MOVIE ROUND-UP: This week’s new releases, Jul 29-Aug 4

NEW RELEASE

Jason Bourne (12A)

Nine years after what everyone, themselves included, assumed would be the last of their Bourne partnership, Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass have unexpectedly reunited for a fifth franchise outing (although Damon didn’t figure in 2012’s iffy The Bourne Legacy) that adds further details to Bourne’s backstory and introduces another CIA black ops programme with even wider global ramifications than Treadstone.

It involves a clandestine alliance between bureau director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones at his craggiest) and Kallor (Riz Ahmed) a social media guru who’s about to launch a new platform called Deep Dream that promises total privacy; except, that’s not quite the case behind the scenes. Information on this, an operation known as Iron Hand, and all other CIA black ops has been hacked by former operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who’s now working with liberty activist Christian Dassault. Her hack has, according to one CIA agent, the potential to be bigger the Snowden, which is why Dewey needs to shut Parsons down before she goes public, to which end he assigns a professional hitman, known only as the Asset (Vincent Cassel) to take her out.

Unfortunately, she’s made contact with an old acquaintance, Jason Bourne (Damon) who, after got his memory back, has gone off the grid and spends his time earning a crust at bare knuckle fights. Meeting up, she draws him into be revealing there was more to his father’s part in Treadstone that he knows. And more about his own involvement too. Flashing back to his father’s death, allegedly at the hands of terrorists, Bourne senses all is not what some want him to think, and so agreement is made to reveal the CIA’s dirty secrets.

It’ll come as no surprise to learn that Parson’s doesn’t make it to the end credits, leaving Bourne globe-hopping (Greece, Berlin, London, Washington, LA), pursued by the Asset (for whom this kill is personal), in his search for the truth behind his father’s death and to expose those responsible for the latest conspiracy, Dewey especially. Also in the mix is Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), an ambitious agency operative who persuades (or so she thinks) Dewey to let her take charge and try and bring Bourne back in. Needless to say, there’s double crosses and secret agendas wherever you look.

 

Featuring two breathtaking ultra-octane car chases (okay, one’s on a  motorbike) through the streets of Athens and LA, respectively, there’s not an ounce of fat anywhere, be it the complex screenplay with its various twists and turns, or in Greengrass’ dizzying direction which races from one hard-hitting sequence to the next.  Technology has progressed considerably since The Bourne Ultimatum, and the film makes slick and effective use of such new developments as  facial-recognition software, further compounding the plot’s contemporary resonance sin an era where personal freedom is balanced against national security.

It goes without saying that Damon is electrifying as the perfect weapon who also has a conscience and sense of guilt about who and what he is, while Cassel is a perfect ruthless  and determined assassin, Jones is his usual dry and complex self and Vikander, with her ambiguous motives,  reps a solid entry into the franchise should a further instalment be on the cards.  It’s actually difficult to see quite where things might go from here, but, that said, after the last Ultimatum, no one reckoned on  Damon being Bourne again either.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Finding Dory (U)

dory 2Thirteen years after Finding Nemo  swam to Oscar glory, Pixar  have gone back into the water for a sequel, this time putting the focus on Dory (a terrific Ellen DeGeneres), the blue tang with short-term memory loss who helped grumpy clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) find and rescue his missing son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence).

Despite what the title suggests, it’s not just a simple rerun of the original. Yes, Dory goes missing and has to be rescued when she’s scooped up from the ocean and taken to the Marine Life Institute, a Californian fish hospital and conservation centre (based on the real Monterey Bay Aquarium, though it doesn’t have the recorded voice of Sigourney Weaver as its tour guide) where its patients either become part of the theme park exhibits before being returned to the ocean or are shipped inland to an aquarium in Cleveland.  However, this is less about Marlin and Nemo finding Dory, than Dory finding herself.

Following a flashback prologue that shows her parents, Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton), looking to protect her from coming to any harm because of her disability, reminding her to always tell strangers about her short-term memory loss and to always follow the shells that will lead her home. Inevitably, things go wrong and Dory gets swept away in the undertow, forgetting all about her home and her parents.  Fast forward to a year after Finding Nemo, and, after a knock on the head while helping with a class on migration, the now grown Dory suddenly has a brief memory burst. She remembers her parents.

The details are fuzzy and they don’t last, but now she’s aware that she’s lost and that she needs to find her family and home, which, as further flashes reveal, are  somewhere called Jewel of Morro Bay. And so, accompanied by Marlin and Nemo,  she  sets off from the Great Barrier Reef  to California where she’s sure her parents will still be waiting for her.

Since, as Marlin points out, crossing the ocean has already been done, the film skips that bit and, after a narrow escape from a giant squid ( in which Nemo’s almost killed, prompting Marlin to snap at Dory  “Go wait over there and forget. It’s what you do best”), cuts to the chase as the three friends arrive at the Institute.

