The Danish Girl (15)
Having won an Oscar last year for The Theory of Everything, playing the true story of someone physically trapped inside their own body, Eddie Redmayne could well do so again, with director Tom Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon’s classically styled adaptation of David Ebershoff’s factional novel about Lili Elbe, one of the first to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
Opening in 1926 Copenhagen, six years after their marriage, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) is an in demand landscape painter while wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is a gifted, but less successful portraitist. When their prima ballerina friend Ulla (Amber Heard) fails to turn up for a sitting, Gerda asks her husband to pull on some stockings and silk shoes and hold a dress in front of himself so she can get on with the painting. Running his fingers over the material, Einer is unsettled and confused at his feelings of the stockings and the dress against his body. Then, Ulla arrives and jokingly christens him Lili.
Turned on by his wife’s hosiery, Einar starts wearing them under his own clothes and the cross-dressing adds some spice to their sex lives. However, when, as a prank, Gerda persuades Einar to attend a ball as Lili Elbe, passed off as Einar’s cousin, and (s)he’s come on to by Henrik (Ben Whishaw), things begin to take a different course. Posing for Gerda as Lili leads to his wife becoming the toast of first the Danish and then the French art world while Einar begins to realise that Lili isn’t just a disguise, but his other, female self.
Gradually Lili becomes the dominant person with Einar seeing himself a woman imprisoned in a man’s body, leading at first to a series of encounters with various doctors who variously regard him as a pervert and a schizophrenic and then to a meeting with a pioneering German doctor (Sebastian Koch). Fully supported by Gerda and Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), her husband’s former boyhood friend and crush, now a Paris art dealer, Einar has the first of two procedures that will turn him into Lili permanently.
Although Hooper embraces Ebershoff’s fictional and conflated characters, he does restore Gerda to her Danish identity (she’s American in the book) and, when she says that the first time she kissed Einar “it was like kissing myself”, alludes to questions about her own bisexuality, though neither film or book address that the couple had divorced a year before Lili’s final operation.
Liberties with life aside, this is an elegantly constructed work that follows Einar’s transition into Lili (helped to no small degree by Redmayne’s own androgynous features) in beautifully observed, understated fashion, from the foreshadowing of Einar brushing his hand across the dresses in the ballet’s wardrobe department and a daring full frontal as he rearranges himself to look like a woman to the way he hesitantly learns to duplicate a woman’s coy looks, delicate hand gestures and sensual body language, initially in front of a mirror and then, in a remarkable silent scene, at a French peep show.
If Redmayne gives an astonishing nuanced and sensitive performance, conveying vulnerability, strength, confusion and determination in equal measure, Vikander is every bit his equal (and, like Felicity Jones, should comfortably earn an Oscar nomination), a remarkable combination of hurt, empathy and anguish as Gerda juggles her love for her husband with her desire to set Lili free. When she says “And I believe it too” after Einar tells the doctor he believes he’s really a woman arguably the most heartrendingly moving line in a film that trembles with emotion throughout. (Fri 1: Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The fourth film to pair Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (and the third for director-writer David O’Russell), this sees the latter in very much a supporting role as Neil Walker, a top executive for newly founded cable TV shopping channel QVC who sees himself in the same terms as Golden Age Hollywood directors like David O. Selznick and likens his relationship with Lawrence’s Joy Mangano to that between Selznick and former hat model Jennifer Jones who he transformed into a star. All of which might seem like the plot of some vintage Hollywood fairy tale were it not for the fact that it’s true.
Unfolding between the late 70s and early 90s, Mangano is a New York underachiever who’s never lived up to her childhood potential as school valedictorian and inventor of a quick release dog collar. Instead, she’s now a divorced airline customer services assistant with three young kids whose ex-husband, wannabee singer Tony (Edgar Ramirez) lives in the basement while upstairs her divorced mom Terry (Virginia Madsen) has become a bedroom recluse who spend her days watching the same interminably long-running soap opera. Life gets even more complicated when her disapproving father, auto repair owner Rudy (Robert De Niro), is dumped back in the family lap by his latest ex and moves in to share the basement with Tony.
