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MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 22-Thu Jun 28

 

 

NEW RELEASES

Oceans 8 (12A)

As with the recent Ghostbusters, this is another gender reversal attempt to reboot a franchise, thankfully with rather more successful results. The kid sister of Danny Ocean (apparently deceased), after spending just over five years inside for fraud, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) smooth talks herself into getting parole. However, no sooner is she back on the New York streets than she’s back into her felonious ways, conning herself a bagful of beauty products and a swanky hotel room.  However, she has her sights set on rather bigger game, having spent her time in jail devising a foolproof plan to heist the world’s most valuable diamond necklace, the Toussaint, valued at $150million during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala.

For this she needs a crew, starting off with her old partner-in-crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and gradually recruiting fading fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter),  a streetwise hacker  and surveillance expert known as Nine Ball (Rhianna), Indian jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), suburban mom  thief Tammy (Sarah Poulson) and  slick sleight of hand street hustler Constance (Awkwafina). The plan, by initially seeming as though she’s going to be working with a hot celebrity (Dakota Fanning), is is to get Weil appointed to dress snobby socialite Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway) for the Gala, insisting that she wear the Toussaint. With Kruger as the unwitting mule, the necklace will then, via series of ingenuous meticulously planned moves, be switched from under the noses of the security team and replaced by a copy, broken up and smuggled out with each of them getting $16mill.

However, Debbie also has a second agenda, intending to set up her art gallery owner ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), engineering it so that he’s Daphne’s date for the Gala, as the fall-guy in revenge for him ratting her out to save his own skin over a scam that got her set down.

As with the previous instalments, the fun is primarily in the interplay between the cast and the ingenuity and split-second timing of the robbery, as well as a couple of unexpected twists and, of course, the flashbacks revealing how things were done. A bosoms buddy screwball comedy, it’s slick, stylish and smart with some sharp and snarky dialogue and perfect comic timing. Bullock who at one point declares she’s not doing this for the money but as inspiration to any budding criminal eight-year-old girls, is every bit as good here as she was in Miss Congeniality, but the whole gang, and that includes Hathaway (who even gets an in-joke about herself), all of whom get their individual turn to shine as well as working as a perfectly synchronised team, are a charismatic delight to watch. On top of that James Corden turns up in a  scene-stealing turn as an impish insurance-fraud investigator who has history with the Oceans while, in a nod to the franchise legacy, there’s cameos by both Elliot Gould as Reuben Tishkoff  and Shaobo Qin as the acrobaticYen as well as the likes of Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Common, Serena Williams and Katie Holmes all appearing as themselves for the lavish Gala. Here’s to sequels 9 and 10. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Happy Prince (15)

Writer, director and star, this has been a long gestating personal project for Rupert Everett and his tenacity in bringing it to the screen pays ample dividends. Oscar Wilde has been the subject of feature films before, but these have focused on events leading up to and including his trial for ‘gross indecency’  after his disastrous libel action against the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of his homosexual lover, Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas.

Everett sets events after Wilde’s release from Reading Goal, where he served two years as prisoner C33 and wrote a 50,000 word self-examining letter to Douglas that would be eventually published as De Profundis,  and his disgraced exile in Naples and Paris, virtually penniless, under the name of Sebastian Melmoth. Once out of prison, he’s befriended by old allies Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), his literary executor and another former lover who crusaded to restore Wilde’s reputation,  and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth), both of whom he inevitably treats with ingratitude and disregard, and to everyone’s horror and despite being aware it will cost him the small allowances granted by his estranged wife Constance (Emily Watson), he resumes his destructive toxic relationship with the self-serving Bosie (a mesmerisingly contemptible Colin Morgan). As history records, it all ended miserably, a destitute Wilde eventually dying of meningitis, possibly brought on by a surgical procedure, in November 1900, administered to here by Tom Wilkinson’s Catholic priest, a surely intentional touch of irony given he  played Queensbury opposite Stephen Fry in the 1997 Wilde.

The time in exile interspersed with flashbacks to both happier days and his incarceration (a particularly powerful scene had him being jeered and spat at by a homophobic mob at a railway station en route to Reading), it’s also punctuated by scenes of Wilde telling his titular ironically personally prophetic children’s fairytale of human suffering to a Paris rent boy (Benjamin Voisin) and his younger brother, which, in turn, gives rise to Wilde’s memories and hallucinations of his two sons.

His screenplay subtly touching on themes of  hypocrisy and class, shunning any vanity, Everett, who previously undertook the role in David Hare’s 1998 stage play The Judas Kiss, delivers a career-best performance, playing Wilde as dark and dissolute, living in squalor and coming physically and mentally undone in the aftershock his time in prison, but also with the sort of defiant if reckless courage Dylan Thomas spoke of in raging against the dying of the light. The direction bears the influence of Visconti, especially his film of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice, and the script, which has some moments of black humour, is, of course, liberally peppered with such Wilde epithets as “Each man kills the things he loves”  as well as a terrific and poignant set piece of a drunken Wilde regaling a low life Paris saloon with a rendition of The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery.  Wilde famously said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”; Everett’s film casts its gaze to the sky. (Electric; Empire Great Park)

 

Let The Sunshine In (15)

Something of a minor misstep for French director Claire Denis, loosely adapted from Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments in collaboration with novelist and playwright Christine Angot, this stars Juliette Binoche in a bittersweet feminist romantic comedy meditation on mid-life dating, love and sex that, inevitably, comes laden with lengthy intellectual conversations.

A divorced artist, Isabelle (Binoche) ends her affair with married banker Vincent (Xavier Beauvois) when he announces he’s not about to get a divorce because “You are charming, but my wife is extraordinary”, but even so, he persists in trying to reconcile and even turns up at her apartment after a business trip  declaring “I just got in from Brazil and felt like banging you.”

Like a  moth drawn to a flame, in this and her other dalliances, she’s almost masochistic in her disparate choice of lovers with whom she has nothing in common and who only seem to want to use her for their own sexual or, as with an unnamed married stage actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) with a drinking problem, emotional crutches. She’s picked up by a working stiff (Paul Blain) while drunkenly dancing at a bar to Etta James’ At Last, and, for a while, things seem to be going well, but that too ends badly. She even continues to have sex with her ex-husband. After each relationship disintegrates, she’s forever blaming herself, ever more persuaded she’ll never find something lasting while at the same time always embarking on liaisons doomed to fail, unable to find the sunshine within.

Deftly balancing acid comedy and vulnerable angst, Binoche is consummate in portraying Isabelle’s inner turmoil, her poor self-esteem, confused desires and turbulent emotional life, often simply etching it with a look on her face., but, rather like her suitors you never truly connect with her. While there are notes of humour and poignancy, the film’s general tone is dry, only really loosening up and sparking for the end-credits sequence as she visits Gerard Depardieu’s new age relationship therapist who spouts vague advice about having to be emotionally open in a way that amusingly suggests he’s proposing himself as her next move, though it’s already been made clear that he’s as emotionally non-committal as everyone else. Something likely to be shared by audiences. (Mon/Tue: MAC)

Thoroughbreds (15)

A dark, dysfunctional friendship teenage black comedy redolent of Heathers but, perhaps more closely, Heavenly Creatures, Cory Finley’s directorial debut, working from his own unproduced play, opens with an Equus-evoking shot of high school senior Amanda (Olivia Cooke) staring blankly at a family horse and then taking out a knife. The narrative then gets underway with her arriving at the sprawling palatial Connecticut estate of estranged childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who, it turns out, is being paid to tutor Amanda who’s become something of a social pariah after the horse incident, she herself having been kicked out of her expensive prep-school for plagiarism.

On the surface they have nothing in common other than privileged backgrounds and a shared lack of empathy. Amanda declares herself incapable of any emotions, explaining “I’ve a perfectly healthy brain. “It just doesn’t contain feelings”, but has learned how to fake it (on her arrival at the house we see her practising a smile in the mirror and later she demonstrates how to cry on cue), while the prim and proper narcissistic Lily is overly intense, but they’re both at odds with the world. Lily is particularly at odds with her new, obscenely rich controlling fitness freak step-dad (Paul Sparks) who regards her as unwanted baggage. “Do you ever think about just killing him?” muses Amanda as the sound of his rowing machine drones through the house, And, realising she can confess her darkest thoughts to Amanda, who can clearly see through the surface genteelness, without being judged Lily duly enquires as to how you’d go about that. To which end, as their poisonous relationship develops,  they blackmail delusional low-rent drugs dealer Tim (the late Anton Yelchin) as a hitman, but, when that misfires, Lily resolves that they’ll murder him themselves.

Finely crafted, especially as regards its sound design,  and terrifically acted by its two English-born leads as well as representing a brief but beautifully played swan song from Yelchin as the deludedly overconfident sad sack loser, while it may, at times, maintain an ironic distance, it gathers riveting momentum as shifts into adolescent noir  thriller mode, Lily proving far more ruthless and conniving than she initially seems, setting up and ending that, if you’re alert to one of her conversations with Amanda, you can see coming and which serves as a sort of release for both girls from lives they find unsupportable. It ends on a prolonged close up stare, one which, like the film will haunt you long after the end credits. (Fri-Sun: MAC)

Also Opening

 

Together (12A)

Another pitched at the senior citizen market, this pairs Peter Bowles and Sylvia Syms  as Philip and Rosemary Twain as an elderly Cockney couple who’ve just celebrated their 60th anniversary when she  breaks a leg and is taken into hospital. While she’s there, the social workers persuade Philip to go into a nursing home. However, it turns out they have a hidden agenda buried in the small print that, as a result of an incident many years earlier, results in his not being allowed within 50 yards of his wife. Written and directed by Paul Duddridge, it’s a sentimental black comedy about NHS bureaucracy with social workers clearly cast as the villains of the piece. (Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall)

 

NOW PLAYING

A Quiet Place (15)

After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.

Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father  Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching  deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.

There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.

Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.

Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures  and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own  logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Vue Star City)

 

Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

The movie equivalent of going to an all you can eat buffet and  still wanting more, this brings together pretty much every major  superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least the Disney manifestation thereof), and even those not on screen still get a mention,  for the ultimate slugfest mashup as they take on the towering, ridged-chin world destroyer Thanos (a surprisingly soulful Josh Brolin) who is out to gather all six of the infinity stones (gems of indescribable power governing Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space and Reality), so that he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its inhabitants (as a flashback reveals he did to Gamora’s world before adopting her as his daughter), so that the remaining half have a chance to survive. It’s galaxy-wide genocide, but he means well.

Given the showdowns between Thanos and the various ad hoc team ups take place in various parts of the planet and the universe, the massive cast of characters don’t actually all occupy the same scene at any one time. Rather we have different pockets of resistance. After an initial confrontation in New York with Thanos’s icily effete and sadistic factotum and a couple of his enforcers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland with fetching new bio-suit) are paired up on both Thanos’s flying wheel and his home planet Titan;  Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and, with a traumatised Hulk reluctant to emerge, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) face off in Wakanda with the Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), ultimately joined by Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision  (Paul Bettany), who, lest you forget, has one of the stones in  his forehead. As it turns out, Doctor Strange also has one nestling in his amulet.

After rescuing him from space following the opening massacre of Asgardians, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), stick-teen Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) join forces with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), described by Drax “like a pirate had a baby with an angel!”. The bruised and battered but still up for it God of Thunder  and the ‘rabbit’, as he refers to him, taking off to forge a new hammer  (leading to a wryly amusing scene in which Peter Dinklage dwarfs them both), while the others head for Knowhere, home of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who’s supposedly got one of the stones. Also in the mix is Thanos’s other ‘daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and pretty much all of the other core characters from Black Panther, along with a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo as Tony Stark’s new fiancée, Pepper Potts and a surprise post-credits appearance of a long absent figure.

If you can get your head round that line-up, then you might just make it through the near three hours of  cataclysmic jawdropping, eye-popping action that comes liberally laced with intense emotional beats, pop culture references and the sort of dry and droll humour you’ve come to expect, here primarily in the alpha male arrogance stand-offs between egotistical Stark and supercilious Strange, the testosterone tag match between Thor and an intimidated Peter Quinn (who deepens his voice to assert himself) and the former’s ever hilarious unintended casual put downs. Indeed, Hemsworth pretty much owns every scene he’s in, and his dramatic lightning flashing appearance armed with his new axe, Stormbringer, and a new eye, is one of the film’s major cheer out loud moments

All this directors Anthony and Joe Russo orchestrate with dazzling skill and confidence, never for a moment letting the pace sag, but knowing just when to ease back on the mayhem and introduce Marvel’s trademark tragic notes. Two shocking deaths occur in the opening moments and there’s both sacrifice and sef-sacrifice, while the film concludes in wiping out half of the main cast, though, given that includes the stars of recent new franchises,  these don’t have quite the same impact and it’s a safe bet that, as the all knowing Strange implies, they’ll reassemble in a year’s time for the eagerly anticipated sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Book Club (12A)

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Fifty Shades of Grey on the big screen, along comes this senior citizens self-discovery romcom in which E.L. James’ trashy trilogy provides the  product placement narrative engine.

Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda are, respectively,  recently widowed (though the marriage died much earlier) Diane, Sharon, a divorced federal judge whose ex (Ed Begley Jr.) is marrying a much younger bimbo (Mircea Monroe), chef Carol, whose newly retired husband, Bruce (Craig T Nelson), has lost his sexual drive, and hotelier Vivian, a sexually active never married singleton with commitment issues. It’s the latter who introduces James’ novels to their wine-fuelled monthly Los Angeles book club (which began in the 70s with another sexual revolution handbook, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying) in an attempt to inject a little spice into everyone’s lives, if only vicariously. She’s also thrown a curve when high-flyer Arthur (Don Johnson, a movie in-joke since his daughter Dakota  played Anastasia Steele), an old boyfriend she’s not seen in 40 years after walking away from his proposal, turns up the hotel, clearly keen to resume the relationship.

Having set this up the film flits between the four upscale suburban friends as, inspired by the reading matter, they each look to embrace  a new life or fix the one they have. Diane, whose two bossy, overprotective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton) want her to relocate and live with one of them in Arizona, meets cute with charming airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Sharon embarks on on-line dating (hooking up with Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss), Vivian finds herself wondering if maybe she could settle with Arthur and Carol slips Bruce Viagra, with amusingly unfortunate consequences and a confessional catharsis that puts the kybosh on the dance routine they’re supposed to be performing at a charity talent show.

Directed with a workmanlike hand by co-writer Bill Holderman, although there is a smattering of funny one-liners wrapped up in its celebration of older women and that romance and sex shouldn’t end with the menopause, it succeeds solely on account of the sparkling performance by the four leads who, although the dryly amusing Bergen, who delivers a wistfully affective final monologue, arguably, comes out best, all effortlessly balance comedy and poignancy, even if Keaton’s character does channel a fair degree of Annie Hall, right down to the beret. It’s superficial fluff that largely sidesteps any connection with reality, but it’s still hugely enjoyable fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

                          

Breaking In (15)

A home invasion movie that places a strong woman fighting to protect her kids front and centre, director  James McTeigue may not offer any major twists on the well-worn set-up, but, anchored by a  powerful turn from Gabrielle Union,  this short and sharp thriller delivers solid tension and bursts of bloody action.

Returning to her estranged criminal father’s remote and fortress-like high-tech security mansion after he’s killed in a deliberate hit and run, Shaun (Union), who has had nothing to do with him for years, is just there for the weekend with her two kids, teen daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr), to arrange the sale. However, she’s not the only one. Tipped off that there’s a safe packed with millions of dollars, four thieves, Eddie (Billy Burke) and his associates, tattooed psycho Duncan (Richard Cabral), nervy  Sam (Levi Meaden) and former military man Peter (Mark Furze), are determined to get their hands on it. However, they didn’t reckon on anyone else being there.

While Shaun’s outside, they take the kids hostage, setting in motion a taut game of cat and mouse as her maternal instincts take on a  Liam Neeson hue (tellingly, it’s written by Ryan Engle who also penned Non Stop and The Commuter), using whatever’s at hand, broken wine glass, toy drone,  to turn the tables and take the fight to the assailants who, in time-honoured tradition, prove to be conveniently inept.

Naturally, there’s plenty of sneaking round darkened corridors and lurking in shadows, punctuated by some bloodshedding via Duncan slitting the throat of the unfortunate estate agent and a remarkably resourceful Shaun doing a  number on Peter before engineering her way back inside the house.

It’s thinly written and fairly one-dimensional in terms of character, but, for disposable female empowerment action that serves up the payback without troubling the brain cells, this does its job in efficiently effective style.  (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza)

Deadpool 2 (15)

The original movie made a fortune from  taking the mocking piss out of itself and the whole superhero franchise genre, a self-referential orgy of meta-fiction that demolished the fourth wall, winked to the camera and the audiences  and bundled together onscreen and offscreen personas (at one point Deadpool signs an autograph as  Ryan Reynolds) in a gloriously violent and hilarious WTF of gargantuan proportions. This one tops it. Indeed, directed by Atomic Blonde’s David Leitch (or, as the opening credits have it, One of the Two Guys Who Killed John Wick’s Dog), it starts with scarred cancer victim wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Reynolds) turning on a  dead Wolverine musical box before posing on a bunch of gasoline drums, tossing a lit cigarette and blowing himself to pieces. And then backtracking six weeks to explain why as, having gone into the scum-killing business fulltime (cue gallons of blood), the one that got away ends up killing  girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) just as she and Wade have decided to make a baby, sending him into a guilt-ridden, suicidal funk. Of course, the body parts gathered together by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and hauled back to the X-Men’s mansion, he regenerates and the plot kicks in.

It’s fairly simple, joining  Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her new girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna), he gets to become an X-Men trainee, his first call to action being an attempt to cool down, fireball-hurling teenage mutant Randall (New Zealand’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople breakout star Julian Dennison) who’s threatening to incinerate the mutant hating headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of his orphanage. Suffice to say, things don’t quite work out as planned and both he and the kid end up  in the high-tech mutants prison, the Ice-Box. At which point, enter uber-intense Cable (Josh Brolin), a bionic-enhanced super-soldier who’s beamed in from the future intent on killing Randall in revenge for turning his family to cinders. Cue Deadpool resignedly opting to play the surrogate dad (thereby earning his redemption stripes to reunite with Vanessa) and protect Randall, ultimately attempting to change the course of events that will lead to the present scenario.

Along the way there’s the formation of   his own mutants spin-off, X-Force (“tough, morally flexible and young enough to carry this franchise another 10 to 12 years”, Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Vanisher (a blink of Brad Pitt), Zeigeist (Bill Skarsgård), Domino (a spin-off friendly Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is being lucky, and Peter (Rob Delaney), an ordinary schmuck who just saw the ad. Not that they get to stick around long, only one (and you can guess who from the powers) surviving to take the fight to Cable in one of the many spectacular action sequences, as it gathers to a vaguely Terminator salvational climax.

Bloodier, more visceral and far more foul-mouthed than the original, it sprays pop culture references and in-jokes like nail-bomb confetti, cameos including Alan Tudyk, a glimpse of three X-Men and a very surprising mid-credits appearance of a fourth, alongside returning characters Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (T.J.Miller)  and taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) who wants in on the mercenary lark, not to mention Wade’s favourite  unstoppable villain from the X-Men comics. There’s also deluge of references to and quips about the DC Universe, the Avengers (at one point Deadpool calls Cable Thanos), Robocop, Canada, James Bond , Frozen (how come no one else drew the Yentl comparison!), Annie, Say Anything and a hysterical Green Lantern gag set to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, plus dozens more you’ll have to catch on subsequent viewings as well as its brazen acknowledgement of  the plot holes. And the four post-credit scenes that change everything. Basically, it’s everything you loved about Deadpool – on Viagra. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Hereditary (15)

Don’t believe the hype that this is the scariest horror movie since The Exorcist (that would be the original Ring);  yes, first-timer writer-director Ari Aster gradually builds from unease to a sense of stark terror, but the film also sports well worn clichés of unsettling noises, glimpsed figures, enigmatic symbols, dark rooms and even a bird flying into a window.  And something in the attic.

It opens with the funeral for Ellen Taper Leigh, the highly secretive and not entirely much missed mother of Annie (a monumentally good Toni Collette), a miniaturist artist currently working on a series of  highly detailed small rooms encapsulating her family and its experiences. Indeed, the only member of the family truly upset by the old dear’s passing is her brooding 13-year-old niece, Charlie (Milly Shapiro looking creepily unsettling), a strange autistic child  with an intense gaze and given to making tongue clucking noises whose sketchpad of angry drawings suggests a decidedly troubled psyche, and whom Granma took it upon herself to raise, pretty much shutting Annie out of her daughter’s life. Charlie has her own workshop in her treehouse where she crafts bizarre effigies, at one point decapitating (a portent of much to follow) the aforementioned bird to add to her collection. The rest of the family comprises Annie’s voice of reason husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who has no backstory at all, and their teenage affable stoner son Peter (Alex Wolff) whose role intensifies as the narrative unfolds.

The first inkling of chills comes when Annie thinks she sees her mother’s shade in her workshop and the film spends a considerable time hinting that the spookiness might all be down to Annie’s mental state (she sleepwalks and recounts one finding herself at the foot of her children’s bed with paint stripper and matches). But when, after a horrific accident (of which Annie crafts a model, much to Steve’s understandable revulsion), Peter, consumed with guilt, has his own ‘hallucination’, then it seems external forces are at work. Steve also gets a call to say his mother-in-law’s grave has been desecrated. And then there’s those shimmers of light dancing around Charlie.