Inside, Dory finds herself tagged and is informed by Hank (Ed O’Neill), a grumpy seven-tentacled octopus with chameleon-like abilities (cue some brilliant blending in moments),  that this means she’ll be shipped off to Cleveland. However, if she agrees to give the tag to him (so he can have a peaceful specimen life in the aquarium), he’ll help her escape Quarantine and look for her parents.  What follows is a series of mishaps as Dory tries to get to the Open Ocean exhibit where she’s convinced her parents are being kept and Marlin and Nemo try to find Dory, all of which variously involves an excessively talkative oyster, a pair of territorial sea-lions (voiced by Dominic West and Idris Elba), a wild-eyed loon bird named Becky,  Dory’s short-sighted childhood whale shark friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who’s convinced his echolocation no longer works.

As well the fraught journeys through the sunken wreck and the  Institute, unlikely as it may seem, the film also contrives to introduce a car, or more accurately, truck chase action climax that sees Ed taking a very tentacles-on role and is arguably the funniest sequence. In decided contrast to  the Touch Pool, which presents  the interactive exhibit from the terrifying perspective of those being handled and will surely make kids think twice next time they’re at some Sea-Life centre.

That Dory and her folks will be reunited is never in much doubt, but even so the needle swings all across the emotional scales, from joy and hope to pathos and despair, surely likely to bring a lump to the throat when, echoing Marlin, our memory-challenged heroine asks herself  “what would Dory do?”   The theme of family is frequently sounded, but the film also reminds audiences to appreciate the moment and the things that make life worth remembering as well as, for all those who feel like outsiders, a reminder that they are not alone and to be who they are.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Ma Ma (12A)

Ma-MaVery little has been seen on these shores of director Julio Medem since 2001’s Sex and Lucia, and this  hardly seems like something to welcome him back with open arms. Diagnosed with breast cancer and a 70% chance of survival, unemployed divorcée Magda (Penelope Cruz) turns her attention to looking after her football-mad son. This brings her into contact with Arturo (Luis Tosar), a soccer scout who, while they’re talking at a match,  is told of  a car crash that’s killed his daughter and left his wife in a  coma. The tragedy brings them together in the face of adversity and a new family is forged. Which is when Magda gets the news the cancer has spread. However, she’s determined to have a positive attitude to the end.

Magda haunted by the presence of a Siberian girl her surgeon plans to adopt, the film pulls out all the tearjerking stops to deliver its seize the moment message, but, despite a solid turn by Cruz, it never overcomes the schmaltzy disease of the week TV movie at its heart with her cancer essentially just a plot device.  (Sat-Thu: MAC)

 

NOW PLAYING

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (15) The much anticipated big screen transition of the iconic 90s send up of the PR world inhabited by self-serving Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her drink and drugs addled predatory friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), while far from a disaster, does have a distinct whiff of Spice World about it, and not just because it features Baby Spice, Emma Bunton. She was, after all, a regular in the series, as was the endless stream of celebrity cameos, a signature trademark turned up to eleven here with a constant parade of fashion world faces  (Jean-Paul Gaultier, Lily Cole, Alexa Chung, Gwendoline Christie,  Stella McCartney, Ozwald Boateng  and Jerry Hall among them) as well as brief appearances by the likes of  Jeremy Paxman, Graham Norton, Joan Collins, John Hamm, Christopher Biggins, Barry Humphries  and ( best of the bunch) Rebel Wilson as a low budget airline stewardess with attitude.

And, of course, there’s Kate Moss around whom the plot loosely hangs as, accidently pushing her into the Thames at a launch party in an attempt to sign her as a client, Edina finds herself vilified for her apparent death. All of which serves as a plot device to get her and Patsy over to Cannes, on the run from the law and into another plot with Patsy trying to land a wealthy husband since they’re both broke and having to sponge off Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), the Anglo-African teenage daughter of Eddy’s still frumpy daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) they’ve taken along for her credit card.

Not that the  assorted plots are of much consequence, since they’re essentially just there to provide a platform for Saunders and Lumley to riff on their characters, of which, it must be said, Lumley emerges triumphantly and the best reason for seeing the film.

With Jane Horrocks as Bubble and June Whitfield as Edina’s mother joined by new addition Robert Webb as Saffy’s new police inspector boyfriend, it’s an inevitably (and typically) hit and miss affair, the latter embodied in a three-wheeled car chase that might have come from On The Buses Goes to the Riviera and the inordinate amount of time it takes to get going. For the most though, as Patsy replies when Lola asks why she stays with Eddy, “it’s bloody good fun”. Even if the airbrushing budget must have been enormous. (Vue  Star City)

 

The Angry Birds Movie (U)  Launched in 2009, the  iPhone game goes big screen as, sketching in the origin story over the opening credits and with a couple of flashbacks, we’re introduced to the Bird Island paradise of assorted flightless birds who live a contented, harmonious and good-natured existence. There are exceptions, of course, most notably Red (Jason Sudeikis doing feathered flippancy), a sarcastic cardinal bird with big eyebrows and anger management issues to the extent that he’s been exiled to live in a house on the beach.