Before long, Rudy’s started dating wealthy but haughty Italian widow Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) and it’s while aboard her late husband’s yacht, cutting her hands while cleaning up after a broken wine glass, that inspiration strikes Joy. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a mop you didn’t have to wring out by hand.
And thus is born the concept of the Miracle Mop, a simple invention that would become a phenomenal bestseller and, ultimately, make Mangano one of America’s most successful businesswomen. But not without a long and problematic journey involving clashes with Rudy, venomously jealous half-sister Peggy (Elizabeth Röhm) and main investor Trudy, unswerving support by Tony and business shenanigans that brought her to bankruptcy.
Following a bizarre stiltedly-acted black and white soap opera prologue setting up the theme of strong women, it opens in the 70s with the young Joy making paper creations and telling her lifelong best friend (played by Dascha Polanco in later years) that she doesn’t need any prince. But then comes first her parents’ divorce and then her own and her dreams are broken into pieces. All of this is narrated by Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), who constantly tells her that she has the power to become the woman she’s supposed to be, even when life would seem to suggest otherwise. As it turns out, Joy needs no Prince Charming; rather like the self-wringing mop she invents, she’s the self-rescuing Cinderella.
As you would expect from Russell, it’s not your ordinary biopic, the dysfunctional family almost as larger than life caricatures while Lawrence plays Joy with a flesh and flood dramatic intensity that could well see yet another Oscar nomination. Punctuating the narrative with regular flashbacks, the film takes a while to get into its stride (and is guilty of superfluous detours like Terry’s involvement with a Haitian plumber), the early going favouring humour (the exuberantly enthusiastic QVC scenes are a delight, especially with Melissa Rivers playing her late mother Joan) before punching up the drama in the second half as Joy fights against the odds to make her invention a success.
Overall, however, while not in quite the same league as Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle, Lawrence’s core performance and the film’s inspirational arc (girl power or otherwise) should see it clean up nicely. (Fri 1: Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Red Army (PG)
Featuring archive footage from both sides of the Iron Curtain, Gabe Polsky’s acclaimed documentary tells the hitherto untold story of the Soviet national ice hockey team which, formed in the mid-1950s, dominated the sport for nearly 40 years. In 1989, taking advantage of advantage of glasnost, its long time captain, ‘Slava’ Fetisov, defied the Soviet authorities, and became one of eight Soviet players to join America’s NHL, playing for the New Jersey Devils for nine years while also representing the Soviet Union in international matches, going on to become general manager of the Russian national team for the 2002 Winter Olympics as well as being one of only four players to ever win the Grand Slam of Ice Hockey. (Wed 6/Thu 7: MAC)
Sleeping With Other People (15)
Twelve years after losing their virginity to each other on a college dorm rooftop, Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Mad Men’s Alison Brie) bump into each other again at a New York sex addicts meeting. He’s a serial shagger entrepreneur too afraid of getting hurt to make commitments and she’s a kindergarten teacher cheating on her boyfriend with engaged smug gynaecologist Matthew (Adam Scott), the jerk she was in love with at college. Though clearly attracted to one another, rather than resume where they left off, the pair decide to be friends, using ‘mousetrap’ as their safe word should either feel any sexual arousal. Meanwhile, she vows to remain celibate for a year while he sets his eye on bedding his new boss (Amanda Peet).
Playing out like a hornier When Harry Met Sally and far better than its limited release would suggest, the ending is, of course, a given (everyone they meet assumes they’re a couple), but there’s plenty of amusing, and insightful observations about modern relationships as the pair discuss their assorted sexual and emotional highs and lows and give and get advice. Written and directed by Leslye Headland, it combines old school meet cute with the raunchier notes of Judd Apatow-style contemporary romcoms, the pair declaring they love each other “for free” while chastely lying side by side on the one hand and Jake teaching Lainey how to masturbate using a juice bottle as a stand-in vagina on the other.