All this is made more manifest when, in seeking to deal with her grief when Charlie is killed, Annie (who earlier found one of her mom’s books on spiritualism) is persuaded to take part in a  séance with Joanie (Anne Dowd), a friendly soul who approaches her outside the counselling session where, following her mother’s funeral,  she’d previously revealed her depressed father’s suicide by starvation and how her schizophrenic older brother hung himself, leaving behind a note accusing his mother of “putting people inside him.”  Well, we all know what séances portend in horror movies.

At which point, the film becomes somewhat less successful as its heads into overfamiliar Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining territory involving cults (with both  living and dead members), possession and malevolent demon lords looking for host bodies, at time resorting to dream sequences for exposition (though the one where Annie spills out a shocking highly unmaternal confession to Peter is effective). With the help of his cinematographer, Aster keeps the sense of dread, but can’t prevent the film from touching on the slightly silly even as its themes of dysfunctional family secrets, maternal guilt and mounting hysteria   collide with the supernatural. Well-crafted, well-designed and well-acted, yes it is scary in parts (and has its sudden jolt moments too), but not so much that you won’t sleep at night.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

I Feel Pretty (12A)

While undeniably flawed, this Amy Schumer comedy, working a  similar riff to Trainwreck,   is far better than some of the scathing reviews would suggest and comes with book/cover and be who you are/self-esteem messages that would do Disney proud. Schumer plays New Yorker Renee Bennett who works for the online department of mega cosmetics company Lily LeClaire, albeit ferreted away in a  dingy Chinatown office with her slobby co-worker (Adrian Martinez) because the company only wants beautiful things in its Fifth Avenue HQ. She and her equally ‘ordinary’ friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) post photos on a dating site but get no views, further persuading Renee that looks are everything (though one wonders how, if they  get no views they can be rejected on their appearance) and, one night, after watching bodyswap comedy Big, fed up of being ignored in bars and stores, she impulsively rushes out into the rain and throws a coin into a wishing fountain asking to be beautiful.

The next day, attending Soul Cycle class (basically a keep fit workout on a fixed bike), she falls and bangs her head and, when she comes round and looks in the mirror she sees the figure she wants to be. Physically, she looks exactly the same, but persuaded she’s now drop dead gorgeous, her confidence crawls out from under its shell and she applies for the job of receptionist at Lily LeClaire. As the first face visitors see, she’s understandably not the sort of person the interviewing panel of CFO Helen  (Naomi Campbell) and squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams making the most of a gag that rapidly wears thin) are looking for. But, having been recently given an earful by her company founder grandmother (Lauren Hutton) about appealing to the ‘ordinary’ consumer in launching their new budget line, Avery, who has her own self-esteem issues, hires her. And, not only does she land a swanky job, but she also acquires a sensitive boyfriend in the shape of Ethan (Rory Scovel) following a  meet cute in the dry cleaners where she takes the initiative. On top of which, she’s also given the eye by Avery’s hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), although that subplot never really goes anywhere.

As per narrative requirements, Renee’s elevation to a new social circle, and the fact that the company call on her for her sensible marketing advice for the new product, means she shuts out her old friends (spelled out all too blatantly when she dumps them at a restaurant to gain access to an exclusive party). And, of course, there’s inevitably another bump to the head that removes the ‘magic’, right on the eve of a major conference where she’s supposed to deliver the important pitch. No longer thinking she looks the way she thought she did, she can’t bring herself to face LeClaire or, indeed, Ethan. She first has to realise who she was all along.

Given that  Vivian or Jane could easily point out she looks exactly the same despite her saying they probably don’t recognise who she is, it’s a somewhat flawed premise, but, even so, there’s an infectious sweetness to it with Renee a likeable character while Schumer, who has built a stand-up career on ironic self-deprecation and the superficiality of society, always shines when the material doesn’t. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who fared far better with He’s Just Not That Into You and How To Be Single, never seem quite sure how to get to the final destination of their positive body-image moral, such as Renee taking part in a bikini contest, which, while amusing, negates the admiration for her balls  since she’s oblivious to the fact that he clearly looks nothing like the other curvy contestants.

At the end of the day it’s basically Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Devil Wears Prada with a dressing of ‘magic’ and all too obvious soundtrack beats like Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and Meghan Trainor’s Me Too to point the audience in the right direction, but you shouldn’t judge it just on how it looks.  (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (12A)

The Jurassic World theme park abandoned and decayed after events in the previous movie,  the surviving dinosaurs are now facing an endangered species extinction level event with the volcano on Isla Nubar threatening to blow its top. Advised by dino expert Ian Malcom (an unusually subdued Jeff Goldblum who bookends the film with his life finds a way message) to let nature takes its course, the American government declines to spend money on saving them. Which is when Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, complete with in-joke about her absurd high heels in the last film), the park’s former manager turned pro-dino activist gets summoned to the palatial Lockwood estate where Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), right hand man to Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s  former partner in InGen and co-creator of the original genetically cloned dinos (though this is actually the first film the character’s ever mentioned), who explains they intend to rescue 11 of the species and relocate them to a new sanctuary. However, they need her help and that of her now ex-lover, raptor-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because of his special bond with Blue, the intelligent raptor he reared and trained. So, accompanied by dino vet Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and nerdy T.Rex phobic systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), off they go to, never for a moment thinking that all the military type guys with big guns might be a bad sign.

However, as the opening sequence involving an underwater mercenary team  recovering a DNA sample from the now dead hybrid dino Indominus rex  has already indicated, there’s another nefarious agenda in play. Yup, unbeknownst to Lockwood, Mills is planning to stage a lucrative animal trafficking auction (managed by Toby Jones) of the rescued species for others to clone, the main attraction  being an Indoraptor, reengineered and weaponised (it can even open doors) by series returning geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D.Wong).

Left to die by  the mercenaries’ leader, managing to escape the erupting volcano in one of the rolling glass spheres,  Claire and Owen, and to a lesser extent Webb and Rodriguez, with, of course, a  timely assist from Blue, now have to try and put a stop to this. All of which, after long stretches with no dinosaur action at all, the creatures mostly locked in  cages and tranquilised, climaxes with assorted giant lizards running amok around the mansion, bodies being duly thrown through the air, stomped on or eaten. Introduced into the mix is also Lockwood’s dinosaur-loving young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a startling reveal about whom is simply tossed away.

Directed by J.A. Bayona (who made A Monster Calls which gets a sly reference here), visually, what with volcanic eruptions, stampeding dinosaurs, a reworking of the first film’s hunter-prey stalking kitchen scene, this time amid a hall of Jurassic tableaux, it delivers the goods, the murky prologue  even offering a Jaws homage to Spielberg. But, since you know none of the good guys are going to get killed off, there’s not a huge amount of tension or, indeed, awe to what is essentially staple disaster movie fodder with some box ticking social messages, while the only notable emotional note is poignant sight of a brachiosaurus, left behind at the jetty, roaring as its swaying neck is swallowed up by smoke and lava. Clearly confident there’s still a huge audience for its narratively preposterous and logically flawed paleothrills, it ends with the auctioned creatures being shipped off to their new owners and Blue surveying a sprawling urban landscape in what seems to be setting up a sort of Planet of the Dinosaurs third act.  It might not offer much that’s new, but given its entertaining Rampage in a big house with dinosaurs popcorn fun, the series’ extinction at the box office is likely to be some way off yet.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

McQueen (15)

Colourful and controversial in equal measure, Lee Alexander McQueen was constantly shocking the fashion world, but no more so than when, age 40,  he hung himself on 11 February 2010, a week after the death of the mother he adored. Directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, this documentary makes extensive use of talking heads from the fashion world, both new and archive, among them Isabella Blow (who’s generally credited with discovering him), Jodie Kidd, Alice Smith, designer nephew Gary James McQueen, as well as family members and interview footage of McQueen himself, tracing his career chronologically, from his startling debut show Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims to his gradual slide into drugs, mental deterioration and suicide.

A workaholic, gay East End working class lad with no formal training other than a brief stint working for a Savile Row tailor and a spell at Central St. Martin’s art college, driven by both resolute determination and huge insecurity, McQueen’s unique, often dark visions and radical styles, using materials such as plastics and feathers, transformed the industry as he became both artistic director of Givenchy and launched his own successful label, a skull the signature motif of his McQueen design house.

The footage of collections such as 1995’s Highland Rape, vilified in the media for its supposed misogyny, 2001’s Voss, and 2007’s elegy to Blow,  La Dame Bleue, all underscore his declaration that he wanted audiences to be either exhilarated or repulsed, while the interviews afford an insight into both his creative genius and the demons that stalked it. There’s omissions, no mention, for example, of his unofficial husband George Forsyth, but, powered by a score from Michael Nyman, himself a McQueen collaborator, this is a fascinating and illuminating portrait of one of the most important and influential figures in fashion in the last two decades.(Electric)

 

Sherlock Gnomes (U)

The original movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, was a playful, funny, inventive and charming rework of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending. The sequel, which teams the now married lovers with a  gnome version of Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is none of the above. Settling into their owners’ new London home, Juliet (Emily Blunt) is too busy working to get the garden right to give much time to Gnomeo (James McAvoy), who duly has a major sulk and tries to get her attention back on him. Meanwhile, some dastardly villain is kidnapping all of London’s gnomes, to which end master detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are on the trail, the former’s cruelly dismissive treatment of the latter mirroring the domestic disharmony in the garden. When their friends and relations also get snatched, Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with the detectives to track them down in what is a game of wits played out (Toy Story-like) across London between Holmes and his arch nemesis, the supposedly dead Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a garish yellow pie mascot in a purple nappy and bowtie, with just 24 hours before they’re smashed to pieces.

The film’s executive producer is Elton John and don’t you just know it, with an Elton lookalike gnome, either snatches of his songs or in-jokes references to them (Gnomeo’s codename is Tiny Dancer), while, with his teeth,  Moriaty even looks a bit like him. It’s well-animated with lots of detail, but unfortunately that attention doesn’t extend to the frantic but meandering plot (though it does have a clever twist) or the bland characters. Devoid of wit, the film thinks the sight of a gnome in a pink mankini flashing his buttocks is so hilarious it keeps returning to him while relegating Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to mere cameos as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry. It also contrives to have a sequence set in a  doll museum as an excuse to wheel out Mary J Blige to perform a number as Holmes’ ex, Irene. It’s probably best summed up when, in a TV report about the gnome thefts, the announcer says “Some say it’s a job for Sherlock Gnomes!” before adding, “Others say it’s a slow news day!” Bored kids and adults are likely to opt for the latter.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Show Dogs (U)

“No one’s making talking animals movies any more”, bemoans a white Chihuahua in an in-joke to director Raja Gosnel’s previous Beverly Hills Chihuahua. This interminable, mind-numbingly unfunny buddy cop comedy is a good reason why. A Rottweiller with the NYPD, Max (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is on a stakeout involving a stolen baby panda only to accidentally foul-up an FBI sting leading to him and Frank (an understandably embarrassed-looking Will Arnett), the agent involved having to reluctantly work together posing as an owner and his dog entering the prestigious Canini Invitational show at Caesar’s Palace in L.A. to try and flush out the mastermind behind an international animal smuggling ring. Neither much wants to work with the other, and Max reckons the dog show world is full of fakes and poseurs; however, inevitably friendship and mutual respect blooms and Max learns, in the heavy-handedly spelled out message, to not judge others who have a different worldview. In-between there’s supposedly hilarious moments as Max has to submit to being groomed and having his testicles felt in the cause of the competition while having to use his street skills to win each round as they suspect the smugglers are planning to kidnap the eventual Best In Show. A four-pawed Miss Congeniality cross-bred with Tom Hanks’ Turner & Hooch (to which the references seemingly never end), it features an assortment of celebrity voices, among them Stanley Tucci as Max’s mentor, Philippe, an embittered former champion pampered Papillon who went a little crazy; Alan Cumming Dante, a self-important Yorkie who took Philippe’s place; Jordin Sparks as our hero’s romantic interest, Australian Shepherd Elizabeth, owned and entered by FBI grooming consultant Mattie (Natasha Lyonne); RuPaul as fashionista designer mixed breed Persephone; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, the dreadlocked Zen-spouting Komondor belonging to prime suspect Gabriel (Omar Shaparo) ; and Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, an overly enthusiastic Pug. There’s laboured in jokes (Arnett’s Lego Batman included) and pop culture references, a random Elton John show poster and three especially annoying comic relief pigeons and the whole thing creaks and groans it way to a spectacularly badly staged climax. In discussing Max’s chances as a show dog, although it does have the good grace to save the inevitable dog fart until midway. At one point, discussing Max going undercover as a show dog, someone says “I cannot polish the turd, but perhaps I can roll it in glitter.” Save for Max and Frank in an inspired recreation of that classic Dirty Dancing moment, glitter is in very short supply here. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (12A)

A case of Star Wars fatigue perhaps, the box office response to this Han Solo prequel has been decidedly lacklustre, certainly nowhere near the fervour there was for Rogue One. Nor, playing it on a lighter note more along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones than its predecessor’s drama, is it as good a film.

Essentially an origin tale, we first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich), not yet named Solo, as, having stolen a vial of  coaxium, an indescribably  valuable spaceship fuel, he and fellow thief romantic interest  Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) seek to escape the oppression of Corellia to follow his dream of becoming a  pilot. He makes it past the gate, she doesn’t, and, to avoid capture, he impulsively enlists with the Empire, earning his surname in the process, vowing to return for her when he has his own ship.

Some years later, thrown out of the Imperial Fleet for insubordination, he’s a grunt caught up in one of the Empire’s planet conquering wars when he encounters Tobias  Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his fellow smugglers, Val (Thandie Newton) and chimp-like multiple-armed pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) with whom, after a brief interlude in a mud pit prison where he teams up with imprisoned Wookiee, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), he joins forces in a plan to steal a consignment of coaxium from a transport train. This too doesn’t quite work out, both thinning down the gang and leaving them in debt to Beckett’s ruthless gangster employer Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who fronts the sinister crime cabal the Crimson Dawn,  and facing the likely fatal consequences of failing. They do, however, talk him into giving them another opportunity, this time to steal coaxium directly from the mines  and then processing it before it has the chance to explode.  For this, however, they need a ship. So, enter dandy-ish hustler Lando Calrissian (scene stealer Duncan Glover) who owns, as fans will be aware, the Millennium Falcon (we also learn Hans’ unnamed father used to build Corellian YT-1300 freighters before being laid off) and, along with his sassy droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge),  agrees to come aboard for a take of the payout.  It should also be mentioned that, along the way, Han finds himself unexpectedly reunited with Q’ira who now reluctantly works for Dryden as his top lieutenant. There’s also the slight problem that there’s another gang of thieves, headed up by Beckett’s arch-enemy, who also want the coaxium.

So, there you have it, surname, ship, Wookiee, blaster, trademark clothes, all character’s trademark details ticked off as the core narrative finally kicks in leading to assorted fights, narrow escapes, double crosses, a Warwick Davis cameo, betrayals and surprise twists, including a last act entry by the Alliance rebels and the appearance of a figure from the franchise that doesn’t really actually fit with the timeline.

Although the early chase sequences are suitably kinetic, the narrative’s slow to gather momentum until the gang set off to steal the raw coaxium, involving a tense escape aboard the Falcon through the Maw and Maelstrom as Solo gets to show off his flying skills and  L3 turning into a robot Spartacus to liberate her fellow droids from slavery, but even then the who can you really trust plotting gets a bit repetitive. There’s no Force or lightsabres, though Dryden’s weapon does make a slight nod to the latter, but replacement director Ron Howard and father-son screenwriters  Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan ensure the Star Wars sensibilities remain well polished. Dropping in plenty of franchise references along with the poetry  in-joke character names. And it rarely looks less than amazing.

Ehrenreich is hugely enjoyable channelling the young Han with his rogueish smile, body language, gait, recklessness and charm, so it’s a bit unfortunate that he looks as though he’s more likely to grow up into Dennis Quaid than Harrison Ford. It’s also unfortunate that the chemistry between him and Clarke never fizzles, indeed there’s more spark between Llando and L3 (who reckons her boss has the hots for her). Everyone else is serviceable enough, though sadly Newton’s not round long enough to make good on her first impression, and, at the end of the day, it serves up a fun slice of big screen adventure in the tradition of those Saturday morning matinees that inspired Star Wars in the first place.  However, given the dramatic fall off in bums on seats after the opening week, the likelihood of  further adventures for the pre Mos Eisley Han  and Chewie  seems increasingly unlikely. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Super Troopers 2 (15)

Had the sequel appeared a couple of years after the Broken Lizard troupe’s 2002 comedy about a bunch of incompetent prankster cops, it would have still been redundant. That it surfaces 16 years on, many of the target audience not having been born when the original appeared, makes it even more so. Again directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, it opens promisingly with a new cast headed by Sean William Scott and Marlon Wayans, Jr. and a chaotic and violent showdown. Unfortunately, that’s just a dream sequence and   the film proper begins with the five Vermont state troopers now working construction after being fired for causing Fred Savage’s death on a ridealong. However, the discovery that, due to a cock up in the historical maps department, a huge chunk of Quebec is actually American, they’re reinstated, under their long-suffering chief (Brian Cox, at a loose end)  and stationed in a log-cabin to patrol the borders until the switchover from Canada to the US is finalised.

Of course, many of the locals, especially the Quebecois, are not exactly thrilled at becoming Americans, nor are the Mounties eager to let the troopers take over their jobs. Cue a wind-up war between them as the film recycles much of the same jokes and plot set ups that felt tired the first time round. So, sampling a drugs bust with hilarious results, the Americans impersonating the Mounties to ruin their reputation, speaking to American motorists in Pythonesque French, a steady stream of Canadian stereotypes (including Emmanuelle Chriqui’s cartoonish accent as a female cop) and cultural insults (though it does give Rob Lowe, as a Canadian mayor, the chance to slap a prosthetic penis) and, well, more of the same really, only more fitful and less funny. Had this been made 14 years ago, when the first film was still riding on the back of a surprise box office hit, then you could understand why. Today, it’s just inexplicable.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull)

 

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

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 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

 

News: Birmingham music venue The Flapper granted extension

The Flapper, Birmingham. Credit Robin Haycock

Birmingham city centre music venue The Flapper has announced it is to continue trading for another twelve months, following expectations that it was to close later this month.

In February 2018, the canalside pub and established indie, rock, punk and metal haunt revealed it would close permanently on Saturday 30 June to make way for a new residential development.

In a release today, The Flapper confirmed:

We have today accepted a twelve-month lease extension from our landlord, Baskerville Wharf.

Please see below for Baskerville Wharf’s official statement:

“Baskerville Wharf, the owners of The Flapper public house, has offered The Flapper Ltd business an extension of twelve months whilst we continue our discussions with Birmingham City Council.

Plans were submitted in November 2017 for the site’s redevelopment and whilst we withdrew the current application, we are considering the submission of revised proposals later in 2018.

The Flapper Ltd has accepted our offer and will now remain open for business until Sunday 30 June 2019.”

All ‘Celebration Of The Flapper’ events will continue to take place. We have a few details to sort through regarding the ‘Final Weekend of Friday 29th and Saturday 30the June, so please keep an eye on the Facebook event page for further details.

Please help us spread the word that the Flapper is staying open. We’ll be getting out heads down booking in some great shows and organising some amazing events for the next twelve months.

Mostly Interview: The Jungle Brothers

The Jungle Brothers

The Jungle Brothers, aka Afrika Baby Bam, Mike Gee and Sammy B, were at the forefront of a wave of hip hop artists whose ethos and approach were shaped by DIY culture, block parties and the musical melting pot of New York. Releasing their debut album, Straight Out The Jungle, in 1988, they were one of the first rap acts to be influenced by house music and were also founding members of the mythic Native Tongues collective (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest etc).

Prior to their performance at Birmingham’s Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival (6-8 July 2018), Bam tells us more …

You guys met at High School …

Yeah, I had a turntable, keyboard, drum machine at home, and I’d practice every day after school so I could move on to the next phase. I was making pause tapes at the time, and then I got a second turntable and started dong blends. And Mike and I began working on routines. I was working independently, and he was doing block parties with Sammy, and we matched up over our likes, we began hanging out, practicing at my house, in my living room, developing those early routines.

Do you have those old pause tapes / cassettes?

No. They were cool though. I wish I had some of those old pause tapes – I’d do from off the radio. They were really good stuff, they’d have some go-go, old disco stuff, breakbeat stuff, Mantronix, a nice electric mix, they were full of vibes.

Hip hop is very different today from what it was when you were starting out. Back then, you were absorbing so much different music …

Now, hip hop is coming from a different social background, it’s from a different gene pool. How can I put it? You move from guitar to turntable. From turntable to laptop, and you just get set in your ways – there’s less variety now, because of that step up between turntable and laptop, the music industry ticked boxes, there’s a pattern to manufacturing music, people are more attached to formulas. They’re not listening to the nuances between different things and appreciating different things. Listening to James brown, those Fred Wesley horns are smoky, rhythmic, then the DJ would play Kraftwerk’s Numbers, with an electronic drum machine … it’s a different palette, but you appreciate the link. When you have a formula, you don’t appreciate it, you get marginalised. With the too-cool-for-school crowd – they get into costume, listen to the same thing and it goes around and round and round, and you know what you’re going to get. You don’t have to adapt. The alternative is still there, it’s just not the go-to thing for brands to put on the front page …

Would you say that you came from a golden era for hip hop?