Sentenced by the judge to anger management classes under ‘free rage chicken’ therapist Matilda (Maya Rudolph),  he meets up with three other anger-prone avians, hyperactive goldfinch Chuck (Josh Gad), quite literally short-fused blackbird Bomb (Danny McBride) who has a habit of exploding, and the bulky, monosyllabic Terrence (Sean Penn).

The main plot finally kicks in as a  ship rolls into the island, from which emerge Leonard (Bill Hader), a bearded green pig, and his assistant, proclaiming that they come in peace, but who patently have a hidden agenda. Naturally, even after loads more pigs turn up, the birds refuse to pay heed to Red’s suspicions until the swine make off with all the eggs (green ham and eggs, geddit Dr Seuss fans!) which they intend to turn into a hard boiled banquet. Now it’s time to turn to Red  for help who, along with his new buddies, sets off to find the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), the island’s long missing guardian, and take the fight to Piggy Island.

With a staple plot about the misfit coming good and the message about accepting who you are and the strength of family, along with the obligatory bodily function gags, older members of the audience can have fun spotting the pop culture puns, among them nods to The Shining and, ahem, Jon Hamm.

Fitfully rather than consistently amusing as it wings its way to the big action sequence as the birds attack the pig city and Leonard’s citadel, it’s well animated and entertaining enough for a flutter, though having seen a mommy bird regurgitating into her chicks’ paper bags,  some kids might be well put off taking lunch boxes to school. (Vue Star City)

 

The BFG (PG)

bfgOne of the attractions of Roald Dahl’s stories is that they are not all sweetness and light, there is a darkness and scariness to them in which children delight. Initially, it seems as though director Steven Spielberg and the late Melissa Mathison’s screenplay (she also wrote E.T.) might be remaining true to Dahl’s tone as it appears that, after plucking 10-year-old orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill, who makes her initially bossy character endearing without being cloyingly cute) from her orphanage bed after she sees him walking London’s night-time streets from her window, he may actually be preparing to fry her up for his dinner. However, inevitably such darkness gives way to a more soft, family friendly approach about the importance of dreams.

Although the ending is different, for the most part it’s faithful to the book’s setting (the 80s, including a reference to the Reagans) and  story as, carried away to Giant Country to stop her and telling everyone that giants are real, Sophie quickly becomes friends with her enormous-eared abductor, the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance), or, as she calls him, the BFG. It turns out that, a  sort of country bumpkin, he too is a lonely misfit, bullied by his  far bigger water-phobic fellow giants who, unlike him, are cannibals (and love snacking on human beans while he eats stinky Snozzcumbers),  go by such names as Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher and Meatdripper and refer to him as Runt.

He also reveals that his visits to the land of humans are not about gathering tasty morsels, but to blow pleasant bottled dreams through the windows of sleeping children. He collects and crafts these dreams by travelling through a magical pool to the upside down world of Dream Country and netting the “phizzwizards” of which they are made. The scene where he takes Sophie along with him is like something out of Fantasia, even if John Williams’ orchestral score is (as throughout the film) rather overpowering.

However, when Sophie drops her handkerchief,  Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) puts his enhanced sense of smell to work and tries and track her down, prompting her to devise a plan to enlist the Queen (Penelope Wilton) in capturing the giants and stopping their children-eating raids. While It also entails the film’s  biggest child-friendly fart scene, one not in the book,  as the royal household, korgis included, quaff the BFG’s frobscottle, resulting in an outburst of “whizzpoppers”.

The film’s biggest attraction is the BFG himself, facially designed to look like a distorted version of Rylance who, speaking in Dahl’s “gobblefunk”, brings huge warmth, soul and humanity to the role.

On the  downside,  the plot simply isn’t enough to sustain almost two hours, meaning there’s an awful lot of repetition and, with very little happening, it often feels sluggish, likely to cause much fidgeting among the small  children  who are its main audience.  There are, indeed, times when it is a thing of wonder, but, unfortunately, also too many when it’s just hugely wearisome. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Central Intelligence (12A) The latest in a long line of mismatched reluctant partners, this pairs Kevin Hart (small) with Dwayne Johnson (big), the former as motormouth Calvin Joyner, an accountant who feels he never lived up to his Student Most Likely To award back in High School, with the latter as Robbie Weirdicht who, as the school fat kid, (a CGI blubbery Johnson) was befriended by Golden Jet Joyner after a cruel prank left his naked in front of the whole school. These days, though, as Calvin’s shocked to discover after agreeing to meet up for a drink when he’s contacted via Facebook, he’s renamed himself Bob Stone and is  a pumped up  He-Man who effortlessly takes out a bunch of thugs in the café because he doesn’t like bullies. He also still goofily idolise the only person who was ever kind to him.

