development in his and Anna’s relationship when she visits and meets his family.

Loosely based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby, although the second half other narrative is original, this is director Francois Ozon’s first film to be shot in mostly German with large parts of it in black and white. However,  his meticulous craft and familiar themes remain firmly in evidence,  the film mirroring the similarities between the two countries and the bereaved after the war, with a  pacifist message of reaching out in reconciliation, forgiveness and how sometimes a lie is better than the truth.

Beer is terrific, but all the core cast deliver strong and engaging performances, its mournful tone finding a note of hope and resolution as it ends with a poignant final shot of two characters contemplating one of Manet’s most famous but disturbing paintings.  (Electric)


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  a 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 empath 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 mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign.  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  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

Forget what you know of the Arthurian legend, this is Guy Ritchie’s vision recast as a sort of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Broadswords, more rock n roll than troubadour. The gist is that, having defeated the evil mage Mordred, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is then betrayed by his power-thirsty brother  Vortigern (a camped up  Jude Law) who, sacrificing his own wife to do so, summons up a demon to kill both Uther and his queen, but not before they manage to send their infant son off in a boat, Moses style.

The young boy fetches up in Londinium where he’s named Arthur, raised in a brothel and  taught the art of street fighting. Grown to adulthood, Arthur (often shirtless Brad Pitt lookalike Charlie Hunnam channelling Tom Hardy)  hangs out with his fellow chancers  Tristan (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Blacklack (Neil Maskell), only to have a run in with a bunch of Vikings who’ve mistreated one of the prostitutes.  Unfortunately, they turn out to be under the protection of Vortigern, who’s now king, leading to his enforcers, the Blacklegs, raiding the brothel and Arthur having to go on the run. At the same time, the waters around the city drop, revealing a rock with a sword handle sticking out of it, prompting stories about a future king who will return, pull it out and free the people from tyranny. To which end Vortigern’s forcing all men of a certain age to try their luck, Arthur among them. To everyone’s surprise, he does, only to faint from the power surge he experiences, awakening in the dungeon where his uncle reveals his true lineage.

Meanwhile, The Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) a follower of the never seen Merlin, introduces herself to Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Uther’s former general, facilitates Arthur’s escape from execution and sets about convincing him to join the rebels, Percival (Craig McGinlay) and the colourfully named Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen) among them, and that he is the one destined to avenge his father; once that is, he’s learned to control the power of the sword, something that will entail a trip to the Blacklands to learn the truth about what happened.

The narrative, almost overwhelmed by the CG blitzkrieg of  giant snakes, giant elephants, thousands of virtual extras, a sort of rubbery squid-sirens version of Macbeth’s three witches and, as the Holy Grail would have, some watery tart, rattles along through a series of extravagant set pieces in exuberant but almost incoherent fashion as it borrows cheerfully from any number of sources, Robin Hood and the New Testament among them. Hunnam makes for a game reluctant hero and the rest of the cast are nothing if not enthusiastic, a cameoing  David Beckham included, and you can’t say it lacks for energy or entertaining action. However, it seems set  to be this year’s biggest blockbuster bomb, meaning we’ll likely never get to see Merlin or the Mage become Guinevere, let alone see them finish assembling the Round Table that serves for some lame gags at the end. Which, is, actually, quite a pity. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Mindhorn (15)

Hailed as the British comedy of the year, a title it might earn by default given the opposition so far, this big screen outing by the Mighty Boosh partnership of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay) is more accurately a second division Hot Fuzz that spoofs such naff 70s secret agent series as The Six Million Dollar Man. Indeed, that’s clearly the inspiration behind Mindhorn, both the name of the character and the TV show, in which the smugly arrogant Richard Thorncroft played the titular Isle of Man detective with a bionic eye that could reveal the truth.

Now, years after cancellation, he’s a bald washed-up has been with a paunch and a toupee reduced to doing commercials for male corsets and orthopaedic socks. Until, that is, his agent (Harriet Walter) sets him up with a job back on the Isle of Man where the police are trying to catch a killer (Russel Tovey), a mentally disturbed youth who calls himself Kestrel and will only talk to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The idea is that Thorncroft will talk to him on the phone in character while the cops, headed up by DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough), trace the call, while Thorncroft tries to milk the publicity with the help of his seedy old agent Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) and his former romantic interest co-star and old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) who now works for a local TV channel.

Naturally, nothing goes to plan, and as the plot thickens, Thorncroft discovers the suspect may not be the real killer, that his former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), is now married to Patricia and that he apparently has a daughter he knew nothing about.

There’s a high degree of silliness, some inspired, some not, as well as frankly embarrassing cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves while, as played by Steve Coogan,  the character of Peter Eastman who went on to mega success in the Windjammer spin-off series, just feels half-written. Coogan’s appearance also can’t help but prompt comparison with his own Alpha Papa, and not one that does this any favours.

Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (MAC)


Sleepless (15)

Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the  black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche,  in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.

Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down.  Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended  for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them.  To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.

So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a  stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Vue Star City)

Snatched (15

Trainwreck, her first starring feature, which she also wrote, proved Amy Schumer could be  just as funny on the big screen as on the small one. However, the follow-up, penned by the Ghostbusters remake scribe, Katie Dippold, might have audiences revising that opinion.

Here, she’s Emily, an insecure clueless loser who, in the opening moments, get fired from her sales assistant job and dumped by the boyfriend with whom she was going on an unrefundable trip to Ecuador. Unable to find anyone who’ll go with her, she guilt trips her mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), an equally dysfunctional, security-obsessed no life divorcee who lives with her cat and needy agoraphobic nerdy man-child son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), into going with her.

Once there, Emily’s picked up by a  handsome stranger (Tom Bateman) who invites her and her mom on a trip to explore the countryside, which is, of course, just a set-up to get them kidnapped and held for ransom by notorious local gangster Morgado (Oscar Jaenada). Managing to escape, killing Morgado’s nephew in the process, they make contact with the US State Department in the person of Morgan Russell (Bashir Salahuddin) whose only advice is to get to the Consulate in Bogata. To which end, they hook up with adventure seeker Roger (Christopher Meloni) who offers to get them there. However, a vengeful Morgado is on their trail, while, back at home, Jeffrey is pissing off Russell with his constant phone calls.

Pitched as a cringe comedy with a dash of the sort of screwball for which Hawn was famous in the 80s, it aims low with its  scattershot assortment of  sniping one-liners, humiliations, bodily function jokes (admittedly the welcome/whale cum gag is funny) and gross outs (at one point a doctor lures a tapeworm out of Emily’s mouth with a piece of meat), but still falls short. It also wants to have a sentimental centre with its mother-daughter bonding and Emily discovering some self-worth and purpose, but this never feels remotely genuine or earned.

Hawn flaps around in trademark manner as the often  judgemental, scolding Linda while, fine comedienne though she may be, Schumer can’t make the tossed off lines or the lazy piecemeal plotting work,  although, to her credit,  she does dispense with any hint of vanity in her self-deprecating and deglamourised performance. And, although their attempt to help Emily rescue her mother does have an amusing payoff, the  equally cartoonish turns by fellow vacationers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic” ex-special ops  friend Barb (Joan Cusack) are essentially as pointless as they are unfunny. An accusation that can be firmly levelled at the film as a whole. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; 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.  (Empire Great Park)






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