Yeah, so much creativity, as far as concepts, as far as lyrical craft, production craft, music production craft. Man! Wooo! A new thing is a quiet voice against the establishment, but it’s so different it deserves a place … this is something else! That was a golden era – you’re looking at this thing bloom. It’s not a seed, it has branches … Big Daddy Kane, Schoolly D, the comical Biz Markie, Public Enemy, it could be funky, it could be playful, there’s the feminist Queen Latifah, the rap dance Kid N’Play, Hip House, Gangstarr, A Tribe Called Quest. Then there’s stuff that’s very alternative like Divine Styler … and there’s things on the soulful side too and underground side, Black Moon … Then on the production side, there’s myself, drum machine producers, loop producers, layering loops, like Prince Paul with the De la Soul album [3ft And Rising], producers using the SP-12 and SP-1200 [samplers], that KRS-One production, where beats are more triggered – rapid fire triggering! Wow! You’ve got turn-table styled production, chopped up drums, triggered drums, looped drums, so many interpretations of that funk/ soul palette, that James Brown funked, souled chopped rhythms. And then artists are bringing on their own characters, their own voices, their own cadences …. Heaven! That golden era was a whole constellation of creativity. This was way before it got formulaic, which was around 1996 onwards. We hit ’96 and it’s all about building brands – Death Row Records, gangsta rap, G-funk, G-funk, G-funk – they reinforce that lifestyle and bring your world into that world. It’s not about being in a room getting a tape from your uncle, or someone from college, or doing it in your living room … I’m modelling my life on this lifestyle, these baggy clothes, this code of behaviour, these girls in the videos, these drugs, all that stuff. It’s not like back in the day with the B-Boys – you customised your fashion, your music, your art, your dance moves, you customised yourself.

Do you feel like you have to compete with today’s hip hop artists?

No. I’m doing the inside job, lots of reflection, lots of development. I do music theory lessons, I do things I’m not so good at. It comes out of reflection, I don’t like what’s going on today. This is where I started and that counts for something, even if you’re not in vogue today. I remember how I started, as a fan of music, making music with the tools I had, my love of poetry, rhythm, mixing sounds, trying to customise things I was influenced by, I was trying to customise what I do, not just copy Run DMC – this is what Bam does. I’m not coming at it from ‘I’m a Battle Rapper – everyone respect me’, that’s not my inspiration, I’m producing my ideas. That was me producing my ideas. I love the way hip hop can draw on all music. I love all music, but I really love hip hop.

You’ve lived in many places around the world, including Austria and Sweden, but have settled in Ramsgate, Kent.

Some of the dirty side of Ramsgate reminds me of the dirtiest corners of Brooklyn, people doing what they do to survive, to get by, people doing what they do to live. Austria has the highest quality of life in the world, Canada, these places are really privileged. There you are taking your kids to the park and it’s like the Emperor’s backyard! In Stockholm the quality of life is high. In Austria the water from the taps came down from the Alps – that’s better quality water than you’d get from a bottle!

Do you still spend time in the US?

I go back the States and see the old school, I have war stories, but that script isn’t looping in my head like it is in their heads because I’m not in that environment.

* Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival runs from Friday 6 to Sunday 8 July 2018 at Moseley Park, Birmingham. Acts appearing include Jimmy Cliff, Roy Ayers, David Rodigan, Fred Wesley & The New JBs, Lucky Chops, Craig Charles, Sister Sledge, Candi Staton and Ezra Collective. Details: mostlyjazz.co.uk

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Reviews, Fri Jun 15-Thu Jun 21

 

NEW RELEASES

Hereditary (15)

Don’t believe the hype that this is the scariest horror movie since The Exorcist (that would be the original Ring);  yes, first-timer writer-director Ari Aster gradually builds from unease to a sense of stark terror, but the film also sports well worn clichés of unsettling noises, glimpsed figures, enigmatic symbols, dark rooms and even a bird flying into a window.  And something in the attic.

It opens with the funeral for Ellen Taper Leigh, the highly secretive and not entirely much missed mother of Annie (a monumentally good Toni Collette), a miniaturist artist currently working on a series of  highly detailed small rooms encapsulating her family and its experiences. Indeed, the only member of the family truly upset by the old dear’s passing is her brooding 13-year-old niece, Charlie (Milly Shapiro looking creepily unsettling), a strange autistic child  with an intense gaze and given to making tongue clucking noises whose sketchpad of angry drawings suggests a decidedly troubled psyche, and whom Granma took it upon herself to raise, pretty much shutting Annie out of her daughter’s life. Charlie has her own workshop in her treehouse where she crafts bizarre effigies, at one point decapitating (a portent of much to follow) the aforementioned bird to add to her collection. The rest of the family comprises Annie’s voice of reason husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who has no backstory at all, and their teenage affable stoner son Peter (Alex Wolff) whose role intensifies as the narrative unfolds.

The first inkling of chills comes when Annie thinks she sees her mother’s shade in her workshop and the film spends a considerable time hinting that the spookiness might all be down to Annie’s mental state (she sleepwalks and recounts one finding herself at the foot of her children’s bed with paint stripper and matches). But when, after a horrific accident (of which Annie crafts a model, much to Steve’s understandable revulsion), Peter, consumed with guilt, has his own ‘hallucination’, then it seems external forces are at work. Steve also gets a call to say his mother-in-law’s grave has been desecrated. And then there’s those shimmers of light dancing around Charlie.

All this is made more manifest when, in seeking to deal with her grief when Charlie is killed, Annie (who earlier found one of her mom’s books on spiritualism) is persuaded to take part in a  séance with Joanie (Anne Dowd), a friendly soul who approaches her outside the counselling session where, following her mother’s funeral,  she’d previously revealed her depressed father’s suicide by starvation and how her schizophrenic older brother hung himself, leaving behind a note accusing his mother of “putting people inside him.”  Well, we all know what séances portend in horror movies.

At which point, the film becomes somewhat less successful as its heads into overfamiliar Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining territory involving cults (with both  living and dead members), possession and malevolent demon lords looking for host bodies, at time resorting to dream sequences for exposition (though the one where Annie spills out a shocking highly unmaternal confession to Peter is effective). With the help of his cinematographer, Aster keeps the sense of dread, but can’t prevent the film from touching on the slightly silly even as its themes of dysfunctional family secrets, maternal guilt and mounting hysteria   collide with the supernatural. Well-crafted, well-designed and well-acted, yes it is scary in parts (and has its sudden jolt moments too), but not so much that you won’t sleep at night.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Jeune Femme (15)

Unceremoniously dumped after ten years together by her celebrated older photographer lover, Joachim Deloche (Grégoire Monsaingeon), who owes his success to a famous  image of her, Julia (Laetitia Dosch) finds herself along and having to reinvent herself and survive on the streets of Paris, as well as care for her ex-lover’s fluffy white Persian cat which she’s managed to land herself with.

Directed by Léonor Serraille and with a predominantly female crew, it’s a celebration of female determination and endurance as Julia, who, to be honest, with her flakiness, personality swings, impulsiveness and lack of any discernible goal, can be undeniably annoying and frustrating, adapts herself and her supposed age to what ever situation she finds herself in and whoever she finds herself with. She’s an adept liar, applying for a job as a nanny to a sulky tweenage girl, she tells her employer she’s an art student,  interviewed for a lingerie concession in a mall she says she’s calm and organised, when she’s anything but, when someone mistakes her for an old friend she goes along with it. She can also insult people without meaning too, but also, when challenged or rejected, she can get nasty. Indeed, in the opening scene, thrown out of Joachim’s apartment, she  bangs her head so hard against his door she needs hospital treatment, stealing another patient’s red coat as she leaves.

The energetic film charts her journey to climb out of the train wreck of her life and become herself rather than be passively defined by her relationship to others and, on screen throughout, Dosch is mesmerising as she inhabits her chameleon-like character but there’s strong performances too from Nathalie Richard as her emotionally cold and distanced mother, and Souleymane Seye Ndiaye as Ousmane, the amiable mall security guard who takes a shine to her.

Throughout, there’s frequent references to the fact that she had differently coloured eyes, hazel and blue, and the film ends with a final shot of them staring into the camera, fiercely determined to take on an often unforgiving and   inhospitable city and become more than driftwood in the lives of others. (Mon-Thu:MAC)

 

My Friend Dahmer (15)

One of the 20th century’s most notorious serial killers, between 1978 and  1991, mostly in Wisconsin, Jeffery Dahmer raped, murdered,  dismembered and, some cases ate, 17 men and boys.  Before he became the Milwaukee Monster, however, he was a high school teenager  and, in the vein of the Bates Motel TV series, writer-director Marc Meyers has crafted a hugely involving earl years biopic, a dark coming-of-age dramady that, while certainly no apology for his subsequent actions does attempt to offer an understanding of how he became what he did, that, while genetics might have played a part, the monster he became was made not born.  Adapted from the comic book of the same name, created by cartoonist John ‘Derf’ Backderf who knew Dahmer back in school, looking very much like the young Jeffery it affords a breakout role for former Disney Channel star Ross Lynch (just as it did for Jeremey Renner who played him in 2002), who gives a superbly nuanced and unsettling performance that, in his detached stare, subtly hints at the horrors to come but, more pertinently, explores the horrors that led to then. Set in Dahmer’s senior high school year, 1977-78, the film superbly details America in its transition from counterculture idealism in the wake of the Nixon scandal to Reaganomics. From the start, it’s clear there’s something off about young Jeffrey, an socially awkward outsider with no friends, a niggling awareness of his latent homosexuality (he becomes obsessed with a bearded male jogger) and parents  heading for divorce, his chemist dad (Dallas Roberts) well-meaning but riddled with low self-esteem, his unstable mother (Anne Heche) forever teetering on the brink of another mental breakdown. At one point, having serve dup undercooked chicken, she shrieks, “We eat our mistakes”, a gallows humour foreshadowing of her son’s later proclivities.  He also as a kid brother, who seems the only normal one in the family.

The first inkling as regards Dahmer’s weirdness is that his hobby is collecting roadkill, dissecting it and dissolving it in various acids to get to the bones. He has a telling fascination with innards. Dad, on the other hand, would much prefer he joined some school clubs, a wish that serves as an amusing prank later in the film. Bullied at school, he takes an extreme approach to getting both noticed and avoided, by pretending to ‘spazz out’. It’s this extreme variation on performance art that attracts the attention of three other nerdy outsiders, Neil (Tommy Nelson), Mike (Harrison Holzer) and Derf (Alex Wollf), the latter forming the Dahmer Fan Club with himself as president and forever drawing cartoons of him, who invite him into their circle. Even so, Dahmer’s well aware that he’s more of a pet freak than a friend.

As Jeffrey becomes increasingly unhinged and his personality even more fractured, two memorably affecting and deeply sad moments being his ‘command performance’ final ‘spazzing’ at the local mall and his prom night date involving a school wallflower, the film gradually builds the tension, Meyers deftly juggling urban horror, black humour and a deep well of empathy and emotion until he ends with Dahmer picking up a hitchhiker who would become the first of his victims. It makes for uncomfortable viewing for all the right reasons. (MAC)

Super Troopers 2 (15)

Had the sequel appeared a couple of years after the Broken Lizard troupe’s 2002 comedy about a bunch of incompetent prankster cops, it would have still been redundant. That it surfaces 16 years on, many of the target audience not having been born when the original appeared, makes it even more so. Again directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, it opens promisingly with a new cast headed by Sean William Scott and Marlon Wayans, Jr. and a chaotic and violent showdown. Unfortunately, that’s just a dream sequence and   the film proper begins with the five Vermont state troopers now working construction after being fired for causing Fred Savage’s death on a ridealong. However, the discovery that, due to a cock up in the historical maps department, a huge chunk of Quebec is actually American, they’re reinstated, under their long-suffering chief (Brian Cox, at a loose end)  and stationed in a log-cabin to patrol the borders until the switchover from Canada to the US is finalised.

Of course, many of the locals, especially the Quebecois, are not exactly thrilled at becoming Americans, nor are the Mounties eager to let the troopers take over their jobs. Cue a wind-up war between them as the film recycles much of the same jokes and plot set ups that felt tired the first time round. So, sampling a drugs bust with hilarious results, the Americans impersonating the Mounties to ruin their reputation, speaking to American motorists in Pythonesque French, a steady stream of Canadian stereotypes (including Emmanuelle Chriqui’s cartoonish accent as a female cop) and cultural insults (though it does give Rob Lowe, as a Canadian mayor, the chance to slap a prosthetic penis) and, well, more of the same really, only more fitful and less funny. Had this been made 14 years ago, when the first film was still riding on the back of a surprise box office hit, then you could understand why. Today, it’s just inexplicable.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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A Quiet Place (15)

After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.

Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father  Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching  deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.

There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.

Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.

Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures  and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own  logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Vue Star City)

 

Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

The movie equivalent of going to an all you can eat buffet and  still wanting more, this brings together pretty much every major  superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least the Disney manifestation thereof), and even those not on screen still get a mention,  for the ultimate slugfest mashup as they take on the towering, ridged-chin world destroyer Thanos (a surprisingly soulful Josh Brolin) who is out to gather all six of the infinity stones (gems of indescribable power governing Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space and Reality), so that he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its inhabitants (as a flashback reveals he did to Gamora’s world before adopting her as his daughter), so that the remaining half have a chance to survive. It’s galaxy-wide genocide, but he means well.

Given the showdowns between Thanos and the various ad hoc team ups take place in various parts of the planet and the universe, the massive cast of characters don’t actually all occupy the same scene at any one time. Rather we have different pockets of resistance. After an initial confrontation in New York with Thanos’s icily effete and sadistic factotum and a couple of his enforcers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland with fetching new bio-suit) are paired up on both Thanos’s flying wheel and his home planet Titan;  Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and, with a traumatised Hulk reluctant to emerge, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) face off in Wakanda with the Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), ultimately joined by Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision  (Paul Bettany), who, lest you forget, has one of the stones in  his forehead. As it turns out, Doctor Strange also has one nestling in his amulet.

After rescuing him from space following the opening massacre of Asgardians, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), stick-teen Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) join forces with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), described by Drax “like a pirate had a baby with an angel!”. The bruised and battered but still up for it God of Thunder  and the ‘rabbit’, as he refers to him, taking off to forge a new hammer  (leading to a wryly amusing scene in which Peter Dinklage dwarfs them both), while the others head for Knowhere, home of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who’s supposedly got one of the stones. Also in the mix is Thanos’s other ‘daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and pretty much all of the other core characters from Black Panther, along with a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo as Tony Stark’s new fiancée, Pepper Potts and a surprise post-credits appearance of a long absent figure.

If you can get your head round that line-up, then you might just make it through the near three hours of  cataclysmic jawdropping, eye-popping action that comes liberally laced with intense emotional beats, pop culture references and the sort of dry and droll humour you’ve come to expect, here primarily in the alpha male arrogance stand-offs between egotistical Stark and supercilious Strange, the testosterone tag match between Thor and an intimidated Peter Quinn (who deepens his voice to assert himself) and the former’s ever hilarious unintended casual put downs. Indeed, Hemsworth pretty much owns every scene he’s in, and his dramatic lightning flashing appearance armed with his new axe, Stormbringer, and a new eye, is one of the film’s major cheer out loud moments

All this directors Anthony and Joe Russo orchestrate with dazzling skill and confidence, never for a moment letting the pace sag, but knowing just when to ease back on the mayhem and introduce Marvel’s trademark tragic notes. Two shocking deaths occur in the opening moments and there’s both sacrifice and sef-sacrifice, while the film concludes in wiping out half of the main cast, though, given that includes the stars of recent new franchises,  these don’t have quite the same impact and it’s a safe bet that, as the all knowing Strange implies, they’ll reassemble in a year’s time for the eagerly anticipated sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Book Club (12A)

when you thought you’d seen the last of Fifty Shades of Grey on the big screen, along comes this senior citizens self-discovery romcom in which E.L. James’ trashy trilogy provides the  product placement narrative engine.

Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda are, respectively,  recently widowed (though the marriage died much earlier) Diane, Sharon, a divorced federal judge whose ex (Ed Begley Jr.) is marrying a much younger bimbo (Mircea Monroe), chef Carol, whose newly retired husband, Bruce (Craig T Nelson), has lost his sexual drive, and hotelier Vivian, a sexually active never married singleton with commitment issues. It’s the latter who introduces James’ novels to their wine-fuelled monthly Los Angeles book club (which began in the 70s with another sexual revolution handbook, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying) in an attempt to inject a little spice into everyone’s lives, if only vicariously. She’s also thrown a curve when high-flyer Arthur (Don Johnson, a movie in-joke since his daughter Dakota  played Anastasia Steele), an old boyfriend she’s not seen in 40 years after walking away from his proposal, turns up the hotel, clearly keen to resume the relationship.

Having set this up the film flits between the four upscale suburban friends as, inspired by the reading matter, they each look to embrace  a new life or fix the one they have. Diane, whose two bossy, overprotective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton) want her to relocate and live with one of them in Arizona, meets cute with charming airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Sharon embarks on on-line dating (hooking up with Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss), Vivian finds herself wondering if maybe she could settle with Arthur and Carol slips Bruce Viagra, with amusingly unfortunate consequences and a confessional catharsis that puts the kybosh on the dance routine they’re supposed to be performing at a charity talent show.

Directed with a workmanlike hand by co-writer Bill Holderman, although there is a smattering of funny one-liners wrapped up in its celebration of older women and that romance and sex shouldn’t end with the menopause, it succeeds solely on account of the sparkling performance by the four leads who, although the dryly amusing Bergen, who delivers a wistfully affective final monologue, arguably, comes out best, all effortlessly balance comedy and poignancy, even if Keaton’s character does channel a fair degree of Annie Hall, right down to the beret. It’s superficial fluff that largely sidesteps any connection with reality, but it’s still hugely enjoyable fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

                          

Breaking In (15)

A home invasion movie that places a strong woman fighting to protect her kids front and centre, director  James McTeigue may not offer any major twists on the well-worn set-up, but, anchored by a  powerful turn from Gabrielle Union,  this short and sharp thriller delivers solid tension and bursts of bloody action.

Returning to her estranged criminal father’s remote and fortress-like high-tech security mansion after he’s killed in a deliberate hit and run, Shaun (Union), who has had nothing to do with him for years, is just there for the weekend with her two kids, teen daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr), to arrange the sale. However, she’s not the only one. Tipped off that there’s a safe packed with millions of dollars, four thieves, Eddie (Billy Burke) and his associates, tattooed psycho Duncan (Richard Cabral), nervy  Sam (Levi Meaden) and former military man Peter (Mark Furze), are determined to get their hands on it. However, they didn’t reckon on anyone else being there.

While Shaun’s outside, they take the kids hostage, setting in motion a taut game of cat and mouse as her maternal instincts take on a  Liam Neeson hue (tellingly, it’s written by Ryan Engle who also penned Non Stop and The Commuter), using whatever’s at hand, broken wine glass, toy drone,  to turn the tables and take the fight to the assailants who, in time-honoured tradition, prove to be conveniently inept.

Naturally, there’s plenty of sneaking round darkened corridors and lurking in shadows, punctuated by some bloodshedding via Duncan slitting the throat of the unfortunate estate agent and a remarkably resourceful Shaun doing a  number on Peter before engineering her way back inside the house.

It’s thinly written and fairly one-dimensional in terms of character, but, for disposable female empowerment action that serves up the payback without troubling the brain cells, this does its job in efficiently effective style.  (Odeon Birmingham)

Deadpool 2 (15)

The original movie made a fortune from  taking the mocking piss out of itself and the whole superhero franchise genre, a self-referential orgy of meta-fiction that demolished the fourth wall, winked to the camera and the audiences  and bundled together onscreen and offscreen personas (at one point Deadpool signs an autograph as  Ryan Reynolds) in a gloriously violent and hilarious WTF of gargantuan proportions. This one tops it. Indeed, directed by Atomic Blonde’s David Leitch (or, as the opening credits have it, One of the Two Guys Who Killed John Wick’s Dog), it starts with scarred cancer victim wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Reynolds) turning on a  dead Wolverine musical box before posing on a bunch of gasoline drums, tossing a lit cigarette and blowing himself to pieces. And then backtracking six weeks to explain why as, having gone into the scum-killing business fulltime (cue gallons of blood), the one that got away ends up killing  girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) just as she and Wade have decided to make a baby, sending him into a guilt-ridden, suicidal funk. Of course, the body parts gathered together by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and hauled back to the X-Men’s mansion, he regenerates and the plot kicks in.

It’s fairly simple, joining  Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her new girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna), he gets to become an X-Men trainee, his first call to action being an attempt to cool down, fireball-hurling teenage mutant Randall (New Zealand’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople breakout star Julian Dennison) who’s threatening to incinerate the mutant hating headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of his orphanage. Suffice to say, things don’t quite work out as planned and both he and the kid end up  in the high-tech mutants prison, the Ice-Box. At which point, enter uber-intense Cable (Josh Brolin), a bionic-enhanced super-soldier who’s beamed in from the future intent on killing Randall in revenge for turning his family to cinders. Cue Deadpool resignedly opting to play the surrogate dad (thereby earning his redemption stripes to reunite with Vanessa) and protect Randall, ultimately attempting to change the course of events that will lead to the present scenario.