However, it also turns out that Bob works for the CIA and has actually hooked back up with Calvin because he needs his skills to track down the meeting place for an online auction deal to sell off stolen Americans satellite secrets by someone known as the Black Badger. On the other hand, could Bob himself be the traitor who, as CIA Agent Harris (Amy Ryan) tells Calvin, stole the secrets and killed his partner. Or maybe Bob’s been set up and Harris is actually the Black Badger.

It’s to the film’s credit that it actually manages to keep you guessing right up to the final showdown, but the ride there is never quite as much fun as it should have been.  There are some genuinely hilarious moments and, even though Hart’s pretty much wheeling out the same shtick as in Ride Along and Get Hard), he’s less irritating than usual while, once again, Johnson shows he has a real flair for comedy as well as the usual action man roles. He also brings a lot more character depth to the table than Hart, playing Bob as both the tough guy,  but also still a vulnerable insecure child haunted by his past humiliation, something that  pays off when he meets the now grown up bully responsible (Jason Bateman)  and is again cowed.

It’s let down by the  somewhat forced nature of the plotting, some underwritten secondary characters (such as Danielle Nicolet as Calvin’s high school sweetheart and now wife) and the fact that it stretches things out far longer than it need. However, there’s real chemistry between the two stars, who seem to be improvising many of their exchanges, such as lines about Taylor Swift’s ever-changing boyfriends and Calvin being like a black Will Smith (the outtakes also has Hart cracking a joke about the Rock) and it’s absolutely riddled with movie references, from Molly Ringwald and 16 Candles to Patrick Swayze and Roadhouse.

Also, the action sequences rip along (especially a shoot out at Calvin’s office)  and it’s pretty much devoid of the coarse vulgarity that seems to have become de rigueur in today’s comedies, and there’s also a surprise uncredited cameo at the high school reunion. It’s not up there in the Nice Guys league, but you won’t walk out feeling disappointed. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case (15) Firmly established as his generation’s finest horror director, following the Fast and Furious 7, James Wan returns to the genre, reuniting Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as real life Catholic demon hunters Lorraine and Ed Warren and, once again, drawing on a true story, here, in 1977, that of the  Hodgson family in Enfield,  the most documented haunting in England.

Opening with a flashback to the case that put the Warrens on the map, the Amityville Horror, Lorraine seeks to find out whether Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was truly possessed, as he claimed, when killed six members of his family. During the séance, Lorraine is confronted by a demon in the form of a tall white-faced nun and has a vision of her husband’s death, before being shocked out of her trance.  Saying nothing, but putting spook hunting on the back burner, she again experiences a vision of the nun and Ed’s death, all the more disturbing since he’s just painted a portrait of the figure. At which point they get a call saying a  family in England could do with their help. Arriving in Enfield, they discover that single  mother  Peggy  Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children are being tormented by the ghost of an elderly former resident who died in the armchair in the sitting room of their run down council house. He’s particularly focused on 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe), who frequently gets levitated, thrown around and possessed. Needless to say, it’s not long before they too are up their necks in flying furniture, swivelling crosses and the usual haunted house paraphernalia. Naturally, the demon of Lorraine’s vision, proves to have an integral part in the proceedings.

Although Wan adopts the familiar tropes (creaking doors, toys moving of their own accord, brief glimpses, sudden jolts) to serve up the tension, shocks and general feeling of looming dread, he does so with a masterful unsettling effect that never leaves you feeling cheated. At over two hours, it is undeniably too long and overly repetitive, but, O’Connor’s gorlummy accent and Franka Potente’s caricature sceptic  parapsychologist notwithstanding, the performances are strong, Wolfe and Farmiga’s especially so, and there’s a strong an compelling visual energy to it. And, when it finally gets there, the final showdown cranks things up to a suitable climax. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but Wan makes it worth seeing again.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City, Redditch)

Elvis & Nixon (12A)

elvis 2You couldn’t make it up.  On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley, the most famous entertainer on the planet, met with President Nixon, the most powerful man on the planet, having written him a letter asking to become a federal agent at large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, apparently so he could go undercover and help America in its fight against drugs and communism. As this was before Nixon became so paranoid he taped everything that went on the Oval Office, there’s no evidence as to what went down in the meeting, although events leading up to and after it  are documented and the photo of Nixon with Presley is the most requested from the National Archives.