There’s warm chemistry between the two stars, while solid honest advice dispensing support’s provided by Natasha Lyonne as Lainey’s gay best friend and Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage as Jake’s business partner and his wife whose wry marital bickering gets its own turn in the spotlight over the end credits. (Fri 1: Showcase Walsall)
Black Mass (18) After a string of duds, Johnny Depp redeems himself with a ferocious turn in the ultra-violent true story of Whitey Bulger, a South Boston criminal who, strking a deal with childhood buddy John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) became an FBI informant to help take down the Mafia, the agency turning a blind eye to his activities in return. (Vue Star City)
Bridge Of Spies (12A) Tom Hanks serves up another decent family man doing the right thing turn in the true Cold War story of how insurance lawyer James Donovan was hired to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Oscar favourite Mark Rylance) and then recruited by the CIA and sent to east Berlin to broker an exchange with the Soviets for captured spy plane pilot Gary Powers. Part written by the Coens and directed by Spielberg, there’s a terrific sense of period and the scenes between Hanks and Rylance are electrifying. (Vue Star City)
Brooklyn (12A) Saoirse Ronan heads the Best Actress tips for her outstanding portrayal of a young Irish girl who, in search of a better life, leaves her small-minded village in 50s Ireland for the US, boards with a bunch of extrovert girls in a house run by an eccentric landlady (Julie Walters), gets a job in a department store and falls for a young but poor Italian. But then tragedy calls her home, where she’s courted by a well to do local lad (Domhnal Gleeson) and finds herself caught between two worlds and two choices. (Vue Star City)
Daddy’s Home (12A) As expected, the pairing of Will Ferrell as insecure but steady nice guy stepdad Brad competing with Mark Wahlberg as the kids’ unreliable Alpha male biological father, Dusty, suddenly back in their lives after several years absence, is a bland sub-sitcom as the latter seeks to undermine and embarrass the former at every opportunity, Brad becoming ever more erratic in his attempts to measure up. Inbetween predictable knockabout slapstick there’s the equally predictable genitals size comparisons gags and assorted other obligatory raunchy banter (mostly from Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss) as well as tired racist misunderstanding set-ups. Avoid. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Good Dinosaur (PG) Set in a sort of vague Prehistoric Wild West, Pixar’s latest animation skews young and low on plot in a variation of the boy and his dog chestnut, the difference being that the boy is a dinosaur trying to find his way home and the dog is the feral young human with whom he forges a bond. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Actor Jake Gavin’s writing and directorial debut is a powerful portrait of homelessness in contemporary Britain and the lives of those living on the margins of society. Case in point being the titular transient, Hector McAdam, who, portrayed by Peter Mullan, has been living around the country’s motorways. Taking his annual pilgrimage for Christmas from Scotland to share friendship in a temporary shelter in London, with mortality looming he finds himself driven to reconnect with his estranged real family, who he’s not seen for 15 years. (Until Thu 7: MAC)
Hotel Transylvania 2 (PG) Animated sequel finds hotel owner Dracula (Adam Sandler) concerned that his grandson might be human like his father, Johnny(Adam Samberg), rather that his mom, Mavis (Selena Gomez) and, while the kids parents are off scouting California for property, enlists his fellow monsters to try and get the boy to sprout fangs by taking him to vampire summer camp. It’s packed with visual gags, one-liners and quickie sketches as well as a message about what constitutes ‘normal’ and being open-minded (Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (12A) The conclusion to the saga as, part of a propaganda mission, alongside Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), whose conditioning to hate her has still not been fully overcome, Katniss goes against increasingly manipulative District 13 leader Coin’s orders and determines to penetrate the Capitol and assassinate Snow. Intense, dark and with a high major character body count, this bows out in powerful style. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
In The Heart of the Sea (12A)
In 1819, under the captaincy of novice George Pollard Jr (Benjamin Walker) and experienced first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), the whaling ship The Essex set sail from Nantucket harbour in search of whale oil. Finding the usual area fished out, they headed into the South Pacific where, in November 1820, the ship was attacked and sunk by a giant white sperm whale, the survivors not finding rescue for a further three months at sea in the small row boats, resorting to cannibalism to stay alive.