Along the way there’s the formation of   his own mutants spin-off, X-Force (“tough, morally flexible and young enough to carry this franchise another 10 to 12 years”, Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Vanisher (a blink of Brad Pitt), Zeigeist (Bill Skarsgård), Domino (a spin-off friendly Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is being lucky, and Peter (Rob Delaney), an ordinary schmuck who just saw the ad. Not that they get to stick around long, only one (and you can guess who from the powers) surviving to take the fight to Cable in one of the many spectacular action sequences, as it gathers to a vaguely Terminator salvational climax.

Bloodier, more visceral and far more foul-mouthed than the original, it sprays pop culture references and in-jokes like nail-bomb confetti, cameos including Alan Tudyk, a glimpse of three X-Men and a very surprising mid-credits appearance of a fourth, alongside returning characters Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (T.J.Miller)  and taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) who wants in on the mercenary lark, not to mention Wade’s favourite  unstoppable villain from the X-Men comics. There’s also deluge of references to and quips about the DC Universe, the Avengers (at one point Deadpool calls Cable Thanos), Robocop, Canada, James Bond , Frozen (how come no one else drew the Yentl comparison!), Annie, Say Anything and a hysterical Green Lantern gag set to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, plus dozens more you’ll have to catch on subsequent viewings as well as its brazen acknowledgement of  the plot holes. And the four post-credit scenes that change everything. Basically, it’s everything you loved about Deadpool – on Viagra. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Greatest Showman (12A)

The year’s most successful film and album, with songs by La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, first time director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon may take any number of liberties with the life of  19th century  showman and legendary hoaxer Phineas T Barnum, but succeed in serving up a fabulous sugar rush, candy coloured helping of feelgood family entertainment about the man who pretty much invented modern day entertainment.

Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the real Barnum, who looked more like Mel Smith and didn’t get into show business until he was in his 60s, Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life, positively exploding with energy in the musical routines (and let’s not forget he first made his name in musical theatre and won a Tony for the Broadway production of The Boy From Oz), but also hitting the key emotional notes when needed.

It opens with a brief background prologue, introducing the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) as the son of a struggling tailor who falls for  Charity (Skylar), the daughter of his dad’s stern and snobbish client who sends her away to  put an end to the friendship. Barnum’s father dies and the kid’s reduced to stealing food on the streets, until befriended by a disfigured stranger, he’s inspired to become more than he is and chase his Million Dreams.

Fast forward and, having made something of himself as an office clerk, the now grown Barnum marries Charity (Michelle Williams, somewhat underused), again to her father’s disapproval,  and they have two cute daughters, Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and, when the shipping company he works for goes belly-up, a flash of inspiration leads Barnum to open his American Museum, a collection of  historical wax figures and stuffed exotic animals, in the hope of attracting the curious. A bedtime observation from one of the kids that it could do with an exhibit that’s not dead then prompts him to round up all manner of society’s freaks, among them bearded lady singer Lettie  (Keala Settle), a 22-year old dwarf (Sam Humphrey) he dresses up as General  Tom Thumb, a giant, Siamese twins, a fat man, the hairy Dog Boy and,  brother and sister trapeze artists whose only ‘deformity’ is being African American, exaggerating their ‘freakishness’ for extra effect and nigger ‘humbug’.

Scamming the bank for a loan, he opens his theatre  and, proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, transforms a scathing review into  an audience magnet with the New York crowds flocking in, restyling his show as a circus with himself as the ringmaster. Looking to move beyond  lowbrow audiences, he then forms a partnership with Philip Caryle (Zac Efron in his first musical role since High School Musical and very loosely based on James Bailey of the Barnum and Bailey Circus), a bored  theatrical producer with a hefty trust fund and the sort of connections that can earn the troupe an audience with Queen Victoria.

It’s here Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the feted opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, and sees an opportunity to move from the peanut to the champagne market. Gambling both his reputation and his wealth, he signs her up for  first a New York showcase and then a mammoth American tour. Suffice to say, things do not go well, resulting in a marriage threatening scandal while, back in New York, the bigot mob protests about the ‘freaks’ get out of hand and the tentative road to romance between Philip  and Anne (Zendaya), one half of the trapeze act, is hitting some racial prejudice bumps.

Naturally, setbacks are just a spur to bigger and better success and, as such the film is very much a hymn to the underdogs chasing the American Dream, not to mention a clarion cry for diversity that strikes  a far more right on contemporary note about those on the margins than would have been the case in Barnum’s day, even if none of the troupe are given anything like a backstory.

But social commentary is secondary to the spectacle and the songs, the rooftop dance routines,  the lavish circus ring bombast, and the cast and film deliver with exuberant gusto, standout  moments being Ferguson (albeit overdubbed by Loren Allred) singing out the pain of being the outsider with Never Enough, Settle leading the charge with the showstopper  This Is Me, Jackman and Efron’s  lithe shot glass shifting barroom negotiations dance routine and the literally soaring circus ring Rewrite the Stars sequence  with Efron and Zendaya. Climaxing with Jackman leading the rousing cast finale of From Now On, this is a fabulous celebration of the power of unadulterated  entertainment to raise the spirits and fill the heart which, as predicted here, has been announced as being turned into a Broadway musical. (Vue Star City)

I Feel Pretty (12A)

While undeniably flawed, this Amy Schumer comedy, working a  similar riff to Trainwreck,   is far better than some of the scathing reviews would suggest and comes with book/cover and be who you are/self-esteem messages that would do Disney proud. Schumer plays New Yorker Renee Bennett who works for the online department of mega cosmetics company Lily LeClaire, albeit ferreted away in a  dingy Chinatown office with her slobby co-worker (Adrian Martinez) because the company only wants beautiful things in its Fifth Avenue HQ. She and her equally ‘ordinary’ friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) post photos on a dating site but get no views, further persuading Renee that looks are everything (though one wonders how, if they  get no views they can be rejected on their appearance) and, one night, after watching bodyswap comedy Big, fed up of being ignored in bars and stores, she impulsively rushes out into the rain and throws a coin into a wishing fountain asking to be beautiful.

The next day, attending Soul Cycle class (basically a keep fit workout on a fixed bike), she falls and bangs her head and, when she comes round and looks in the mirror she sees the figure she wants to be. Physically, she looks exactly the same, but persuaded she’s now drop dead gorgeous, her confidence crawls out from under its shell and she applies for the job of receptionist at Lily LeClaire. As the first face visitors see, she’s understandably not the sort of person the interviewing panel of CFO Helen  (Naomi Campbell) and squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams making the most of a gag that rapidly wears thin) are looking for. But, having been recently given an earful by her company founder grandmother (Lauren Hutton) about appealing to the ‘ordinary’ consumer in launching their new budget line, Avery, who has her own self-esteem issues, hires her. And, not only does she land a swanky job, but she also acquires a sensitive boyfriend in the shape of Ethan (Rory Scovel) following a  meet cute in the dry cleaners where she takes the initiative. On top of which, she’s also given the eye by Avery’s hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), although that subplot never really goes anywhere.

As per narrative requirements, Renee’s elevation to a new social circle, and the fact that the company call on her for her sensible marketing advice for the new product, means she shuts out her old friends (spelled out all too blatantly when she dumps them at a restaurant to gain access to an exclusive party). And, of course, there’s inevitably another bump to the head that removes the ‘magic’, right on the eve of a major conference where she’s supposed to deliver the important pitch. No longer thinking she looks the way she thought she did, she can’t bring herself to face LeClaire or, indeed, Ethan. She first has to realise who she was all along.

Given that  Vivian or Jane could easily point out she looks exactly the same despite her saying they probably don’t recognise who she is, it’s a somewhat flawed premise, but, even so, there’s an infectious sweetness to it with Renee a likeable character while Schumer, who has built a stand-up career on ironic self-deprecation and the superficiality of society, always shines when the material doesn’t. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who fared far better with He’s Just Not That Into You and How To Be Single, never seem quite sure how to get to the final destination of their positive body-image moral, such as Renee taking part in a bikini contest, which, while amusing, negates the admiration for her balls  since she’s oblivious to the fact that he clearly looks nothing like the other curvy contestants.

At the end of the day it’s basically Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Devil Wears Prada with a dressing of ‘magic’ and all too obvious soundtrack beats like Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and Meghan Trainor’s Me Too to point the audience in the right direction, but you shouldn’t judge it just on how it looks.  (Cineworld Solihull; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (12A)

The Jurassic World theme park abandoned and decayed after events in the previous movie,  the surviving dinosaurs are now facing an endangered species extinction level event with the volcano on Isla Nubar threatening to blow its top. Advised by dino expert Ian Malcom (an unusually subdued Jeff Goldblum who bookends the film with his life finds a way message) to let nature takes its course, the American government declines to spend money on saving them. Which is when Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, complete with in-joke about her absurd high heels in the last film), the park’s former manager turned pro-dino activist gets summoned to the palatial Lockwood estate where Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), right hand man to Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s  former partner in InGen and co-creator of the original genetically cloned dinos (though this is actually the first film the character’s ever mentioned), who explains they intend to rescue 11 of the species and relocate them to a new sanctuary. However, they need her help and that of her now ex-lover, raptor-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because of his special bond with Blue, the intelligent raptor he reared and trained. So, accompanied by dino vet Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and nerdy T.Rex phobic systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), off they go to, never for a moment thinking that all the military type guys with big guns might be a bad sign.

However, as the opening sequence involving an underwater mercenary team  recovering a DNA sample from the now dead hybrid dino Indominus rex  has already indicated, there’s another nefarious agenda in play. Yup, unbeknownst to Lockwood, Mills is planning to stage a lucrative animal trafficking auction (managed by Toby Jones) of the rescued species for others to clone, the main attraction  being an Indoraptor, reengineered and weaponised (it can even open doors) by series returning geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D.Wong).

Left to die by  the mercenaries’ leader, managing to escape the erupting volcano in one of the rolling glass spheres,  Claire and Owen, and to a lesser extent Webb and Rodriguez, with, of course, a  timely assist from Blue, now have to try and put a stop to this. All of which, after long stretches with no dinosaur action at all, the creatures mostly locked in  cages and tranquilised, climaxes with assorted giant lizards running amok around the mansion, bodies being duly thrown through the air, stomped on or eaten. Introduced into the mix is also Lockwood’s dinosaur-loving young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a startling reveal about whom is simply tossed away.

Directed by J.A. Bayona (who made A Monster Calls which gets a sly reference here), visually, what with volcanic eruptions, stampeding dinosaurs, a reworking of the first film’s hunter-prey stalking kitchen scene, this time amid a hall of Jurassic tableaux, it delivers the goods, the murky prologue  even offering a Jaws homage to Spielberg. But, since you know none of the good guys are going to get killed off, there’s not a huge amount of tension or, indeed, awe to what is essentially staple disaster movie fodder with some box ticking social messages, while the only notable emotional note is poignant sight of a brachiosaurus, left behind at the jetty, roaring as its swaying neck is swallowed up by smoke and lava. Clearly confident there’s still a huge audience for its narratively preposterous and logically flawed paleothrills, it ends with the auctioned creatures being shipped off to their new owners and Blue surveying a sprawling urban landscape in what seems to be setting up a sort of Planet of the Dinosaurs third act.  It might not offer much that’s new, but given its entertaining Rampage in a big house with dinosaurs popcorn fun, the series’ extinction at the box office is likely to be some way off yet.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Life of the Party (12A)

Following on from Amy Schumer’s underachieving I Feel Pretty, now it’s the turn of Melissa McCarthy to misfire in her third teaming with writer-director husband Ben Falcone. Pitched as a mother-daughter slash female buddy back to school comedy, McCarthy plays middle-aged mom Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) who, just minutes after dropping their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at Decatur University for her senior year, is told my hubbie Dan (Matt Walsh) that he wants a divorce so he can marry high powered real estate agent Marcie (Julie Bowen).

Understandably depressed, back at her parents and confronted with a midlife crisis, Deanne resolves to finally complete her archaeology degree, enrolling at Decatur which she attended years back before dropping out 24 years ago after becoming pregnant. Initially not taken with the idea of having her doting, frumpy mom as a fellow student, Maddie’s soon persuaded, not least since her sorority sisters, most particularly insecure Debbie (Jessie Ennis) and snarky online celeb Helen (Gillian Jacobs), returning after eight years in a coma, think she’s just wonderful.

Before long Deanne’s the campus hit, albeit not with obligatory mean girl Jennifer (Debby Ryan) and her personality-free sidekick, to the extent of embarking on a sexual fling with a much younger fellow student, Jack (Luke Benward), the subject of an awkward reveal later in the movie (but which is never really followed through). Hopping between assorted scenes and set-ups involving parties, sorority initiations, a  dance-battle, a class presentation  meltdown (that, in character terms makes no sense) before a final fund raiser party top pay for Deanne’s fees which the girls claim Christina Aguilera is going to attend, it never really actually goes anywhere or gets beyond the basic find who you are, be true to yourself, self-reliance messages.

There are some decent moments, notably an 80s themed party at which McCarthy, in a  spangled blue jump suit, gives good dance moves and shows her physical comedy skills, but too much is driven by the script rather than the story. McCarthy is fluffily solid enough, but, given surprisingly few sharp one-liners,  she’s overshadowed throughout by Heidi Gardner as her weirdo dormmate Leonor, Maya Rudolph as sex-hungry best friend Christine and, especially Jacobs, scene stealing with just a  roll of her eyes or a facial expression. A film full of ideas but with no real clue what to do with them and with not enough jokes to satisfy trade descriptions, it flops along watchably enough until it simply runs out of steam and just stops. If you want a truly funny  house mother/sorority comedy, then search out Anna Faris in The House Bunny, meanwhile this is the sort of party where you make your excuses and leave early. (Cineworld Solihull; Vue Star City)

McQueen (15)

Colourful and controversial in equal measure, Lee Alexander McQueen was constantly shocking the fashion world, but no more so than when, age 40,  he hung himself on 11 February 2010, a week after the death of the mother he adored. Directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, this documentary makes extensive use of talking heads from the fashion world, both new and archive, among them Isabella Blow (who’s generally credited with discovering him), Jodie Kidd, Alice Smith, designer nephew Gary James McQueen, as well as family members and interview footage of McQueen himself, tracing his career chronologically, from his startling debut show Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims to his gradual slide into drugs, mental deterioration and suicide.

A workaholic, gay East End working class lad with no formal training other than a brief stint working for a Savile Row tailor and a spell at Central St. Martin’s art college, driven by both resolute determination and huge insecurity, McQueen’s unique, often dark visions and radical styles, using materials such as plastics and feathers, transformed the industry as he became both artistic director of Givenchy and launched his own successful label, a skull the signature motif of his McQueen design house.

The footage of collections such as 1995’s Highland Rape, vilified in the media for its supposed misogyny, 2001’s Voss, and 2007’s elegy to Blow,  La Dame Bleue, all underscore his declaration that he wanted audiences to be either exhilarated or repulsed, while the interviews afford an insight into both his creative genius and the demons that stalked it. There’s omissions, no mention, for example, of his unofficial husband George Forsyth, but, powered by a score from Michael Nyman, himself a McQueen collaborator, this is a fascinating and illuminating portrait of one of the most important and influential figures in fashion in the last two decades.(Electric)

Rampage (12A)

Dwayne Johnson scores  two family friendly popcorn triumphs in a row, following Jumanji with this giant monsters destroy cities entry loosely based on the 80s arcade game but also clearly inspired by the likes of King Kong and mutated beast B-movies such as Godzilla. Godzilla and Reuniting with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a San Diego Wildlife Preserve primatologist (and conveniently former military action man) who has a special bond with George, an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers and with whom he converses in sign language. That bond is put to the test, however, when a case containing samples from a covert genetics experiment in a spacelab comes crashing to earth near his compound at the zoo. The experiment, which got out of hand, leading to the destruction of both the spacelab and the escape pod containing the samples, was all about weaponising genetic editing, basically combining aspects of different species,  and promoting rapid growth and strength in the subjects.

The morning after inhaling the fumes, George is found in the bears’ compound where he’s not only killed a grizzly but grown several feet and piled on the weight. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one affected. Out in Wyoming, a wolf has also become a giant predator and, although not putting in an appearance until  later, so has an alligator in the Everglades. All of this is down to ruthless Clare Wyden (Malin Ackerman), who heads up a genetic corporate along with her brother/husband? Brett (Jake Lacy) and also just happens to have a Rampage game (which featured, that’s right a gorilla, wolf and croc) in her office. They’re out to make a bundle regardless of who gets hurt, so naturally would like to get their hands on one of the creatures to extract the  formula, so, when an attempt to bring down the wolf by a bunch of heavily tooled-up mercenaries ends in a bloody mess, she decides to engage a homing beacon atop their Chicago HQ to send out painful sonic signals that will draw the creatures there to shut them down.

On the side of the good guys, you also have Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the geneticist whose work was perverted by the Wydens and who ended up doing time in trying to stop them, plus Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a good’ ole Texas boy from one of those secret government agencies that don’t even have a name, who sums up his role as “When science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.”

So, there you have it. Driven by a  beserker spirit,  George, wolf and the alligator all start tearing apart Chicago, Davis and Kate have to try and get their hands on the antidote while avoiding falling buildings (blink and you’ll miss how it gets delivered) and get George back on side before the hard hat military commander  calls in the mother of all bombs to level the city.

The CGI is, perhaps, not all it could be (the scene of the wolf leaping through the air to bring down a helicopter is particularly hokey), but in terms of mass destruction the film ably lives up to its title for a third act that is essentially one long set piece. Johnson does his familiar sensitive muscle man routine, also flexing his comic biceps to amusing effect, even if Morgan, a sort of cross between Robert Downey Jr and Jack Nicholson, steals every scene with his droll one liners. Akerman and Lacy play their cartoonish villains with a sly wink at how silly it all is and Harris holds her own as more than just the female sidekick. However, the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of George’s signed insults, making you root even more for the big guy when the army’s hitting him with all it has. And if you’re wondering about Rampage 2, just ask yourself what happened to that rat in the glass cage. (Mockingbird) 

 

Sherlock Gnomes (U)

The original movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, was a playful, funny, inventive and charming rework of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending. The sequel, which teams the now married lovers with a  gnome version of Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is none of the above. Settling into their owners’ new London home, Juliet (Emily Blunt) is too busy working to get the garden right to give much time to Gnomeo (James McAvoy), who duly has a major sulk and tries to get her attention back on him. Meanwhile, some dastardly villain is kidnapping all of London’s gnomes, to which end master detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are on the trail, the former’s cruelly dismissive treatment of the latter mirroring the domestic disharmony in the garden. When their friends and relations also get snatched, Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with the detectives to track them down in what is a game of wits played out (Toy Story-like) across London between Holmes and his arch nemesis, the supposedly dead Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a garish yellow pie mascot in a purple nappy and bowtie, with just 24 hours before they’re smashed to pieces.

The film’s executive producer is Elton John and don’t you just know it, with an Elton lookalike gnome, either snatches of his songs or in-jokes references to them (Gnomeo’s codename is Tiny Dancer), while, with his teeth,  Moriaty even looks a bit like him. It’s well-animated with lots of detail, but unfortunately that attention doesn’t extend to the frantic but meandering plot (though it does have a clever twist) or the bland characters. Devoid of wit, the film thinks the sight of a gnome in a pink mankini flashing his buttocks is so hilarious it keeps returning to him while relegating Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to mere cameos as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry. It also contrives to have a sequence set in a  doll museum as an excuse to wheel out Mary J Blige to perform a number as Holmes’ ex, Irene. It’s probably best summed up when, in a TV report about the gnome thefts, the announcer says “Some say it’s a job for Sherlock Gnomes!” before adding, “Others say it’s a slow news day!” Bored kids and adults are likely to opt for the latter.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Show Dogs (U)

“No one’s making talking animals movies any more”, bemoans a white Chihuahua in an in-joke to director Raja Gosnel’s previous Beverly Hills Chihuahua. This interminable, mind-numbingly unfunny buddy cop comedy is a good reason why. A Rottweiller with the NYPD, Max (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is on a stakeout involving a stolen baby panda only to accidentally foul-up an FBI sting leading to him and Frank (an understandably embarrassed-looking Will Arnett), the agent involved having to reluctantly work together posing as an owner and his dog entering the prestigious Canini Invitational show at Caesar’s Palace in L.A. to try and flush out the mastermind behind an international animal smuggling ring. Neither much wants to work with the other, and Max reckons the dog show world is full of fakes and poseurs; however, inevitably friendship and mutual respect blooms and Max learns, in the heavy-handedly spelled out message, to not judge others who have a different worldview. In-between there’s supposedly hilarious moments as Max has to submit to being groomed and having his testicles felt in the cause of the competition while having to use his street skills to win each round as they suspect the smugglers are planning to kidnap the eventual Best In Show. A four-pawed Miss Congeniality cross-bred with Tom Hanks’ Turner & Hooch (to which the references seemingly never end), it features an assortment of celebrity voices, among them Stanley Tucci as Max’s mentor, Philippe, an embittered former champion pampered Papillon who went a little crazy; Alan Cumming Dante, a self-important Yorkie who took Philippe’s place; Jordin Sparks as our hero’s romantic interest, Australian Shepherd Elizabeth, owned and entered by FBI grooming consultant Mattie (Natasha Lyonne); RuPaul as fashionista designer mixed breed Persephone; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, the dreadlocked Zen-spouting Komondor belonging to prime suspect Gabriel (Omar Shaparo) ; and Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, an overly enthusiastic Pug. There’s laboured in jokes (Arnett’s Lego Batman included) and pop culture references, a random Elton John show poster and three especially annoying comic relief pigeons and the whole thing creaks and groans it way to a spectacularly badly staged climax. In discussing Max’s chances as a show dog, although it does have the good grace to save the inevitable dog fart until midway. At one point, discussing Max going undercover as a show dog, someone says “I cannot polish the turd, but perhaps I can roll it in glitter.” Save for Max and Frank in an inspired recreation of that classic Dirty Dancing moment, glitter is in very short supply here. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (12A)

A case of Star Wars fatigue perhaps, the box office response to this Han Solo prequel has been decidedly lacklustre, certainly nowhere near the fervour there was for Rogue One. Nor, playing it on a lighter note more along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones than its predecessor’s drama, is it as good a film.