However, writers Joey and Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes have put together a sharp, insightful and satirical screenplay about what might have happened. It’s actually not the first film to imagine what happened in the Oval Office, Elvis Meets Nixon having being directed by Allan Arkush (whose main claim to fame was sci fi robot romcom Heartbeeps) in 1997, but, covering the same ground, Liza Johnson’s comes with bigger stars. Sporting a King-size black wig(and the facial rash he’d developed on the flight to LA), Michael Shannon may not greatly resemble Presley but he undeniably inhabits him while Kevin Spacey is Nixon, while the cast’s rounded up by Alex Pettyfer as Presley’s lifelong friend (and subsequent Billy Joel/Beach Boys manager) Jerry Schilling, Johnny Knoxville as Sonny, another inner sanctum assistant, and Colin Hanks as Nixon aide “Bud” Krough alongside Even Peters as Nixon’s P.A. Dwight Chapin, both of whom are keen for the meeting to go ahead and give the President, who famously had no time for the counterculture,  some credibility among the youth vote.

Given the absurdity of the situation, it would be hard to play this any other way than for laughs, of which they are many (amusingly Elvis declares himself travelling undercover, but cheerfully wanders around airports and cafes in full regalia), but it also steps back on a couple of occasions to offer thoughtful and poignant meditations on the nature and cost of celebrity, Elvis explaining to Schiller how becoming who he is has caused him to lose who he was (“When I walk into a room, everyone remembers their first kiss watching one of my movies, but they never see me”, just as Nixon remarks how he feels misunderstood and uncomfortable with himself.

It’s a low key affair (which explains why it’s only getting a very limited release), but one full of such nice touches as an airport encounter with an Elvis impersonator, a  Drug Enforcement Administration official’s incredulity at Presley’s request, Elvis nervously rehearsing how he’ll greet Nixon, the one celebrity awed by the other, and a lovely moment as a smug Nixon invites Elvis to touch the moon rock given him by Aldrin, only to be told he has one too. (MAC)

Ghostbusters (12A)

ghostbusters 332 years since the original spook-hunters, Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, director Paul Feig has rebooted the comedy franchise, but with an all female team. Paranormal researcher Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and ditzy physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) once wrote a book claiming that ghosts were real. And were roundly ridiculed.  They’ve not spoken to one another for years, but now the book has resurfaced online, threatening Erin’s chance of tenure at her prestigious university.

However, they get the chance to prove they were right when, starting with an incident at a heritage museum, New York is suddenly plagued by all manner of supernatural and paranormal manifestations, that leads the pair, along with Abby’s genius engineer lab partner  Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones in Hudson’s TBC role but getting rather more and better lines), a  subway ticket officer and  amateur historian who provides this film’s Ecto-1, a converted hearse,  to become a spook fighting team, subsequently dubbed the Ghostbusters,  and go proton pack to slime to save Manhattan from an army of ghouls that have been set loose to destroy the world by some disgruntled  nutter (Neil Casey) in revenge for being treated as a freak.

Joining the ensemble is Chris Hemsworth doing droll comic relief as their hunky but slightly dim  sexually objectified receptionist Kevin. Unfortunately, that and a ghost that takes the giant shape of the team’s logo are the only notes of originality here. Rather than try and establish a whole new Ghostbusters universe, the film seem set on reminding everyone of the original. Not only are there cameos from  Murray, Aykroyd (who gets to deliver  the “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” line),  Hudson and Sigourney Weaver, but there’s the green glowing  Slimer, a rework of the theme song, a nod to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the familiar  green ectoplasm vomiting and the same fire station HQ, not to mention the uniforms and weapons bearing  close resemblance to those in the  original. Indeed, the film just seems too busy reminding audiences of the earlier movie to give it an identity of its own. Although, at times, McCarthy and Wiig seem to be doing their usual routines, the foursome bounce off one another amusingly enough and the ghosts are slightly scarier. On the other hand, a brief one line cameo by Ozzy Osbourne as himself is squirmingly embarrassing. Although it’s opened well here to generally positive reviews, response in America has been less  enthusiastic and it’s been denied a release in China, the world’s second biggest market, suggesting that, whatever the end credits might hint, it’s unlikely to scare up a  sequel.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

Ice Age: Collision Course (U)

ice ageFive films in and it’s clear the scriptwriters are running low on ideas, there is, after all, only so many times you can serve up a plot which relies on the characters trying to save themselves from extinction. They’re at it again here, this time threatened by a meteor shower akin to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, inadvertently triggered by Scrat who, in his constant quest to protect his acorn activates a flying saucer embedded in ice and got flung into space where, along with initiating the Big Bang, sends a huge  meteor c towards Earth.

Back on the planet, the prehistoric pals  have other problems too. Manny (Ray Romano) can’t reconcile himself to the fact that daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) is planning to marry and take off with, in his opinion, useless goofball Julian (Adam DeVine), all of which has led to him forgetting his and Ellie’s (Queen Latifah) anniversary.  Sabre-tooths Diego (Denis Leary) and Shira (Jennifer Lopez) would like to start a family, but are worried they’re too scary for the kids. And Sid the sloth is despairing of ever finding true love.