Their story provided the basis for Herman Melville’s great American novel Moby-Dick and, framed by the last living survivor (Brendan Gleeson) unburdening his soul to Melville (Ben Wishaw), is retold here by Ron Howard, focusing on the clash between Pollard and Chase and the subsequent struggle to survive, stalked (though this never actually happened) by their aquatic nemesis. The onboard scenes are effective, especially as the ship is destroyed, and the performances are perfectly fine, but there’s very little tension, the dialogue creaks and some of the CGI is decidedly subpar. When Melville published Moby Dick it was savaged by the critics. Today it’s regarded as the great American novel. Howard’s resolutely underwhelming film is unlikely to enjoy a similar reappraisal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Night Before (15) Stoner New York lifelong buddies, each with their own insecurity, Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie set out on Christmas Eve to find the ultimate party for one final blow out before surrendering to growing up. There’s some sweetness and poignancy here, but it’s mostly buried under a mountain of debauchery, dope, vomit and dick jokes. (Vue Star City)
Sisters (15) Discovering their folks have sold the family Florida home and are moving into a retirement condo, middle-aged siblings, Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura (Amy Poehler) decide to throw one final house party. Except this time, terminally sensible Maura wants to let her hair down and for party animal Kate to stay sober as the “designated mom”.
Add to the mix that, embarrassed by mom’s irresponsibility, Kate’s teenage daughter has been secretly staying with her aunt, but has come to Florida under the impression her mom’s got a job and they’ll both be moving in with her grandparents. This is basically all a preamble to the party itself where, with their old unfulfilled classmates, nice guy neighbour James (Ike Barinholtz) and Kate’s school nemesis Brinda (Maya Rudolph) indulging in booze and drugs, everything descends into predictable house trashing chaos before more lessons about growing up, facing responsibilities and being who you are not who you think you were are duly trotted out. Not cosnsistently funny, but the central deadpan performances are a treat. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Snoopy and Charlie Brown : The Peanuts Movie (U) Animation studios Blue Sky affectionately and faithfully revive Charles M. Schulz’s classic characters, following the comic strip formula of running parallel, thematically linked, stories about both Charlie and his pet beagle, Snoopy. Thus, the former shyly tries to get new neighbourhood arrival Little Red-Haired Girl to see him for who he really is, not the loser his friends all regard him as while Snoopy sets about writing a book about himself as a famous World War I fighter pilot battling legendary German flying ace, The Red Baron.
Schulz’s cartoons generally saw the world as one of constant disappointment, the message here is more upbeat, about striving to be the best you can, even if you don’t succeed. Firmly skewed young, its gentle melancholia and ultimate upbeat ending should strike a chord with kids who feel themselves sidelined among their friends but it isn’t going to give the Minions any sleepless box office nights. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Spectre (12A) Overlong perhaps and lacking the emotional gut punch of Skyfall, but, peppered with allusions to many previous Bond movies, this is still suitably dark and dynamic as Daniel Craig goes maverick in search of the mastermind behind all his torments and funds it closer to home than he’d imagined. Good to see Ralph Fiennes making solid and complex fist of the new M too. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (12A)
With George Lucas taking a backseat, director JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt dispel sour memories of Episodes I-III with a triumphant resurrection that may tread familiar narrative ground, but does so with a fresh heart.
Set some 30 years on from the destruction of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing and the dark forces have regrouped as the First Order, its stormtroopers led by the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who possesses both the Force and a red light sabre. Built around the search for a map revealing Skywalker’s location, the film’s basically a lengthy chase between Ren and his forces and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and renegade stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) who have come into possession of BB8, a droid belonging to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot for the Resistance now headed by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), that contains the vital key. Their eventually joined by returning legends Han Solo (a soulful Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as the plot turns into a race against the clock to stop the First Order launching planet-destroying weapon as the force also proves strong in another of the new characters.
Rattling along from explosive opening to nail-biting climax by way of a stunning shock revelation and death, the force is strong with this one. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
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