Essentially an origin tale, we first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich), not yet named Solo, as, having stolen a vial of  coaxium, an indescribably  valuable spaceship fuel, he and fellow thief romantic interest  Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) seek to escape the oppression of Corellia to follow his dream of becoming a  pilot. He makes it past the gate, she doesn’t, and, to avoid capture, he impulsively enlists with the Empire, earning his surname in the process, vowing to return for her when he has his own ship.

Some years later, thrown out of the Imperial Fleet for insubordination, he’s a grunt caught up in one of the Empire’s planet conquering wars when he encounters Tobias  Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his fellow smugglers, Val (Thandie Newton) and chimp-like multiple-armed pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) with whom, after a brief interlude in a mud pit prison where he teams up with imprisoned Wookiee, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), he joins forces in a plan to steal a consignment of coaxium from a transport train. This too doesn’t quite work out, both thinning down the gang and leaving them in debt to Beckett’s ruthless gangster employer Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who fronts the sinister crime cabal the Crimson Dawn,  and facing the likely fatal consequences of failing. They do, however, talk him into giving them another opportunity, this time to steal coaxium directly from the mines  and then processing it before it has the chance to explode.  For this, however, they need a ship. So, enter dandy-ish hustler Lando Calrissian (scene stealer Duncan Glover) who owns, as fans will be aware, the Millennium Falcon (we also learn Hans’ unnamed father used to build Corellian YT-1300 freighters before being laid off) and, along with his sassy droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge),  agrees to come aboard for a take of the payout.  It should also be mentioned that, along the way, Han finds himself unexpectedly reunited with Q’ira who now reluctantly works for Dryden as his top lieutenant. There’s also the slight problem that there’s another gang of thieves, headed up by Beckett’s arch-enemy, who also want the coaxium.

So, there you have it, surname, ship, Wookiee, blaster, trademark clothes, all character’s trademark details ticked off as the core narrative finally kicks in leading to assorted fights, narrow escapes, double crosses, a Warwick Davis cameo, betrayals and surprise twists, including a last act entry by the Alliance rebels and the appearance of a figure from the franchise that doesn’t really actually fit with the timeline.

Although the early chase sequences are suitably kinetic, the narrative’s slow to gather momentum until the gang set off to steal the raw coaxium, involving a tense escape aboard the Falcon through the Maw and Maelstrom as Solo gets to show off his flying skills and  L3 turning into a robot Spartacus to liberate her fellow droids from slavery, but even then the who can you really trust plotting gets a bit repetitive. There’s no Force or lightsabres, though Dryden’s weapon does make a slight nod to the latter, but replacement director Ron Howard and father-son screenwriters  Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan ensure the Star Wars sensibilities remain well polished. Dropping in plenty of franchise references along with the poetry  in-joke character names. And it rarely looks less than amazing.

Ehrenreich is hugely enjoyable channelling the young Han with his rogueish smile, body language, gait, recklessness and charm, so it’s a bit unfortunate that he looks as though he’s more likely to grow up into Dennis Quaid than Harrison Ford. It’s also unfortunate that the chemistry between him and Clarke never fizzles, indeed there’s more spark between Llando and L3 (who reckons her boss has the hots for her). Everyone else is serviceable enough, though sadly Newton’s not round long enough to make good on her first impression, and, at the end of the day, it serves up a fun slice of big screen adventure in the tradition of those Saturday morning matinees that inspired Star Wars in the first place.  However, given the dramatic fall off in bums on seats after the opening week, the likelihood of  further adventures for the pre Mos Eisley Han  and Chewie  seems increasingly unlikely. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

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 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

The Happy Prince (15)

 

It is a part he was born to play, and he does it with exactly the right kind of poignantly ruined magnificence. Rupert Everett has written, directed and starred in this gripping drama about : his disgraced exile-agony in Naples and Paris on being released from prison after the conviction for “gross indecency”. This was the result of his indiscreet affair with , whose enraged, reactionary father, the Marquess of Queensberry, had provoked Wilde’s catastrophic libel action following an accusation of his “posing as a somdomite”. Queensberry’s famously odd misspelling is silently corrected in this film’s opening titles. Over the closing credits – like , about Alan Turing – it gives us the infuriating information that its subject has been posthumously “pardoned” by the British authorities. It’s Wilde (and Turing) who should be doing the pardoning.

 

Everett’s movie is expertly interspersed with flashbacks to Wilde’s great days and to his initial wary optimism on first arriving in France on the boat train. But the movie shows him living and dying in squalor and illness, succumbing to the delayed shock of his prison nightmare, jeered at and spat on by the expatriate Brits who recognised him, unprotected by his quibbling pseudonym “” – that two-word creation which was his final literary work of drollery.

 

 

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Out of prison, Wilde had horrified his friends by resuming the destructive relationship with the exquisite, duplicitous Bosie (Colin Morgan), which causes the termination of the tiny allowance from his humiliated ex-wife Constance (Emily Watson) and endangers Bosie’s own income, leaving them nothing to live on. It’s the beginning of the end. Oscar treats his loyal allies Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) with ungrateful negligence, but Everett imagines him, in extremis, befriending a young Paris rent boy and his tough kid brother and whimsically holding them spellbound with his fairytale The Happy Prince. In happier times, he would recite to his equally entranced sons this story of a statue who allows a swallow to denude him of all his gold to feed the poor. In Everett’s hands, the tale becomes an ambiguous parable for Wilde’s passion and (possible) redemption, the unhappy prince who makes a lonely discovery that love is the only thing worth worshipping.

 

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The story of Wilde’s post-prison ordeal is something most movies nervously turn away from. Stephen Fry’s film  (1997) halted after a sentimental embrace between the reunited Oscar and Bosie in Naples; Ken Hughes’s  (1960) had Oscar – played by Peter Finch with the trace of an Irish accent – coolly refusing to speak to Bosie on the railway station platform before he headed off to his unimaginable future. As in those films, Everett likes to give us the famous lines from  in voiceover: “Each man kills the thing he loves …” But Everett takes us through the moment-by-moment horror of humiliation and poverty, which Wilde brazens out with gallows humour and wit as best he can. He vomits in agony on his deathbed before declaiming: “Encore du champagne!” Everett has clearly been influenced by David Hare’s 1998 stage play , in which Everett played Wilde, and also perhaps by Peter Ackroyd’s 1983 novel .

 

Everett has a great moment when Oscar bursts into tears on being reunited with Bosie – and another, when he is recognised in France by a bunch of British rowdies who are hateful and homophobic (although that second concept is not something that anyone present would have recognised, perhaps not even Wilde himself). The hooligans chase Oscar, Robbie and Reggie into a church where Oscar faces them down by yelling: “The natural habitat of the hypocrite is England! Go there and leave me in peace!” Hypocrisy is the key. Polite society was prepared to turn a blind eye to homosexual assignations if they were conducted within a proper carapace of secrecy and shame. There was no immediate objection to casual sex with the lower orders, who could be bought and bought off. A flaunted connection with the Queensberry family was a class transgression. Shrewdly, Everett shows Wilde with a portrait of Queen Victoria by his deathbed. He died one year before her, and the film hints that Wilde’s vindictive treatment was part of the ugly sense of shame and mortification at Romantic and aesthetic indulgence which the manly slaughter of the first world war was supposed to redeem.

 

What was Wilde’s life in exile really like? Has this movie imagined a world of tragically defiant barbs where, perhaps, none existed? Were his final days actually spent in a kind of defeated silence, the theatrical facade of his former celebrity blowtorched away? It’s impossible to know. But this film is a deeply felt, tremendously acted tribute to courage. Rupert Everett summons the ghost of the ruined and ruinous Oscar Wilde – and the flickering shades of Visconti – for his directorial debut, and also stars as the Irish poet, playwright and wit at the end of his tragically short life. Wilde’s mighty struggle with himself, with his heavenly talent and earthly lusts, and the meaning of it all resonates so strongly with the direction and performance that The Happy Prince is easily elevated past period Victoriana (and that wallpaper) to move and engage in equal parts. Wilde’s heart-breaking children’s story The Happy Prince weaves in and out of the narrative, and actorly indulgences, particularly towards the climax, should be forgiven. After all, Wilde himself would be the last to ruin a deathbed scene by cutting it short.

 

Parts tragic, defiant, and gleefully self-indulgent, Everett coarsens his features with prosthetics

 

Commercially The Happy Prince will have to carve out its own niche in the small but prestigious area between Death In Venice, Call Me By Your Name, and Shadowlands. Everett’s performance marks a career-best and many will be drawn by it, though he’s subsumed enough to be almost unrecognisable. It’s his own tender screenplay, however, and a burnished combination of empathy and realism that makes the picture, with its all-Europe sets and lustrous lighting and design, a strongly cinematic statement from an actor whose intelligence, up to now, has always outshone the films he has appeared in.

 

Everett starred as Wilde in the 2012 revival of the play Judas Kiss, and the pair are an immaculate fit. His clear sympathy for and identification with Wilde seems to come on many levels, not least that the actor also saw his professional world shrink when he came out at the age of 25.

 

Although they play small roles in comparison, Everett has also guided his co-stars to shine. His Another Country co-star Colin Firth as Wilde’s friend Reggie Turner, Colin Morgan as Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, Emily Watson as Wilde’s wife Constance and newcomer Edwin Thomas as his stalwart friend and erstwhile lover Robbie Ross all deliver strong, grounded performances. The much-villified Bosie is treated in a way that isn’t sympathetic yet is unusually perceptive, thanks to Morgan’s portrayal of an indulged schoolboy.

 

This is a new treatment of Wilde – no Stephen Fry-style floppy-haired hagiography with Oscar dropping lilies and epigrams as he mooches towards death. Here, ravaged and dissolute, Wilde tumbles headlong into his downfall, dying destitute in St Germain De Pres at the age of 46 having ripped his life apart heedlessly, determinedly, and poignantly in a series of rash decisions. The Happy Prince sees Wilde alone and drunk in Paris, cadging money from former friends, almost willing himself to death. His soul is irreparably damaged after two years of hard labour in Reading Gaol for gross indecency and he wants to see his children, yet reunites with Bosie knowing what that will mean. “I am my own Judas,” he says.

 

Everett, for whom this is a long-held passion project carefully patched together through an elaborate network of European finance out of Germany (with assistance from the BBC and Lionsgate in the UK), carefully modulates his performance. Parts tragic, defiant, and gleefully self-indulgent, Everett coarsens his features with prosthetics to catalogue the final years of a wandering, impecunious, drunk and nihilistic Wilde. The film is set in Naples, Paris and Normandy, with sets in Belgium and Germany (Bavaria) and Everett and his team rarely put a foot wrong. The British sets slightly disappoint (Clapham Junction, Reading Gaol) in comparison with the exquisitely realised European sequences.

 

Everett doesn’t dial down Wilde’s darker side. It’s a tough look at the sexual appetites (his “mauve moments” with street boys) and heavy drinking and druggy ways of a voracious man who was dangerous to those who came close. (“Each man kills the things he loves” – or, as his first lover and final love Ross warns, “he’ll eat you”).  Calling himself Sebastian Melmoth, Wilde leaves Reading in boisterous high spirits, an “exiled fairy”, but it’s a bitter slide down his trough of despond.

 

With a running theme of “The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery’ (a performance Everett relishes), The Happy Prince switches moods at the tip of Wilde’s hat; score is by Gabriel Yared, while Everett holds a writing credit on the rambunctious “Vive Le Trottoir”. The velour wallpaper, drapes and dark Victorian interiors may battle with Everett and Wilde, but they never win. The European light, the efforts Wilde makes with rouge and panstick, and a sequence on  a beach seems to deliberately call to mind Thomas Mann and Visconti, but The Happy Prince has further to travel in its examination of the artist and the choices he made.

 

Quoting De Profundis, Wilde’s testament from prison, Everett tracks the end of the man who was greedy for “the fruit of all the trees in all the world”, and was viciously punished for it. The posthumous pardon for Wilde’s prison sentence, as the credits note, was only delivered last year, giving The Happy Prince an immediate point of relevance, and a poignant one at that. Reunited in Rouen after a pained separation, Oscar Wilde and his young lover Alfred “Bosie” Douglas adjourn to the privacy of a small, dim, chintzily decorated hotel room. Clothes come off, the lights go out… and just like that, “The Happy Prince” hits us with a cutaway to a train going through a tunnel. Cribbed shamelessly from Hitchcock, it’s the kind of lightly saucy visual gag you might expect in a film directed by waggish thesp Rupert Everett, but its daintiness strikes a false note in a biopic otherwise dedicated to the honest passions and anguish of a man best known for his archness. It’s neither the first nor the last well-meaning misstep in Everett’s ornate writing-directing debut, which chronicles Wilde’s destitute final years in France as a tangle of memory streams, boozy vignettes and flashbacks within flashbacks, but sometimes loses sight of the man behind the aesthete.

 

 

A big-screen vehicle for Everett as Wilde has, of course, been a long time coming. The out-and-proud Brit established his affinity for Wilde’s limber, witty language in Oliver Parker’s springy screen adaptations of “An Ideal Husband” and “The Importance of Being Earnest,” before getting more seriously into the skin of the Irish literary giant for David Hare’s biographical play “The Judas Kiss” — a work with which “The Happy Prince” partially overlaps in its focus on the toxic disintegration of Wilde’s and Bosie’s affair.

So it comes as no surprise that the actor, his aquiline features smudged and blunted under makeup and prosthetics, makes a fine Wilde — brittler than Stephen Fry’s interpretation from 1998, but persuasively so. At points, Everett rather touchingly essays the protective irony that endures in a spirit otherwise crumpled by heartbreak, imprisonment and public shaming; he moves with the shambling body language of a larger-than-life man now doing his level best not to be seen.

 

As a final, permanent showcase for a role Everett was born to play, then, “The Happy Prince” does the job. For all its passion-project hallmarks, however, it makes a shakier case for him being the filmmaker to bring it to screen. Everett’s original screenplay shoots for an ambitiously unruly hall-of-mirrors structure, flitting non-chronologically around Wilde’s final years as recollections and hallucinations come to him on his deathbed in a Parisian fleapit. Yet the writing is more literal than literary, awash with such woolly sentiments as, “Suffering is nothing when there is love… love is everything,” while the breeze-blown timeline, under Everett’s heavy, decorous direction, turns a bit stuffy.

 

For any viewers unfamiliar with the facts, introductory title cards explain the essential circumstances of Wilde’s social ruin, following his 1895 conviction for “gross indecency with men.” We flash immediately back to gentler times in the Wilde household, as he puts his sons to bed with a reading of his own eponymous children’s story; the beloved tale of a gilded statue who comes to know the gravity of human suffering, it’s recurringly referenced in Everett’s script, seemingly as a metaphor for Wilde’s own depleted, once-golden existence. The fable is repeated, more wistfully, to Jean (Benjamin Voisin) and Leon (Matteo Salamone), the Parisian street urchins whom Wilde takes under his withered wing in his last days, his storytelling powers outclassing his bodily strength.

 

 

Skipping back and forth across his exile period, “The Happy Prince” winds up principally sketching a rough love triangle between Wilde, the teasing, manipulative Bosie (a pristine, suitably petulant Colin Morgan) and Wilde’s more tenderly devoted literary executor Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), which alternately intensifies and dissipates across years and European borders. (A German-Belgian-Italian co-production, the film duly puts its multinational production credits up on screen.)

 

Ross’s weary, take-and-take relationship with his client, friend and sometime lover gives the film its most quietly moving thread, buoyed by Thomas’s stoic, softly sorrowful performance. Would that Emily Watson, largely wasted in her few brief scenes as Wilde’s estranged, embittered wife Constance, were given as many notes to play; a typically reserved Colin Firth, also taking an executive producer credit, adds little but marquee value in an extended cameo as Wilde’s loyal friend and peer Reggie Turner.

 

“The Happy Prince” gains some heated, enlivening pique when it touches on the subject of Wilde’s continued homophobic bullying by onlookers and the system alike, played in terms that still strike an anxious chord in 2018. Elsewhere, there’s not much urgency to its melancholic ramble through the writer’s ailing consciousness. Cinematographer John Conroy favors chiefly autumnal, varnish-darkened shades, which join Gabriel Yared’s stately score in lending proceedings an elegiac tone from the outset: fair early warning for audiences that Oscar Wilde the blithe humorist will be making sporadic appearances, at best, in a biopic that places great importance on being earnest. “Why should a perfectly divine leopard change his spots?” Wilde asks, though Everett’s film, at once indulgent and somewhat undernourished, captures its subject some way past his era of divinity. Oscar Wilde ended his days lost in a miasma of bankruptcy, public infamy and viral agony, never returning to Britain after his release from Reading Gaol, but exiled to the continent. Bravely, it’s this period of his life that Rupert Everett has chosen to focus on for his directorial debut, The Happy Prince, letting him expand on his celebrated performance in the 2012 West End revival of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss.

 

Everett has danced around the role of Wilde throughout his career, notably as the idle bachelors Oscar wrote in An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, both plays landing on screen during the peak Miramax era as a pair of nattily cast Oliver Parker divertissements. But it’s here that the writer-director-star truly gets to grips with the grisly decay of the author’s life, sparing us nothing as he plunges into a destitute purgatory with little in the way of comic relief. With only brief upward glances at Wilde’s faded star as the one-time toast of London society, these are very much the gutter years.

 

Physically, Everett is a long way here from the louche-but-dapper, black-tie-ready figure he cut a decade or two ago. Jowly and lumbering, mush-faced under prosthetics, his Wilde is on a fast track to oblivion, frittering away his last centimes on pleasures of the flesh, including “purple moments” with the rent boys whose absinthe-sodden company he sought in Paris and Rouen. The legendary wit flickers here and there, but ruin and tragedy are written all over the man, and creatively he’s a spent force.

 

First announced in 2012, The Happy Prince has evidently been a passion project for Everett, difficult to fund in the intervening years, and some of its wobbly, free-associative technique can be put down to strenuous labour. But there are real virtues to its comparative lack of polish: this story gains a seamy power from the rough edges, the exploratory style, even the slightly unstable editing. Everett summons the shade of Visconti’s Death in Venice, when Wilde takes the air and hides from his persecutors at a French seaside resort. But there’s much in the vision of sordid demi-monde carousing which suggests an influence closer to home: the acrid and challenging work of John Maybury, especially his 1998 Francis Bacon biopic Love is the Devil.

 

 

The supporting cast help the general cause. Everett’s old cohort Colin Firth, as his loyal friend Reggie Turner, and Edwin Thomas as his literary executor Robbie Ross, are admittedly way too far apart in age to play these exact contemporaries: Firth’s mainly here to be a sellable name, not a convincing 28-year-old, but such is life.

 

A bleached-blond Colin Morgan, meanwhile, has the just right sort of Caravaggio pulchritude to play Bosie, with whom Wilde was briefly but tempestuously reunited before his final descent. Better yet is young French actor Benjamin Voisin, outstanding in the presumably composite role of Jean, a sympathetic French street urchin. Emily Watson, typically thoughtful as Oscar’s despairing wife Constance, doesn’t get quite the screen time that Jennifer Ehle had in 1997’s Wilde, but given the couple’s separation at this late stage, it’s hardly surprising. In that more sanitised film, Tom Wilkinson played Wilde’s notorious nemesis, the Marquess of Queensbury, and funnily enough turns up with a small role here serving the exact opposite function: he’s the Irish priest who forgivingly ministered on Wilde’s death bed, while all his remaining well-wishers clustered around.

 

Everett overdoes the lachrymosity right at the end, the one part of the film where a more subdued rigour would have served him better. At the very least, though, it’s a command performance he puts in front of us, an uncompromising feat of empathy in the role he’s made his own more than any other. (Vue Star City)

On Chesil Beach (12A)

Adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, set predominantly on one Dorset evening in 1962, punctuated  with flashbacks and moving on to codas in 1975 and 2007, and the feature debut of  theatre director Dominic Cooke, this tells of the wedding night of newlyweds, working class history graduate Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan), a graduate, CND activist and string quartet leader from a privileged background. It’s not a happy one. From the start, as they look across the table at each other in the honeymoon suite while two of the staff knowingly  exchange looks and make innuendo-laced comment as they serve dinner, it is clear there is tension between the pair. As the evening slowly moves towards consummating the marriage, the film flashes back to show how they met (at a CND meeting in Oxord, he anxious to tell someone, anyone, that he’s just got a first) as well as detailing their family settings. He lives in country village with his two younger sisters, his gentle primary shool headmaster father (Adrian Scarborough) and artist mother (Anne-Marie Duff) who has brain damage after being struck by a moving train door, often can’t remember who he is  and has a tendency to wander around naked. She, on the other hand, comes from a wealthy family headed up by competitive, toxic male engineering factory owner Geoffrey (Samuel West), with a younger sister and an arrogant, snobbish Oxford don mother (Emily Watson)  given to chatting on the phone with  Iris Murdoch.