All this is temporarily put on the back burner when balls of rock start hitting the neighbourhood and they and the rest of the herd, among them Sid’s granny (Wanda Sykes) and annoying manic possums Crash and Eddie (Josh Peck, Seann William Scott), set off to find a way to divert the giant asteroid that’s heading their way.

Joining them in their efforts is Buck (Simon Pegg), the one-eyed dino-hunting weasel from the third film, who, returned from his subterranean world, is being pursued by a bickering family of three dino-birds whose egg-stealing activities he’s been thwarting and who are very keen to see the destruction go ahead.  For Manny and co, the  solution to preventing extinction  lies in travelling to the usual meteor crash site and using the magnetic crystals  from another asteroid to repel this one. However, a hollow rock, that’s become Geotopia, home to a bunch of New Agey  characters, among them an effervescent female sloth (voiced by Jessie J who also provides the obligatory song) and their spiritual leader, the Shangri Lama, as well as endowing them with eternal youth.

Visually, this is every bit as good as past outings, but, relying heavily on fart and body parts gags, the humour is pitched very much at a juvenile level and, with little dramatic tension, snappy dialogue or emotional pull, the film and its over-padded plot offer few diversions for anyone over the age of 10. At one point, Manny says “This isn’t working.” It’s time the filmmakers accepted the fact and let evolution takes its course (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 Independence Day: Resurgence (12A) Twenty years on from having their extraterrestrial  butt kicked, led by their Queen, the aliens are back, nastier and with a much bigger ship, looking to siphon off the Earth’s molten core.  Fortunately, some of the old guard are still around to put up a fight, among them scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), now a senior figure in the anti-alien defence,  and former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), although he’s not been in the best of mental or physical health since his mental close encounter. Levinson’s dad (Judd Hirsch) is still knocking about, although these days he divides his time between fishing and flogging copies of his memories lecturing at old folks’ homes.   There’s also eccentric scientist Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner), although he’s spent the last two decades in a coma. Fortunately, he snaps out of it just in time to figure out the mystery of the white sphere that popped out of the spacecraft the current US President ordered to be shot down and which bears a resemblance to the strange drawings Levinson and his French psychologist old flame old flame Catherine (Charlotte Gainsbourg) have been investigating in Africa.

There’s also the new guard, among them Dylan Hellier (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Will Smith’s character (who’s demise is brushed away in one line), who heads up an elite fighter pilot squadron that also includes bad boy Jake (Liam Hemsworth), Jake’s mate Charlie (Travis Trope) and Rain Angelababy) who also happens to be the daughter of the alien-defence force’s Chinese commander. No longer part of the tea, having resigned to look after dad, is Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe, who has a thing going with Jake, who has history with Dylan. Also on hand in the fight for survival is an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) who’s pretty nifty with a pair of swords and who, alongside Rain,  pretty much represents the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic element among an otherwise overwhelming American resistance.

As directed once more by Roland Emmerich, you know what to expect, namely global destruction and CGI effects on a gargantuan scale, and, with the aliens’ new weapon able to reverse gravity, uproot entire cities and drop them on other cities (presumably a trick they learned from watching Age of Ultron), he certainly doesn’t stint himself. There’s also the dry quips (mostly courtesy of Goldblum), the cheesy sentimentality and plenty of good old heroic gung ho as the film heads to not one but two race against the clock life or extinction climaxes. Delivering precisely what it says on the tin, it’s supersized popcorn entertainment, setting up a sequel as Earth’s survivors ready themselves to take the fight back to the aliens’ backyard.  (Vue Star City)

The Legend of Tarzan (12A)

tarzanDavid Yates’ attempt to reboot the live action adventures of  Edgar Rice Burrough’s iconic hero combines  origin flashbacks and sequel narrative into one story, as well as a revisionist message about slavery, but the result is both cumbersome and turgid.  Some years after reclaiming his heritage as Lord Greystoke, John  Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard) is approached by the Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) to return to Africa at the behest of  King Leopold II of Belgium who wants to parade the good works he’s carried out since colonising the Congo. Except, since Leo’s  up to his eyeballs in debt and the PM reckons this would be  a good opportunity for the Brits to step in and take over.

Clayton refuses, but is persuaded to change his mind by George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson) who, a Civil War veteran,  wants to travel gather evidence on  Belgium’s use of slavery. Naturally, a determinedly feisty Jane (Margot Robbie) insists on accompanying her husband.

The invite, however, is all a ruse by Leopold’s envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz doing his familiar suave sociopath) who has  struck  deal with a tribal chief (Djimon Hounsou) to deliver up Tarzan (who killed his son) in exchange for the fabled Opar diamonds, which Leopold intends to use to pay for an army of mercenaries to enslave the whole Congo.