Both are virgins, lacking knowledge about sex (in one scene she reads about erections and penetrations with a sense of horror) and how to handle relationships, with no experience of physical intimacy beyond kissing. So, when they finally fumble their way round to it, it’s not too surprising that it ends in tears, he ejaculating prematurely, she fleeing the room in disgust. Meeting up on the pointedly pebble beach, confessions are made and a proposition of how to handle that side of things put forward. The love lasts forever. The marriage last six hours.

This is the film’s strongest part, a sympathetic and sensitive critique of the British way of love and sex prior to the Swinging Sixties and, dominating the screen, both Ronan and Howle give terrific, she adopting a perfectly clipped English accent and registering profound emotional depths with just an expression. Things are slightly less effective  and more narratively contrived in the later scenes, Ed running a record store in the 70s and part of the free love movement, and living by himself in 2007 when he hears of a farewell concert by Florence’s now famous quartet, respectively prompting both a Chuck Berry moment and a sentimental but nevertheless moving scene, each of which has been set up earlier in the film.

The problem is that it’s only in those final moments that the film really finds an emotional beat as opposed to the somewhat distanced gaze – and slightly mannered dialogue – that characterises the bulk of the narrative, even if it is supposed to echo the society of the time when sex wasn’t something discussed in polite families. Very much an art house offering, as underscored by its limited, selective release, it forgoes storms of passion  for  muted heartbreaks.

The Breadwinner (12A)

Nominated for both the Golden Globes and Oscars, the solo debut of Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret of Kells is an animated adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ young adult book, based on interviews with Afghan refugees in Pakistan, about Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) an 11-year-old Afghan girl in 2001 Taliban-occupied Kabul who, when her disabled former teacher father, Nurullah (Ali Badshah), is arrested (by a former pupil) and hauled off to prison,  takes it upon herself to keep the family, her mother, sister and baby brother fed. Rather this than see her sister married to as distant cousin offering to take them out of the city and abandon Nurullah,

However, given the Taliban’s brutal control over women’s lives, which forbids women to venture outside without male company and the fact that shopkeepers are too scared to sell to her for fear of retribution, in order to do so – and ultimately to go in search of her father and take him the crutch he need to walk- she has to disguise herself as a boy, because, as Shauzia (Soma Chhaya),  a kindred street smart spirit also passing as a boy, points out, boys can go anywhere.

So, she cuts her hair and wears her deceased older brother’s clothes (his story only revealed later) and ventures out into the city markets, earning money by selling what few goods the family has left and in using her literacy skills to read the letters of a friendly illiterate  customer (Kawa Ada), who will prove instrumental in her quest. Meanwhile, her mother is planning to escape to the sea.

Among the items for sale is an ornate tunic which, at the start of the film, her father employs to spin a story about Afghanistan’s history, a narrative conceit that develops further in the fables Parvana tells her baby brother and which form a central motif in the film’s message about the power of imagination and the value of traditional culture as the action is punctuated by her tales of a young boy’s courage in confronting and overcoming the terrifying Elephant King, the animation in these moments adopting a stylized and colourful cutout style as opposed to the simple line drawings elsewhere.

With careful attention to cultural accuracy, it balances its hard hitting political content with deep emotion as it recounts background stories alongside that of Paravana and her family, building to a powerful dramatic finale against a backdrop of renewed conflict, pitting the power of love and friendship against the power of hate and division.

 

Review: Nouvelle Vague, Birmingham Town Hall

Nouvelle Vague credit Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias

Nouvelle Vague live were as beautiful and as stylish as the venue they played in.

The French band returned to Birmingham’s Town Hall following the release of their fifth album I Could Be Happy.

A pleasantly surprising start to the evening was delivered courtesy of London-Paris singer Tim Keegan who enamoured himself to the crowd with protest song ‘To Russia With Gloves’ – a song about a transsexual goalkeeper playing in the upcoming Russian World Cup.

More surprises followed at the start of the headliner’s set. Nouvelle Vague guitarist Olivier Libaux and keyboard player Marc Collin entered a darkened stage to started the title track of their last album, whilst singers Liset Alea and Mélanie Pain made their entrance from the back of the half-filled room, singing their way down the two side aisles.

The vocal performance from Alea on tracks by The Buzzcocks and The Smiths – reimagined in the band’s trademark Bossa-Nova style – was enchanting and her stylish, sultry dance expression was reminiscent of opening credits from classic James Bond films.

Encouraged by Alea asking in her delicate French accent “Are you ready Birmingham?” the crowd were soon propelled to their feet by an upbeat, clap-along version of Depeche Mode ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’.

A few more tracks later and singer Mélanie Pain reminded the audience, “Yes, we are French!” before delivering a version of ‘La Pluie et le Beau Temps’ in her native tongue.

The band ended their first set with a cover of The Cramps’ ‘Human Fly’ before leaving the stage, the crowd expectant of a return.

After a brief pause and encouragement from the modest but keen audience, the band returned with a completely reconstructed version of ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo and the Bunnymen. Perhaps an odd choice for an encore but what it lacked in tempo and excitement it made up for in captivation and wonder.

The set was brought to a climactic end with a cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Following a number of verses and choruses, the audience was led into rounds of the chorus line (and title) for what seemed an enjoyable eternity.

Such a well-delivered show deserved a better attendance, however, all that attended will have gone home in the knowledge they witnessed a slick, captivating show full of beauty and quirk.

Words: Dave Breeze

Preview: Nouvelle Vague bring Bossa Nova vibes to Birmingham

Nouvelle Vague. Image: Julian Marshall

French band Nouvelle Vague, who, for the past decade has released a wealth of popular songs from the New Wave genre played in a Bossa Nova style, perform at Birmingham’s Town Hall on Monday 11 June.

Following the release of their last EP I Could Be Happy, the group led by musicians Olivier Libaux and Marc Collin have been on a US and UK tour over the past few months.

Bossa Nova is a type of music that mixes jazz and samba – made popular in Brazil throughout the 1950s. The word Bossa Nova literally translates to ‘New Wave’ which in French is Nouvelle Vague, giving the band their name and a description of their style(s).

The band’s repertoire includes tracks such as Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve’), XTC’s ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ and Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’.

Nouvelle Vague, whose members have included a number of acclaimed singers including Camille Dalmais, also perform versions of songs by The Rolling Stones, The Specials, Dead Kennedys and Public Image Ltd.

Support will be provided by Tim Keegan.

Tickets are available from the official Town Hall and Symphony Hall website.

Words: Dave Breeze

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 8-Thu Jun 14

 

NEW RELEASES

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (12A)

The Jurassic World theme park abandoned and decayed after events in the previous movie,  the surviving dinosaurs are now facing an endangered species extinction level event with the volcano on Isla Nubar threatening to blow its top. Advised by dino expert Ian Malcom (an unusually subdued Jeff Goldblum who bookends the film with his life finds a way message) to let nature takes its course, the American government declines to spend money on saving them. Which is when Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, complete with in-joke about her absurd high heels in the last film), the park’s former manager turned pro-dino activist gets summoned to the palatial Lockwood estate where Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), right hand man to Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s  former partner in InGen and co-creator of the original genetically cloned dinos (though this is actually the first film the character’s ever mentioned), who explains they intend to rescue 11 of the species and relocate them to a new sanctuary. However, they need her help and that of her now ex-lover, raptor-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because of his special bond with Blue, the intelligent raptor he reared and trained. So, accompanied by dino vet Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and nerdy T.Rex phobic systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), off they go to, never for a moment thinking that all the military type guys with big guns might be a bad sign.

However, as the opening sequence involving an underwater mercenary team  recovering a DNA sample from the now dead hybrid dino Indominus rex  has already indicated, there’s another nefarious agenda in play. Yup, unbeknownst to Lockwood, Mills is planning to stage a lucrative animal trafficking auction (managed by Toby Jones) of the rescued species for others to clone, the main attraction  being an Indoraptor, reengineered and weaponised (it can even open doors) by series returning geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D.Wong).

Left to die by  the mercenaries’ leader, managing to escape the erupting volcano in one of the rolling glass spheres,  Claire and Owen, and to a lesser extent Webb and Rodriguez, with, of course, a  timely assist from Blue, now have to try and put a stop to this. All of which, after long stretches with no dinosaur action at all, the creatures mostly locked in  cages and tranquilised, climaxes with assorted giant lizards running amok around the mansion, bodies being duly thrown through the air, stomped on or eaten. Introduced into the mix is also Lockwood’s dinosaur-loving young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a startling reveal about whom is simply tossed away.

Directed by J.A. Bayona (who made A Monster Calls which gets a sly reference here), visually, what with volcanic eruptions, stampeding dinosaurs, a reworking of the first film’s hunter-prey stalking kitchen scene, this time amid a hall of Jurassic tableaux, it delivers the goods, the murky prologue  even offering a James homage to Spielberg. But, since you know none of the good guys are going to get killed off, there’s not a huge amount of tension or, indeed, awe to what is essentially staple disaster movie fodder with some box ticking social messages, while the only notable emotional note is poignant sight of a brachiosaurus, left behind at the jetty, roaring as its swaying neck is swallowed up by smoke and lava. Clearly confident there’s still a huge audience for its narratively preposterous and logically flawed paleothrills, it ends with the auctioned creatures being shipped off to their new owners and Blue surveying a sprawling urban landscape in what seems to be setting up a sort of Planet of the Dinosaurs third act.  It might not offer much that’s new, but given its entertaining Rampage in a big house with dinosaurs popcorn fun, the series’ extinction at the box office is likely to be some way off yet.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City

Also Opening

McQueen (15)

Colourful and controversial in equal measure, Lee Alexander McQueen was constantly shocking the fashion world, but no more so than when, age 40,  he hung himself on 11 February 2010, a week after the death of the mother he adored. Directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, this documentary makes extensive use of talking heads from the fashion world, both new and archive, among them Isabella Blow (who’s generally credited with discovering him), Jodie Kidd, Alice Smith, designer nephew Gary James McQueen, as well as family members and interview footage of McQueen himself, tracing his career chronologically, from his startling debut show Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims to his gradual slide into drugs, mental deterioration and suicide.

A workaholic, gay East End working class lad with no formal training other than a brief stint working for a Savile Row tailor and a spell at Central St. Martin’s art college, driven by both resolute determination and huge insecurity, McQueen’s unique, often dark visions and radical styles, using materials such as plastics and feathers, transformed the industry as he became both artistic director of Givenchy and launched his own successful label, a skull the signature motif of his McQueen design house.

The footage of collections such as 1995’s Highland Rape, vilified in the media for its supposed misogyny, 2001’s Voss, and 2007’s elegy to Blow,  La Dame Bleue, all underscore his declaration that he wanted audiences to be either exhilarated or repulsed, while the interviews afford an insight into both his creative genius and the demons that stalked it. There’s omissions, no mention, for example, of his unofficial husband George Forsyth, but, powered by a score from Michael Nyman, himself a McQueen collaborator, this is a fascinating and illuminating portrait of one of the most important and influential figures in fashion in the last two decades.(Electric)

 

NOW PLAYING

A Quiet Place (15)

After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.

Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father  Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching  deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.

There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.

Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.

Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures  and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own  logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Vue Star City)

 

Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

The movie equivalent of going to an all you can eat buffet and  still wanting more, this brings together pretty much every major  superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least the Disney manifestation thereof), and even those not on screen still get a mention,  for the ultimate slugfest mashup as they take on the towering, ridged-chin world destroyer Thanos (a surprisingly soulful Josh Brolin) who is out to gather all six of the infinity stones (gems of indescribable power governing Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space and Reality), so that he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its inhabitants (as a flashback reveals he did to Gamora’s world before adopting her as his daughter), so that the remaining half have a chance to survive. It’s galaxy-wide genocide, but he means well.

Given the showdowns between Thanos and the various ad hoc team ups take place in various parts of the planet and the universe, the massive cast of characters don’t actually all occupy the same scene at any one time. Rather we have different pockets of resistance. After an initial confrontation in New York with Thanos’s icily effete and sadistic factotum and a couple of his enforcers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland with fetching new bio-suit) are paired up on both Thanos’s flying wheel and his home planet Titan;  Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and, with a traumatised Hulk reluctant to emerge, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) face off in Wakanda with the Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), ultimately joined by Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision  (Paul Bettany), who, lest you forget, has one of the stones in  his forehead. As it turns out, Doctor Strange also has one nestling in his amulet.

After rescuing him from space following the opening massacre of Asgardians, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), stick-teen Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) join forces with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), described by Drax “like a pirate had a baby with an angel!”. The bruised and battered but still up for it God of Thunder  and the ‘rabbit’, as he refers to him, taking off to forge a new hammer  (leading to a wryly amusing scene in which Peter Dinklage dwarfs them both), while the others head for Knowhere, home of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who’s supposedly got one of the stones. Also in the mix is Thanos’s other ‘daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and pretty much all of the other core characters from Black Panther, along with a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo as Tony Stark’s new fiancée, Pepper Potts and a surprise post-credits appearance of a long absent figure.

If you can get your head round that line-up, then you might just make it through the near three hours of  cataclysmic jawdropping, eye-popping action that comes liberally laced with intense emotional beats, pop culture references and the sort of dry and droll humour you’ve come to expect, here primarily in the alpha male arrogance stand-offs between egotistical Stark and supercilious Strange, the testosterone tag match between Thor and an intimidated Peter Quinn (who deepens his voice to assert himself) and the former’s ever hilarious unintended casual put downs. Indeed, Hemsworth pretty much owns every scene he’s in, and his dramatic lightning flashing appearance armed with his new axe, Stormbringer, and a new eye, is one of the film’s major cheer out loud moments

All this directors Anthony and Joe Russo orchestrate with dazzling skill and confidence, never for a moment letting the pace sag, but knowing just when to ease back on the mayhem and introduce Marvel’s trademark tragic notes. Two shocking deaths occur in the opening moments and there’s both sacrifice and sef-sacrifice, while the film concludes in wiping out half of the main cast, though, given that includes the stars of recent new franchises,  these don’t have quite the same impact and it’s a safe bet that, as the all knowing Strange implies, they’ll reassemble in a year’s time for the eagerly anticipated sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Beast (15)

Very loosely inspired by the so-called Beast of Jersey, 60s sex offender Edward John Louis Paisnel,  first time writer/director Michael Pearce pulls off a tense and compelling psychological thriller that, despite some flaws, marks him out as a definite person of  Hollywood interest.

Set in present day Jersey, it stars Jessie Buckley (who co-starred in Taboo and is currently to be seen in the BBC’s The Woman In White) as tourist guide Moll, an intelligent but wild spirited red-head with a troubled past involving stabbing a school bully and a passive-aggressive mother (Geraldine James) who home schooled her and keeps her on a tight leash, making her look after her sickly father. When her 28th birthday celebrations are upstaged by her sister announcing she’s pregnant, Moll storms off in a strop and heads to a dance club where she hooks up with one of the locals who, on their way home in the early morning, comes on threateningly insistently until he’s scared off by a new arrival, a straggly-bearded and scarred but handsome gun-bearing poacher by the name of Pascal Renouf (folk musician Johnny Flynn) who gives her a lift home.

Much to her mother’s displeasure, Moll asks Pascal back to do some handyman jobs and is increasingly drawn to his air of mystery and danger, and perhaps, also his heady, musky smell. However,  she’s not long into the relationship when Clifford (Trystan Gravelle), a local copper who has a thing for her, confides that Pascal, who, a native islander with a criminal record for underage sexual assault, is a bit of an outsider in the more judgemental British community, is on a short list of suspects (which, for some, also includes the influx of seasonal migrant workers)  as the potential serial killer who’s raping and murdering young women by shoving soil down their throats. Rebellious to a fault when challenged by authority, Moll gives him an alibi for the night they met, refusing to be shaken even when intimidatingly questioned by a detective (Olwen Fouere) shipped in from the mainland to take on the case. The fact is, Moll, who herself borders on the sociopathic, gets a kick out of the way her involvement with Pascal irritates her mother and her stuffy family circle and, even as she begins to question his innocence, she feels a powerful kinship of personality, one that could have dangerous consequences for them both.

The serial killer aspect is very much just a subplot here to the film’s examination of the characters’ dysfunctional dynamics and wilfully self-destructive rebellion and, while it climaxes with an unexpected and bloody disturbing jolt, it’s arguably stronger in the early going before Pearce starts playing with the audience’s assumptions  overstretching the plausibility with a convoluted narrative. Even so, he makes effective use of his Hitchcock influences (Suspicion and The Lodger to be precise) and is well served by big screen career boosting performances from Buckley and Flynn whose chemistry crackles like messing with gunpowder. It ultimately poses more questions than it has answers, but it remains a strikingly impressive debut. (Mockingbird)

Book Club (12A)

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Fifty Shades of Grey on the big screen, along comes this senior citizens self-discovery romcom in which E.L. James’ trashy trilogy provides the  product placement narrative engine.

Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda are, respectively,  recently widowed (though the marriage died much earlier) Diane, Sharon, a divorced federal judge whose ex (Ed Begley Jr.) is marrying a much younger bimbo (Mircea Monroe), chef Carol, whose newly retired husband, Bruce (Craig T Nelson), has lost his sexual drive, and hotelier Vivian, a sexually active never married singleton with commitment issues. It’s the latter who introduces James’ novels to their wine-fuelled monthly Los Angeles book club (which began in the 70s with another sexual revolution handbook, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying) in an attempt to inject a little spice into everyone’s lives, if only vicariously. She’s also thrown a curve when high-flyer Arthur (Don Johnson, a movie in-joke since his daughter Dakota  played Anastasia Steele), an old boyfriend she’s not seen in 40 years after walking away from his proposal, turns up the hotel, clearly keen to resume the relationship.

Having set this up the film flits between the four upscale suburban friends as, inspired by the reading matter, they each look to embrace  a new life or fix the one they have. Diane, whose two bossy, overprotective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton) want her to relocate and live with one of them in Arizona, meets cute with charming airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Sharon embarks on on-line dating (hooking up with Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss), Vivian finds herself wondering if maybe she could settle with Arthur and Carol slips Bruce Viagra, with amusingly unfortunate consequences and a confessional catharsis that puts the kybosh on the dance routine they’re supposed to be performing at a charity talent show.

Directed with a workmanlike hand by co-writer Bill Holderman, although there is a smattering of funny one-liners wrapped up in its celebration of older women and that romance and sex shouldn’t end with the menopause, it succeeds solely on account of the sparkling performance by the four leads who, although the dryly amusing Bergen, who delivers a wistfully affective final monologue, arguably, comes out best, all effortlessly balance comedy and poignancy, even if Keaton’s character does channel a fair degree of Annie Hall, right down to the beret. It’s superficial fluff that largely sidesteps any connection with reality, but it’s still hugely enjoyable fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

                          

Breaking In (15)

A home invasion movie that places a strong woman fighting to protect her kids front and centre, director  James McTeigue may not offer any major twists on the well-worn set-up, but, anchored by a  powerful turn from Gabrielle Union,  this short and sharp thriller delivers solid tension and bursts of bloody action.

Returning to her estranged criminal father’s remote and fortress-like high-tech security mansion after he’s killed in a deliberate hit and run, Shaun (Union), who has had nothing to do with him for years, is just there for the weekend with her two kids, teen daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr), to arrange the sale. However, she’s not the only one. Tipped off that there’s a safe packed with millions of dollars, four thieves, Eddie (Billy Burke) and his associates, tattooed psycho Duncan (Richard Cabral), nervy  Sam (Levi Meaden) and former military man Peter (Mark Furze), are determined to get their hands on it. However, they didn’t reckon on anyone else being there.

While Shaun’s outside, they take the kids hostage, setting in motion a taut game of cat and mouse as her maternal instincts take on a  Liam Neeson hue (tellingly, it’s written by Ryan Engle who also penned Non Stop and The Commuter), using whatever’s at hand, broken wine glass, toy drone,  to turn the tables and take the fight to the assailants who, in time-honoured tradition, prove to be conveniently inept.

Naturally, there’s plenty of sneaking round darkened corridors and lurking in shadows, punctuated by some bloodshedding via Duncan slitting the throat of the unfortunate estate agent and a remarkably resourceful Shaun doing a  number on Peter before engineering her way back inside the house.

It’s thinly written and fairly one-dimensional in terms of character, but, for disposable female empowerment action that serves up the payback without troubling the brain cells, this does its job in efficiently effective style.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza)

Deadpool 2 (15)

The original movie made a fortune from  taking the mocking piss out of itself and the whole superhero franchise genre, a self-referential orgy of meta-fiction that demolished the fourth wall, winked to the camera and the audiences  and bundled together onscreen and offscreen personas (at one point Deadpool signs an autograph as  Ryan Reynolds) in a gloriously violent and hilarious WTF of gargantuan proportions. This one tops it. Indeed, directed by Atomic Blonde’s David Leitch (or, as the opening credits have it, One of the Two Guys Who Killed John Wick’s Dog), it starts with scarred cancer victim wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Reynolds) turning on a  dead Wolverine musical box before posing on a bunch of gasoline drums, tossing a lit cigarette and blowing himself to pieces. And then backtracking six weeks to explain why as, having gone into the scum-killing business fulltime (cue gallons of blood), the one that got away ends up killing  girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) just as she and Wade have decided to make a baby, sending him into a guilt-ridden, suicidal funk. Of course, the body parts gathered together by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and hauled back to the X-Men’s mansion, he regenerates and the plot kicks in.