Unfortunately, the film never gets off the starting block in delivering any real thrills or action, and things swiftly devolve into a lengthy plod as Tarzan and Williams cross the jungle to rescue Jane, who’s been taken prisoner by Rom, briefly punctuated by Tarzan’s rumble with his former gorilla brother. Skarsgard presents an impressive physical figure, but lacks any screen charisma and has more chemistry with his gorilla mother than with Robbie. Another problem is that, while the landscape looks terrific, the CG effects involving  animals are decidedly less persuasive, although the stampede of buffalos through the port is an effective touch. When he first appeared, Tarzan was the king of the swingers, but these days he’s withered on the vines. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Neon Demon (18)

neon“Who wants sour milk when you can have fresh meat?” So speaks a past her prime fashion model (Abbey Lee)  about new teenage Los Angeles catwalk arrival Jesse (Elle Fanning) with, as  make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) puts it a “deer in the headlights look.”  To emphasise just what allure such an ingénue has, her first professional shoot sees her stripped naked and covered in gold paint. Needless to say, as you’d expect from a  girl who confesses that her mother called her dangerous, she doesn’t remain an ingénue for long. Swiftly turning her modeling  agency boss’s (Christina Hendricks) prediction that she has star potential  into reality, she makes her runway debut for a pretentious designer (Alessandro Nivola), which doesn’t sit well with her older rivals, among them Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Lee).

The latest outing by Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive and Only God Forgives, takes a nightmarish horror look at the fashion industry and is, as you might imagine, an ultra-stylised, heavily aesthetisiced affair with a dark soul and an electrifying intensity that pushes things to the edge and beyond, complete with  lesbian necrophilia, cannibalism and  a particularly hard to watch dream sequence involving a knife and Jesse’s seedy motel manager (Keanu Reeves).

Fanning delivers  a complete u-turn on the diabetic coma sweetness of Aurora in Maleficent as, well aware of the power her looks give her,  Jesse begins to flex her new status, but  nothing  prepares you for the Argento, Cronenberg, Lynch car crash of the climax. (Tue/Thu: Electric)

 

Now You See Me 2 (12A)

nysm2 Playing on the public’s fascination for the art of illusion, the original film was one of 2013’s biggest hits of, so a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, it falls into trap of many such follow-ups in looking to serve up the same ingredients, but on a bigger scale. However, where the first film hooked viewers with its sleight of hand, this time round audiences already know to look beyond what they see, which rather takes some of the fun out of things.  On top of which the film reworks some of the original set-ups and character back stories in a way that feels like cheating, not to mention  not making any actual sense.

Set  a year after their exposure of  corrupt businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the Horseman have gone to ground and, after initiating them into the secret magic circle of The Eye, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) has gone back to his FBI day-job where he spends his time trying to keep the agency off their trail. With Isla Fisher dropping out, her place on the team is taken by Lizzy Caplan as Lula, a cocky illusionist recruited by Rhodes to join Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Wilder (Dave Franco) for a comeback sting to expose a high tech company’s CEO’s plans  to launch a product that that can access any laptop or mainframe on the planet.

Except they’ve been set up, a debacle that leads to them jumping down a construction tube in New York and emerging in Macao where they’re taken to meet wealthy presumed dead inventor Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) who tells them his former-partner’s privacy-breaching chip was actually his creation and he wants them to steal it back. They also meet up with a Chinese mother and son who run the world’s most famous magic store and discover that McKinney has an crazy evil twin, Chase (a hugely pointless and irritating addition), who’s working with Mabry. And, just to tie things together, the plot also contrives to reintroduce Tessler and Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), the magic debunker last seen behind bars as part of Rhodes’ revenge for the death of his father  when (as revisited again in flashback here) a trick went wrong. Again, nothing is what it seems.

Director Jon Chu races the endless misdirection along entertainingly enough, but the banter and dynamic between the Horsemen feels forced and the whole concept of The Eye (which makes the film a sort of magicians’ version of Charlie’s Angels) is extremely contrived, as is the love interest between Caplan and Franco that seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought. Admittedly, the illusions are well executed, as are the subsequent reveals, though the big one, while offering a pleasing grin, defies practical logic in its preposterousness.  A second sequel has already been announced, but audiences might like to recalls the phrase, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Secret Life of Pets (U)

pets4The latest from the team behind Despicable Me suggests that, when you leave the house in the morning, your pets aren’t just curled up in their baskets waiting for you to come home. When his owner brings home  Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a scruffy mongrel with abandonment issues, her terrier, Max (Louie CK), finds his life isn’t as cushy as it used to be. However, in his attempt rid himself this rival, following a run-in with a bunch of collar-stealing alley cats, the pair end up captured by New York’s Animal Control, prompting a rescue mission across Manhattan from their four-legged friends, among them sardonic fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell) and headed up by  Gidget (Jenny Slate), a feisty Pomeranian with a big crush on Max and some hidden kung fu skills, who enlists the help of red-tailed hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks) and Pops (Dana Carvey), a half-paralysed old Basset Hound bloodhound fitted with a set of wheels.