It’s fairly simple, joining  Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her new girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna), he gets to become an X-Men trainee, his first call to action being an attempt to cool down, fireball-hurling teenage mutant Randall (New Zealand’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople breakout star Julian Dennison) who’s threatening to incinerate the mutant hating headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of his orphanage. Suffice to say, things don’t quite work out as planned and both he and the kid end up  in the high-tech mutants prison, the Ice-Box. At which point, enter uber-intense Cable (Josh Brolin), a bionic-enhanced super-soldier who’s beamed in from the future intent on killing Randall in revenge for turning his family to cinders. Cue Deadpool resignedly opting to play the surrogate dad (thereby earning his redemption stripes to reunite with Vanessa) and protect Randall, ultimately attempting to change the course of events that will lead to the present scenario.

Along the way there’s the formation of   his own mutants spin-off, X-Force (“tough, morally flexible and young enough to carry this franchise another 10 to 12 years”, Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Vanisher (a blink of Brad Pitt), Zeigeist (Bill Skarsgård), Domino (a spin-off friendly Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is being lucky, and Peter (Rob Delaney), an ordinary schmuck who just saw the ad. Not that they get to stick around long, only one (and you can guess who from the powers) surviving to take the fight to Cable in one of the many spectacular action sequences, as it gathers to a vaguely Terminator salvational climax.

Bloodier, more visceral and far more foul-mouthed than the original, it sprays pop culture references and in-jokes like nail-bomb confetti, cameos including Alan Tudyk, a glimpse of three X-Men and a very surprising mid-credits appearance of a fourth, alongside returning characters Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (T.J.Miller)  and taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) who wants in on the mercenary lark, not to mention Wade’s favourite  unstoppable villain from the X-Men comics. There’s also deluge of references to and quips about the DC Universe, the Avengers (at one point Deadpool calls Cable Thanos), Robocop, Canada, James Bond , Frozen (how come no one else drew the Yentl comparison!), Annie, Say Anything and a hysterical Green Lantern gag set to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, plus dozens more you’ll have to catch on subsequent viewings as well as its brazen acknowledgement of  the plot holes. And the four post-credit scenes that change everything. Basically, it’s everything you loved about Deadpool – on Viagra. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Edie (12A)

When, after decades of incapability following a stroke that trapped her in a loveless marriage, her husband finally dies, rather than be dumped in the care home her daughter has in mind, and regretful at her ‘wasted years’, octogenarian Edie (Sheila Hancock, who is onscreen for most of the film) decides to fulfil a trip she and her father once vowed to undertake and heads to Suilven in the outer reaches of Scotland to climb its mountain. To which end, she is inveigled into hiring local camping equipment shop owner Johnny (Kevin Guthrie) to serve as her trainer. Initially in it for the money (his girlfriend and business partner wants to expand the shop), assuming she’ll never go through with it, and despite a somewhat prickly relationship,  the closer he becomes to Edie the more he’s inspired by her resolve and courage as a friend rather than a guide.

Directed by Simon Hunter and written by Elizabeth O’Halloran, it’s a fairly formulaic affair that would seem to have an air of Harold and Maude about it, but, thanks to the strength of the central performances, with Guthrie’s easy going charm and Hancock’s superbly nuanced ability to convey Edie’s turbulent emotions and the memories that drive her to rediscover her true self, it rises well above its Scottish Tourist Board picture postcard appearance. (MAC; Vue Star City)

 

The Greatest Showman (12A)

The year’s most successful film and album, with songs by La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, first time director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon may take any number of liberties with the life of  19th century  showman and legendary hoaxer Phineas T Barnum, but succeed in serving up a fabulous sugar rush, candy coloured helping of feelgood family entertainment about the man who pretty much invented modern day entertainment.

Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the real Barnum, who looked more like Mel Smith and didn’t get into show business until he was in his 60s, Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life, positively exploding with energy in the musical routines (and let’s not forget he first made his name in musical theatre and won a Tony for the Broadway production of The Boy From Oz), but also hitting the key emotional notes when needed.

It opens with a brief background prologue, introducing the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) as the son of a struggling tailor who falls for  Charity (Skylar), the daughter of his dad’s stern and snobbish client who sends her away to  put an end to the friendship. Barnum’s father dies and the kid’s reduced to stealing food on the streets, until befriended by a disfigured stranger, he’s inspired to become more than he is and chase his Million Dreams.

Fast forward and, having made something of himself as an office clerk, the now grown Barnum marries Charity (Michelle Williams, somewhat underused), again to her father’s disapproval,  and they have two cute daughters, Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and, when the shipping company he works for goes belly-up, a flash of inspiration leads Barnum to open his American Museum, a collection of  historical wax figures and stuffed exotic animals, in the hope of attracting the curious. A bedtime observation from one of the kids that it could do with an exhibit that’s not dead then prompts him to round up all manner of society’s freaks, among them bearded lady singer Lettie  (Keala Settle), a 22-year old dwarf (Sam Humphrey) he dresses up as General  Tom Thumb, a giant, Siamese twins, a fat man, the hairy Dog Boy and,  brother and sister trapeze artists whose only ‘deformity’ is being African American, exaggerating their ‘freakishness’ for extra effect and nigger ‘humbug’.

Scamming the bank for a loan, he opens his theatre  and, proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, transforms a scathing review into  an audience magnet with the New York crowds flocking in, restyling his show as a circus with himself as the ringmaster. Looking to move beyond  lowbrow audiences, he then forms a partnership with Philip Caryle (Zac Efron in his first musical role since High School Musical and very loosely based on James Bailey of the Barnum and Bailey Circus), a bored  theatrical producer with a hefty trust fund and the sort of connections that can earn the troupe an audience with Queen Victoria.

It’s here Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the feted opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, and sees an opportunity to move from the peanut to the champagne market. Gambling both his reputation and his wealth, he signs her up for  first a New York showcase and then a mammoth American tour. Suffice to say, things do not go well, resulting in a marriage threatening scandal while, back in New York, the bigot mob protests about the ‘freaks’ get out of hand and the tentative road to romance between Philip  and Anne (Zendaya), one half of the trapeze act, is hitting some racial prejudice bumps.

Naturally, setbacks are just a spur to bigger and better success and, as such the film is very much a hymn to the underdogs chasing the American Dream, not to mention a clarion cry for diversity that strikes  a far more right on contemporary note about those on the margins than would have been the case in Barnum’s day, even if none of the troupe are given anything like a backstory.

But social commentary is secondary to the spectacle and the songs, the rooftop dance routines,  the lavish circus ring bombast, and the cast and film deliver with exuberant gusto, standout  moments being Ferguson (albeit overdubbed by Loren Allred) singing out the pain of being the outsider with Never Enough, Settle leading the charge with the showstopper  This Is Me, Jackman and Efron’s  lithe shot glass shifting barroom negotiations dance routine and the literally soaring circus ring Rewrite the Stars sequence  with Efron and Zendaya. Climaxing with Jackman leading the rousing cast finale of From Now On, this is a fabulous celebration of the power of unadulterated  entertainment to raise the spirits and fill the heart which, as predicted here, has been announced as being turned into a Broadway musical. (Vue Star City)

I Feel Pretty (12A)

While undeniably flawed, this Amy Schumer comedy, working a  similar riff to Trainwreck,   is far better than some of the scathing reviews would suggest and comes with book/cover and be who you are/self-esteem messages that would do Disney proud. Schumer plays New Yorker Renee Bennett who works for the online department of mega cosmetics company Lily LeClaire, albeit ferreted away in a  dingy Chinatown office with her slobby co-worker (Adrian Martinez) because the company only wants beautiful things in its Fifth Avenue HQ. She and her equally ‘ordinary’ friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) post photos on a dating site but get no views, further persuading Renee that looks are everything (though one wonders how, if they  get no views they can be rejected on their appearance) and, one night, after watching bodyswap comedy Big, fed up of being ignored in bars and stores, she impulsively rushes out into the rain and throws a coin into a wishing fountain asking to be beautiful.

The next day, attending Soul Cycle class (basically a keep fit workout on a fixed bike), she falls and bangs her head and, when she comes round and looks in the mirror she sees the figure she wants to be. Physically, she looks exactly the same, but persuaded she’s now drop dead gorgeous, her confidence crawls out from under its shell and she applies for the job of receptionist at Lily LeClaire. As the first face visitors see, she’s understandably not the sort of person the interviewing panel of CFO Helen  (Naomi Campbell) and squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams making the most of a gag that rapidly wears thin) are looking for. But, having been recently given an earful by her company founder grandmother (Lauren Hutton) about appealing to the ‘ordinary’ consumer in launching their new budget line, Avery, who has her own self-esteem issues, hires her. And, not only does she land a swanky job, but she also acquires a sensitive boyfriend in the shape of Ethan (Rory Scovel) following a  meet cute in the dry cleaners where she takes the initiative. On top of which, she’s also given the eye by Avery’s hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), although that subplot never really goes anywhere.

As per narrative requirements, Renee’s elevation to a new social circle, and the fact that the company call on her for her sensible marketing advice for the new product, means she shuts out her old friends (spelled out all too blatantly when she dumps them at a restaurant to gain access to an exclusive party). And, of course, there’s inevitably another bump to the head that removes the ‘magic’, right on the eve of a major conference where she’s supposed to deliver the important pitch. No longer thinking she looks the way she thought she did, she can’t bring herself to face LeClaire or, indeed, Ethan. She first has to realise who she was all along.

Given that  Vivian or Jane could easily point out she looks exactly the same despite her saying they probably don’t recognise who she is, it’s a somewhat flawed premise, but, even so, there’s an infectious sweetness to it with Renee a likeable character while Schumer, who has built a stand-up career on ironic self-deprecation and the superficiality of society, always shines when the material doesn’t. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who fared far better with He’s Just Not That Into You and How To Be Single, never seem quite sure how to get to the final destination of their positive body-image moral, such as Renee taking part in a bikini contest, which, while amusing, negates the admiration for her balls  since she’s oblivious to the fact that he clearly looks nothing like the other curvy contestants.

At the end of the day it’s basically Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Devil Wears Prada with a dressing of ‘magic’ and all too obvious soundtrack beats like Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and Meghan Trainor’s Me Too to point the audience in the right direction, but you shouldn’t judge it just on how it looks.  (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Life of the Party (12A)

Following on from Amy Schumer’s underachieving I Feel Pretty, now it’s the turn of Melissa McCarthy to misfire in her third teaming with writer-director husband Ben Falcone. Pitched as a mother-daughter slash female buddy back to school comedy, McCarthy plays middle-aged mom Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) who, just minutes after dropping their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at Decatur University for her senior year, is told my hubbie Dan (Matt Walsh) that he wants a divorce so he can marry high powered real estate agent Marcie (Julie Bowen).

Understandably depressed, back at her parents and confronted with a midlife crisis, Deanne resolves to finally complete her archaeology degree, enrolling at Decatur which she attended years back before dropping out 24 years ago after becoming pregnant. Initially not taken with the idea of having her doting, frumpy mom as a fellow student, Maddie’s soon persuaded, not least since her sorority sisters, most particularly insecure Debbie (Jessie Ennis) and snarky online celeb Helen (Gillian Jacobs), returning after eight years in a coma, think she’s just wonderful.

Before long Deanne’s the campus hit, albeit not with obligatory mean girl Jennifer (Debby Ryan) and her personality-free sidekick, to the extent of embarking on a sexual fling with a much younger fellow student, Jack (Luke Benward), the subject of an awkward reveal later in the movie (but which is never really followed through). Hopping between assorted scenes and set-ups involving parties, sorority initiations, a  dance-battle, a class presentation  meltdown (that, in character terms makes no sense) before a final fund raiser party top pay for Deanne’s fees which the girls claim Christina Aguilera is going to attend, it never really actually goes anywhere or gets beyond the basic find who you are, be true to yourself, self-reliance messages.

There are some decent moments, notably an 80s themed party at which McCarthy, in a  spangled blue jump suit, gives good dance moves and shows her physical comedy skills, but too much is driven by the script rather than the story. McCarthy is fluffily solid enough, but, given surprisingly few sharp one-liners,  she’s overshadowed throughout by Heidi Gardner as her weirdo dormmate Leonor, Maya Rudolph as sex-hungry best friend Christine and, especially Jacobs, scene stealing with just a  roll of her eyes or a facial expression. A film full of ideas but with no real clue what to do with them and with not enough jokes to satisfy trade descriptions, it flops along watchably enough until it simply runs out of steam and just stops. If you want a truly funny  house mother/sorority comedy, then search out Anna Faris in The House Bunny, meanwhile this is the sort of party where you make your excuses and leave early. (Cineworld Solihull; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

On Chesil Beach (12A)

Adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, set predominantly on one Dorset evening in 1962, punctuated  with flashbacks and moving on to codas in 1975 and 2007, and the feature debut of  theatre director Dominic Cooke, this tells of the wedding night of newlyweds, working class history graduate Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan), a graduate, CND activist and string quartet leader from a privileged background. It’s not a happy one. From the start, as they look across the table at each other in the honeymoon suite while two of the staff knowingly  exchange looks and make innuendo-laced comment as they serve dinner, it is clear there is tension between the pair. As the evening slowly moves towards consummating the marriage, the film flashes back to show how they met (at a CND meeting in Oxord, he anxious to tell someone, anyone, that he’s just got a first) as well as detailing their family settings. He lives in country village with his two younger sisters, his gentle primary shool headmaster father (Adrian Scarborough) and artist mother (Anne-Marie Duff) who has brain damage after being struck by a moving train door, often can’t remember who he is  and has a tendency to wander around naked. She, on the other hand, comes from a wealthy family headed up by competitive, toxic male engineering factory owner Geoffrey (Samuel West), with a younger sister and an arrogant, snobbish Oxford don mother (Emily Watson)  given to chatting on the phone with  Iris Murdoch.

Both are virgins, lacking knowledge about sex (in one scene she reads about erections and penetrations with a sense of horror) and how to handle relationships, with no experience of physical intimacy beyond kissing. So, when they finally fumble their way round to it, it’s not too surprising that it ends in tears, he ejaculating prematurely, she fleeing the room in disgust. Meeting up on the pointedly pebble beach, confessions are made and a proposition of how to handle that side of things put forward. The love lasts forever. The marriage last six hours.

This is the film’s strongest part, a sympathetic and sensitive critique of the British way of love and sex prior to the Swinging Sixties and, dominating the screen, both Ronan and Howle give terrific, she adopting a perfectly clipped English accent and registering profound emotional depths with just an expression. Things are slightly less effective  and more narratively contrived in the later scenes, Ed running a record store in the 70s and part of the free love movement, and living by himself in 2007 when he hears of a farewell concert by Florence’s now famous quartet, respectively prompting both a Chuck Berry moment and a sentimental but nevertheless moving scene, each of which has been set up earlier in the film.

The problem is that it’s only in those final moments that the film really finds an emotional beat as opposed to the somewhat distanced gaze – and slightly mannered dialogue – that characterises the bulk of the narrative, even if it is supposed to echo the society of the time when sex wasn’t something discussed in polite families. Very much an art house offering, as underscored by its limited, selective release, it forgoes storms of passion  for  muted heartbreaks. (Electric)

Rampage (12A)

Dwayne Johnson scores  two family friendly popcorn triumphs in a row, following Jumanji with this giant monsters destroy cities entry loosely based on the 80s arcade game but also clearly inspired by the likes of King Kong and mutated beast B-movies such as Godzilla. Godzilla and Reuniting with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a San Diego Wildlife Preserve primatologist (and conveniently former military action man) who has a special bond with George, an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers and with whom he converses in sign language. That bond is put to the test, however, when a case containing samples from a covert genetics experiment in a spacelab comes crashing to earth near his compound at the zoo. The experiment, which got out of hand, leading to the destruction of both the spacelab and the escape pod containing the samples, was all about weaponising genetic editing, basically combining aspects of different species,  and promoting rapid growth and strength in the subjects.

The morning after inhaling the fumes, George is found in the bears’ compound where he’s not only killed a grizzly but grown several feet and piled on the weight. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one affected. Out in Wyoming, a wolf has also become a giant predator and, although not putting in an appearance until  later, so has an alligator in the Everglades. All of this is down to ruthless Clare Wyden (Malin Ackerman), who heads up a genetic corporate along with her brother/husband? Brett (Jake Lacy) and also just happens to have a Rampage game (which featured, that’s right a gorilla, wolf and croc) in her office. They’re out to make a bundle regardless of who gets hurt, so naturally would like to get their hands on one of the creatures to extract the  formula, so, when an attempt to bring down the wolf by a bunch of heavily tooled-up mercenaries ends in a bloody mess, she decides to engage a homing beacon atop their Chicago HQ to send out painful sonic signals that will draw the creatures there to shut them down.

On the side of the good guys, you also have Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the geneticist whose work was perverted by the Wydens and who ended up doing time in trying to stop them, plus Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a good’ ole Texas boy from one of those secret government agencies that don’t even have a name, who sums up his role as “When science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.”

So, there you have it. Driven by a  beserker spirit,  George, wolf and the alligator all start tearing apart Chicago, Davis and Kate have to try and get their hands on the antidote while avoiding falling buildings (blink and you’ll miss how it gets delivered) and get George back on side before the hard hat military commander  calls in the mother of all bombs to level the city.

The CGI is, perhaps, not all it could be (the scene of the wolf leaping through the air to bring down a helicopter is particularly hokey), but in terms of mass destruction the film ably lives up to its title for a third act that is essentially one long set piece. Johnson does his familiar sensitive muscle man routine, also flexing his comic biceps to amusing effect, even if Morgan, a sort of cross between Robert Downey Jr and Jack Nicholson, steals every scene with his droll one liners. Akerman and Lacy play their cartoonish villains with a sly wink at how silly it all is and Harris holds her own as more than just the female sidekick. However, the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of George’s signed insults, making you root even more for the big guy when the army’s hitting him with all it has. And if you’re wondering about Rampage 2, just ask yourself what happened to that rat in the glass cage. (Vue Star City)

Redoubtable (15)

With iconic French auteur Jean-Luc Godard having just dazzled Cannes with his latest, The Image Book, Michel Hazanavicius’s timely biopic, its title a frequently alluded to reference to the French nuclear submarine launched in 1967, casts  back to 1968 when Godard and a group of other French directors got the festival cancelled  as a mark of solidarity with the Paris revolutionaries. Starring Louis Garrel as Godard, it recalls when, feeling that he’s getting old, becoming irrelevant and pricked by accusations that cinema hasn’t taken up the revolutionary fervour and nursing irritation that his Chairman Mao-extolling satire La Chinoise has had a critical and commercial drubbing, he renounces both the industry that made him a visionary legend and such feted past work as Breathless and Le Mepris, and, along with his new teenage wife and La Chinoise star Anne Wiazemsky  (Stacy Martin), on whose memoir the film is based, goes on a self-righteous political and artistically experimental bender. Increasingly churlish and embittered, he joins the protestors (cue a running joke about getting his glasses broken), insults and alienates old friends, indulges in fatuous shock tactics (the famous Jews are the new Nazis speech at a debate on Palestine)  and plunges into the realms of communal cinema and radical film-making, the marriage, ultimately, unable to take the strain.

Amusing and dramatic by turn, the film rather overdoes its affectionate Godardian pastiche with its intertitles, black and white moments, polarization, jazz  and nudity to the extent that style often comes at the expense of substance in its examination of his artistic crisis and the collapse of the marriage, although it’s never less than savagely unsentimental in portraying the nastier and narcissistic side of Godard during these times. You do, of course, have to have substantial working knowledge of Godard, French cinema and 60s politics to even think of buying  ticket, but those that do will be rewarded. (Mon-Thu: MAC)

 

 

Sherlock Gnomes (U)

The original movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, was a playful, funny, inventive and charming rework of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending. The sequel, which teams the now married lovers with a  gnome version of Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is none of the above. Settling into their owners’ new London home, Juliet (Emily Blunt) is too busy working to get the garden right to give much time to Gnomeo (James McAvoy), who duly has a major sulk and tries to get her attention back on him. Meanwhile, some dastardly villain is kidnapping all of London’s gnomes, to which end master detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are on the trail, the former’s cruelly dismissive treatment of the latter mirroring the domestic disharmony in the garden. When their friends and relations also get snatched, Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with the detectives to track them down in what is a game of wits played out (Toy Story-like) across London between Holmes and his arch nemesis, the supposedly dead Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a garish yellow pie mascot in a purple nappy and bowtie, with just 24 hours before they’re smashed to pieces.