Meanwhile, Max and Duke have to learn to work together when they’re first forced to join up with and then find themselves on the run from Snowball (Kevin Hart), a crazy former magician’s white bunny who’s assembled an army of abandoned pets, the Flushed Pets, who live in the sewers and have vowed revenge on all domesticated pets and their owners.

Essentially, it’s an animal version of Toy Story with Max as Woody and Duke as Buzz Lightyear, the interloper competing for their owner’s affections, but it doesn’t have the same emotional depth, nor is it as clever as Disney’s recent  Zootopia. There’s also too many peripheral characters to give them all the time they warrant and, after an often hilarious start, the plot gradually descends into a series of action movie chases.

However, impressively animated and taken at a nifty pace, it’s never less than fun and serves up an inevitable message about friendship and family. Just keep the kids away from the pet shop on the way home. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Star Trek Beyond (12A)

trek 3 The third in the rebooted franchise sees Fast and Furious director Justin Lin behind the camera with Simon Pegg, who also plays Scotty, stepping up to share screenplay duties.  As such, once it gets going, you know it’s going to go full throttle, serving up some of the most visually spectacular set pieces in the series. The problem is that the plot and the action are sometimes unclear and  hard to follow.

The crux is that  Krall (Idris Elba), the  lizard-faced alien who brings down the USS Enterprise, is after some ancient artefact  so he can destroy the Federation, although quite how the thing works is never really specified and, even when his motivation is finally revealed in the last real, it’s still somewhat vague. However, , rather like the dynamic involving Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew, it’s not dissimilar to that of Khan in Into Darkness, albeit with a different personal twist. And, of course, the whole thing about a multicultural team working together for each other as a family is something with which Lin is very familiar.

While the Enterprise crew are on downtime during their ongoing five year mission, with Kirk reflecting on his upcoming birthday and Spock (Zachary Quinto) contemplating a return to New Vulcan, a female alien arrives at Yorktown, a mammoth orbiting Federation outpost, telling how her crew have been stranded on a rocky planet. Only the Enterprise has the capacity to rescue them, but travelling through the unstable nebula will put them out of communication with HQ.  Naturally, the whole thing’ a trap, Krall using a swarm of bee -ike mechanical drones and  pretty much tearing the Enterprise apart, forcing the surviving crew to abandon ship as it crash-lands on the planet.

Initially separated,  Scotty (who, whaddya know, gets a lot more screen time) encounters Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a warrior with kabuki-like black face markings who tells him she escaped from Krall’s prison compound (where he drains the life force of captives to keep him alive) and  turns out to be living in an early model Starfleet ship that went missing decades earlier.

Meanwhile, elsewhere Bones (Karl Urban)  is tending to a wounded Spock and keeping their friendly bickering going, while, having discovered the deception,  Kirk and Chekhov (the late Anton Yelchin) are intent on keeping Krall from getting his hands on the artefact and finding the rest of the crew, who, Uhura (Zoe Saldana), whose romance with Spock has broken up, and Sulu (John Cho) among them, are being held prisoner.

Suffice to say, those still free eventually get back together and set out to rescue the others, although, too late to stop Krall and his drones taking  off to attack Yorktown, thereby setting up the final showdown that makes effective use of  Jaylah’s inherited “loud and distracting” music library.

All of this is solidly told, but never quite gets into fifth gear excitement. On the other hand, it does echo  the spirit of the original TV series with the character relationships, banter and general philosophy. The performances are, as you would expect, accomplished, the cast fully settled into their characters, Quinto especially good as Spock (the film also has a nod to the passing of Leonard Nimoy, as well as a nostalgic photographic tip of the hat to the original cast).

Ultimately, it doesn’t hit push any frontiers or boldly go anywhere the franchise hasn’t already been, but it does deliver  solid  interstellar fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

When Marnie Was There (U)

When-Marnie-Was-There Adapted from a  British ghost story, the latest – and perhaps last –  offering from Japanese hand-drawn animation masters Studio Ghibli, directed by  Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) this, in both subtitled and dubbed (featuring Hailee Stanfield) versions, tells of Anna, an emotionally distant and friendless  adolescent tomboy who, sent to live with her adoptive grandparents in the country on account of her asthma, becomes obsessed with an  old mansion where she encounters and becomes friends with  the mysterious Marnie. Except the place has been abandoned and empty for years. (Until Sun: MAC)

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

The Electric Cinema  – 47–49 Station Street,  0121 643 7879

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich  0333 006 7777

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Redditch – Kingfisher Centre, Redditch 08712 240 240

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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