The film’s executive producer is Elton John and don’t you just know it, with an Elton lookalike gnome, either snatches of his songs or in-jokes references to them (Gnomeo’s codename is Tiny Dancer), while, with his teeth,  Moriaty even looks a bit like him. It’s well-animated with lots of detail, but unfortunately that attention doesn’t extend to the frantic but meandering plot (though it does have a clever twist) or the bland characters. Devoid of wit, the film thinks the sight of a gnome in a pink mankini flashing his buttocks is so hilarious it keeps returning to him while relegating Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to mere cameos as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry. It also contrives to have a sequence set in a  doll museum as an excuse to wheel out Mary J Blige to perform a number as Holmes’ ex, Irene. It’s probably best summed up when, in a TV report about the gnome thefts, the announcer says “Some say it’s a job for Sherlock Gnomes!” before adding, “Others say it’s a slow news day!” Bored kids and adults are likely to opt for the latter.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Show Dogs (U)

“No one’s making talking animals movies any more”, bemoans a white Chihuahua in an in-joke to director Raja Gosnel’s previous Beverly Hills Chihuahua. This interminable, mind-numbingly unfunny buddy cop comedy is a good reason why. A Rottweiller with the NYPD, Max (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is on a stakeout involving a stolen baby panda only to accidentally foul-up an FBI sting leading to him and Frank (an understandably embarrassed-looking Will Arnett), the agent involved having to reluctantly work together posing as an owner and his dog entering the prestigious Canini Invitational show at Caesar’s Palace in L.A. to try and flush out the mastermind behind an international animal smuggling ring. Neither much wants to work with the other, and Max reckons the dog show world is full of fakes and poseurs; however, inevitably friendship and mutual respect blooms and Max learns, in the heavy-handedly spelled out message, to not judge others who have a different worldview. In-between there’s supposedly hilarious moments as Max has to submit to being groomed and having his testicles felt in the cause of the competition while having to use his street skills to win each round as they suspect the smugglers are planning to kidnap the eventual Best In Show. A four-pawed Miss Congeniality cross-bred with Tom Hanks’ Turner & Hooch (to which the references seemingly never end), it features an assortment of celebrity voices, among them Stanley Tucci as Max’s mentor, Philippe, an embittered former champion pampered Papillon who went a little crazy; Alan Cumming Dante, a self-important Yorkie who took Philippe’s place; Jordin Sparks as our hero’s romantic interest, Australian Shepherd Elizabeth, owned and entered by FBI grooming consultant Mattie (Natasha Lyonne); RuPaul as fashionista designer mixed breed Persephone; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, the dreadlocked Zen-spouting Komondor belonging to prime suspect Gabriel (Omar Shaparo) ; and Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, an overly enthusiastic Pug. There’s laboured in jokes (Arnett’s Lego Batman included) and pop culture references, a random Elton John show poster and three especially annoying comic relief pigeons and the whole thing creaks and groans it way to a spectacularly badly staged climax. In discussing Max’s chances as a show dog, although it does have the good grace to save the inevitable dog fart until midway. At one point, discussing Max going undercover as a show dog, someone says “I cannot polish the turd, but perhaps I can roll it in glitter.” Save for Max and Frank in an inspired recreation of that classic Dirty Dancing moment, glitter is in very short supply here. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (12A)

A case of Star Wars fatigue perhaps, the box office response to this Han Solo prequel has been decidedly lacklustre, certainly nowhere near the fervour there was for Rogue One. Nor, playing it on a lighter note more along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones than its predecessor’s drama, is it as good a film.

Essentially an origin tale, we first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich), not yet named Solo, as, having stolen a vial of  coaxium, an indescribably  valuable spaceship fuel, he and fellow thief romantic interest  Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) seek to escape the oppression of Corellia to follow his dream of becoming a  pilot. He makes it past the gate, she doesn’t, and, to avoid capture, he impulsively enlists with the Empire, earning his surname in the process, vowing to return for her when he has his own ship.

Some years later, thrown out of the Imperial Fleet for insubordination, he’s a grunt caught up in one of the Empire’s planet conquering wars when he encounters Tobias  Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his fellow smugglers, Val (Thandie Newton) and chimp-like multiple-armed pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) with whom, after a brief interlude in a mud pit prison where he teams up with imprisoned Wookiee, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), he joins forces in a plan to steal a consignment of coaxium from a transport train. This too doesn’t quite work out, both thinning down the gang and leaving them in debt to Beckett’s ruthless gangster employer Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who fronts the sinister crime cabal the Crimson Dawn,  and facing the likely fatal consequences of failing. They do, however, talk him into giving them another opportunity, this time to steal coaxium directly from the mines  and then processing it before it has the chance to explode.  For this, however, they need a ship. So, enter dandy-ish hustler Lando Calrissian (scene stealer Duncan Glover) who owns, as fans will be aware, the Millennium Falcon (we also learn Hans’ unnamed father used to build Corellian YT-1300 freighters before being laid off) and, along with his sassy droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge),  agrees to come aboard for a take of the payout.  It should also be mentioned that, along the way, Han finds himself unexpectedly reunited with Q’ira who now reluctantly works for Dryden as his top lieutenant. There’s also the slight problem that there’s another gang of thieves, headed up by Beckett’s arch-enemy, who also want the coaxium.

So, there you have it, surname, ship, Wookiee, blaster, trademark clothes, all character’s trademark details ticked off as the core narrative finally kicks in leading to assorted fights, narrow escapes, double crosses, a Warwick Davis cameo, betrayals and surprise twists, including a last act entry by the Alliance rebels and the appearance of a figure from the franchise that doesn’t really actually fit with the timeline.

Although the early chase sequences are suitably kinetic, the narrative’s slow to gather momentum until the gang set off to steal the raw coaxium, involving a tense escape aboard the Falcon through the Maw and Maelstrom as Solo gets to show off his flying skills and  L3 turning into a robot Spartacus to liberate her fellow droids from slavery, but even then the who can you really trust plotting gets a bit repetitive. There’s no Force or lightsabres, though Dryden’s weapon does make a slight nod to the latter, but replacement director Ron Howard and father-son screenwriters  Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan ensure the Star Wars sensibilities remain well polished. Dropping in plenty of franchise references along with the poetry  in-joke character names. And it rarely looks less than amazing.

Ehrenreich is hugely enjoyable channelling the young Han with his rogueish smile, body language, gait, recklessness and charm, so it’s a bit unfortunate that he looks as though he’s more likely to grow up into Dennis Quaid than Harrison Ford. It’s also unfortunate that the chemistry between him and Clarke never fizzles, indeed there’s more spark between Llando and L3 (who reckons her boss has the hots for her). Everyone else is serviceable enough, though sadly Newton’s not round long enough to make good on her first impression, and, at the end of the day, it serves up a fun slice of big screen adventure in the tradition of those Saturday morning matinees that inspired Star Wars in the first place.  However, given the dramatic fall off in bums on seats after the opening week, the likelihood of  further adventures for the pre Mos Eisley Han  and Chewie  seems increasingly unlikely. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Strangers: Prey at Night (15)

Ten years ago, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman played a couple terrorised by three strangers while staying in an isolated holiday home. Now, a decade later, comes this sequel in which, being reluctantly taken to boarding school after proving too much of a handful, stroppy teen Kinsey (Bailee Madison), her mom and dad (Christina Hendricks; Martin Henderson) and more conformist older Luke (Lewis Pullman), are taking a brief family vacation stopover at the trailer park run by her grandparents.

Arriving late at night, the place deserted, they settle into their cabin only to be disturbed by a knock at the door by some girl who’s apparently lost. Sulking, Kinsey takes off to explore the park, accompanied by Luke, and the pair wind up at their grandparents’ home only to find them butchered.  Racing home, Luke takes dad go off to show what they found and, while they’re away she and mom are attacked by a girl in a mask, Kinsey escaping and running of into the night to find the other two. And, with dad also soon despatched, the film grinds down into the siblings being hunted by the three silent, disguised killers, Dollface (Emma Bellomy), Pinup Girl (Lea Enslin) and, sporting a sack over his head, Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), as they seek to survive.

A basic no frills slasher movie with a degree of sadistic nastiness that, back in the 70s would have seen it tagged a video nasty, it’s nihilistic and unpleasant, dwelling unnecessarily on the cruelty of the enigmatic assailants, the axe-wielding male proving inevitably almost unkillable in the final climax. 47 Metres Down director Johannes Roberts does a workmanlike job of assembling the characters and action, but fails to bring anything fresh to the genre or, indeed, much by the way of  scares, suspense or common sense.  Indeed, the scariest thing here is how Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, Kim Wilde’s Kids in America and  Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All seem to have wandered in from the soundtrack of another film entirely. When Kinsey asks Dollface why they’re doing all this she simply says “Why not?” A response that pretty much sums up the film’s own existence. (Vue Star City)

 

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

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 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Review: Broken Social Scene hint that this could be ‘goodbye’ at Birmingham show

Canadian indie supergroup, Broken Social Scene have earned a cult following with their own special brand of intricate and affectionate indie pop.  

With the variety of other bands it’s members belong to, they’ve been missing since the turn of the decade, until the release of their latest album Hug Of Thunder’, last year.

The group’s show at the O2 Academy in Birmingham was probably their first show in the city in a decade, so this was a long overdue return in a venue which – by the band’s own admission – was a tad on the small side for them, but with as many four guitars playing at one time, the group had no problem creating a massive sound.

Bandleader and singer Kevin Drew walked onto the stage and started chatting so casually to the audience that if you didn’t know better you’d be forgiven for mistaking him for the merch guy, subverting any idea of a big entrance. It was an endearingly low-key approach.

“This is a small show for us, they told us they couldn’t even give away tickets for the show but we said we fuck it, we’ll play it anyway.” Drew joked, and in his defence, the venue wasn’t exactly empty.

The guys kicked into ‘KC Accidental’ from their second album, You Forgot It In People. It was a fitting start. Though vocal-less, the song is a jubilant jig which flicked between time signatures and tempos like a melee of musical curveballs.

From here they cracked out fan favourite, ‘7/4 Shoreline’ and out pops Ariel Engle – a welcome female addition to the onstage presence. Throughout the show band members left then rejoined the performance, swapping instruments. It was all part of the band’s charm – that and an overwhelming sense of modesty and humility.

As they rattled through songs such as ‘Time = Cause’, ‘Protest Song’ and ‘Worldsick’, we couldnt help but be pleasantly reminded just how strong this band’s back catalogue is, and that’s hardly surprising with the sheer volume of writing talent within the band’s alumni.

‘Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl’ was a definite highlight. It sparked the night’s first singalong, Engle passionately gesturing out to the crowd as she recited the song’s mantra, which was fired lovingly right back at her by a warm room of fans.

Even in this smaller space, they explored a sonic expanse with guitar sounds that ping-ponged left to right and string synthesisers which filled in for an absent violinist.

It’s a shame that set closer, ‘Halfway Home’, the lead single from the band’s most recent album Hug of Thunder, suffered from sound mix issues – it’s one of the stand out tracks on the record.

Things were put right in the encore however, as Drew headed to the back of the venue to sit on a chair and sing ‘Sweetest Kill’, a song the vocalist pointed out is not in the setlist. A nice little bonus that resulted in a lighthearted exchange between him and the audience.

Throughout the show Drew thanked us and each time – in the same breath – stated ‘we don’t know if we’ll be back’. The set length – 19 songs over nearly two hours – left us thinking he may be more serious about that than we’d like, and perhaps last year’s Hug of Thunder may well have been the band’s swan song, a final ‘hurrah’.

It would be a crying shame to see Broken Social Scene call it a day. There’s a place saved for a band such as this: keen on spreading an optimism that’s fully aware of the world we’re living in. In many ways, they seem more relevant than ever.

Words: Gareth Griffiths

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Reviews, Fri Jun 1-Thu Jun 7

 

 

NEW RELEASES

 

Book Club (12A)

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Fifty Shades of Grey on the big screen, along comes this senior citizens self-discovery romcom in which E.L. James’ trashy trilogy provides the  product placement narrative engine.

Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda are, respectively,  recently widowed (though the marriage died much earlier) Diane, Sharon, a divorced federal judge whose ex (Ed Begley Jr.) is marrying a much younger bimbo (Mircea Monroe), chef Carol, whose newly retired husband, Bruce (Craig T Nelson), has lost his sexual drive, and hotelier Vivian, a sexually active never married singleton with commitment issues. It’s the latter who introduces James’ novels to their wine-fuelled monthly Los Angeles book club (which began in the 70s with another sexual revolution handbook, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying) in an attempt to inject a little spice into everyone’s lives, if only vicariously. She’s also thrown a curve when high-flyer Arthur (Don Johnson, a movie in-joke since his daughter Dakota  played Anastasia Steele), an old boyfriend she’s not seen in 40 years after walking away from his proposal, turns up the hotel, clearly keen to resume the relationship.

Having set this up, the film flits between the four upscale suburban friends as, inspired by the reading matter, they each look to embrace  a new life or fix the one they have. Diane, whose two bossy, overprotective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton) want her to relocate and live with one of them in Arizona, meets cute with charming airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Sharon embarks on on-line dating (hooking up with Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss), Vivian finds herself wondering if maybe she could settle with Arthur and Carol slips Bruce Viagra, with amusingly unfortunate consequences and a confessional catharsis that puts the kybosh on the dance routine they’re supposed to be performing at a charity talent show.

Directed with a workmanlike hand by co-writer Bill Holderman, although there is a smattering of funny one-liners wrapped up in its celebration of older women and that romance and sex shouldn’t end with the menopause, it succeeds solely on account of the sparkling performance by the four leads who, although the dryly amusing Bergen, who delivers a wistfully affective final monologue, arguably, comes out best, all effortlessly balance comedy and poignancy, even if Keaton’s character does channel a fair degree of Annie Hall, right down to the beret. It’s superficial fluff that largely sidesteps any connection with reality, but it’s still hugely enjoyable fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Also Opening

The Young Karl Marx (12A)

Having garnered an Oscar nomination for his I Am Not Your Negro,  Haitian director Raoul Peck turns his hand to the biopic genre with this period drama account of  the formative years of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that saw the birth of communism in the mid-19th century. If that sounds rather dry and dull, while there is indeed a lot of talk of philosophy and politics, the film has, a propulsive energy,  largely down to the central performances, as well as humour and human interest.

The partnership that could create the Communist Manifesto gets off to a prickly start as, always ready for an argument, Marx (August Diehl), living a  hand to mouth existence with his aristocracy drop-out wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps ) takes exception to Engels (Stefan Konarske), the dandyish son of a Manchester-based mill-owner, pontificating on the class struggle. However, Karl a fan of the latter’s book about the English working class and Freidrich, himself married to Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), a fiery Irish millworker sacked by his father, an admirer of Marx’s thinking, the two wind up bosom buddies in a mutual quest to overthrow exploitative capitalism and replace it with a socialist brotherhood, a mood fuelled by philosopher Pierre Proudhon (Olivier Gourmet) and  the League of the Just which would, in turn, under the duo’s influence, become the Communist League.

Globetrotting between Brussels, London, Paris and Manchester, with abstract theories being challenged by social realities, it follows a steady and largely  unvaried pace, punctuated by assorted vicissitudes in the pair’s personal and political lives, dropping in familiar soundbite Marxist phrases along the way, a particularly notable scene being when Marx confronts an industrialist friend of Engels’ father with the thorny question of child labour  and the “relations of production”.  You do, of course, need to have an interest in the subject matter, but even those who can’t recite Das Kapital off the top of their heads, might find something to enjoy in this involving tale of politics and friendship. (MAC)

 

NOW PLAYING

A Quiet Place (15)

After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.

Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father  Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching  deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.

There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.

Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.

Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures  and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own  logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

The movie equivalent of going to an all you can eat buffet and  still wanting more, this brings together pretty much every major  superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least the Disney manifestation thereof), and even those not on screen still get a mention,  for the ultimate slugfest mashup as they take on the towering, ridged-chin world destroyer Thanos (a surprisingly soulful Josh Brolin) who is out to gather all six of the infinity stones (gems of indescribable power governing Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space and Reality), so that he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its inhabitants (as a flashback reveals he did to Gamora’s world before adopting her as his daughter), so that the remaining half have a chance to survive. It’s galaxy-wide genocide, but he means well.

Given the showdowns between Thanos and the various ad hoc team ups take place in various parts of the planet and the universe, the massive cast of characters don’t actually all occupy the same scene at any one time. Rather we have different pockets of resistance. After an initial confrontation in New York with Thanos’s icily effete and sadistic factotum and a couple of his enforcers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland with fetching new bio-suit) are paired up on both Thanos’s flying wheel and his home planet Titan;  Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and, with a traumatised Hulk reluctant to emerge, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) face off in Wakanda with the Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), ultimately joined by Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision  (Paul Bettany), who, lest you forget, has one of the stones in  his forehead. As it turns out, Doctor Strange also has one nestling in his amulet.

After rescuing him from space following the opening massacre of Asgardians, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), stick-teen Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) join forces with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), described by Drax “like a pirate had a baby with an angel!”. The bruised and battered but still up for it God of Thunder  and the ‘rabbit’, as he refers to him, taking off to forge a new hammer  (leading to a wryly amusing scene in which Peter Dinklage dwarfs them both), while the others head for Knowhere, home of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who’s supposedly got one of the stones. Also in the mix is Thanos’s other ‘daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and pretty much all of the other core characters from Black Panther, along with a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo as Tony Stark’s new fiancée, Pepper Potts and a surprise post-credits appearance of a long absent figure.

If you can get your head round that line-up, then you might just make it through the near three hours of  cataclysmic jawdropping, eye-popping action that comes liberally laced with intense emotional beats, pop culture references and the sort of dry and droll humour you’ve come to expect, here primarily in the alpha male arrogance stand-offs between egotistical Stark and supercilious Strange, the testosterone tag match between Thor and an intimidated Peter Quinn (who deepens his voice to assert himself) and the former’s ever hilarious unintended casual put downs. Indeed, Hemsworth pretty much owns every scene he’s in, and his dramatic lightning flashing appearance armed with his new axe, Stormbringer, and a new eye, is one of the film’s major cheer out loud moments

All this directors Anthony and Joe Russo orchestrate with dazzling skill and confidence, never for a moment letting the pace sag, but knowing just when to ease back on the mayhem and introduce Marvel’s trademark tragic notes. Two shocking deaths occur in the opening moments and there’s both sacrifice and sef-sacrifice, while the film concludes in wiping out half of the main cast, though, given that includes the stars of recent new franchises,  these don’t have quite the same impact and it’s a safe bet that, as the all knowing Strange implies, they’ll reassemble in a year’s time for the eagerly anticipated sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Breadwinner (12A)

Nominated for both the Golden Globes and Oscars, the solo debut of Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret of Kells is an animated adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ young adult book, based on interviews with Afghan refugees in Pakistan, about Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) an 11-year-old Afghan girl in 2001 Taliban-occupied Kabul who, when her disabled former teacher father, Nurullah (Ali Badshah), is arrested (by a former pupil) and hauled off to prison,  takes it upon herself to keep the family, her mother, sister and baby brother fed. Rather this than see her sister married to as distant cousin offering to take them out of the city and abandon Nurullah,

However, given the Taliban’s brutal control over women’s lives, which forbids women to venture outside without male company and the fact that shopkeepers are too scared to sell to her for fear of retribution, in order to do so – and ultimately to go in search of her father and take him the crutch he need to walk- she has to disguise herself as a boy, because, as Shauzia (Soma Chhaya),  a kindred street smart spirit also passing as a boy, points out, boys can go anywhere.

So, she cuts her hair and wears her deceased older brother’s clothes (his story only revealed later) and ventures out into the city markets, earning money by selling what few goods the family has left and in using her literacy skills to read the letters of a friendly illiterate  customer (Kawa Ada), who will prove instrumental in her quest. Meanwhile, her mother is planning to escape to the sea.

Among the items for sale is an ornate tunic which, at the start of the film, her father employs to spin a story about Afghanistan’s history, a narrative conceit that develops further in the fables Parvana tells her baby brother and which form a central motif in the film’s message about the power of imagination and the value of traditional culture as the action is punctuated by her tales of a young boy’s courage in confronting and overcoming the terrifying Elephant King, the animation in these moments adopting a stylized and colourful cutout style as opposed to the simple line drawings elsewhere.

With careful attention to cultural accuracy, it balances its hard hitting political content with deep emotion as it recounts background stories alongside that of Paravana and her family, building to a powerful dramatic finale against a backdrop of renewed conflict, pitting the power of love and friendship against the power of hate and division. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

Breaking In (15)

A home invasion movie that places a strong woman fighting to protect her kids front and centre, director  James McTeigue may not offer any major twists on the well-worn set-up, but, anchored by a  powerful turn from Gabrielle Union,  this short and sharp thriller delivers solid tension and bursts of bloody action.

Returning to her estranged criminal father’s remote and fortress-like high-tech security mansion after he’s killed in a deliberate hit and run, Shaun (Union), who has had nothing to do with him for years, is just there for the weekend with her two kids, teen daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr), to arrange the sale. However, she’s not the only one. Tipped off that there’s a safe packed with millions of dollars, four thieves, Eddie (Billy Burke) and his associates, tattooed psycho Duncan (Richard Cabral), nervy  Sam (Levi Meaden) and former military man Peter (Mark Furze), are determined to get their hands on it. However, they didn’t reckon on anyone else being there.

While Shaun’s outside, they take the kids hostage, setting in motion a taut game of cat and mouse as her maternal instincts take on a  Liam Neeson hue (tellingly, it’s written by Ryan Engle who also penned Non Stop and The Commuter), using whatever’s at hand, broken wine glass, toy drone,  to turn the tables and take the fight to the assailants who, in time-honoured tradition, prove to be conveniently inept.

Naturally, there’s plenty of sneaking round darkened corridors and lurking in shadows, punctuated by some bloodshedding via Duncan slitting the throat of the unfortunate estate agent and a remarkably resourceful Shaun doing a  number on Peter before engineering her way back inside the house.

It’s thinly written and fairly one-dimensional in terms of character, but, for disposable female empowerment action that serves up the payback without troubling the brain cells, this does its job in efficiently effective style.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Birmingham)

Deadpool 2 (15)

The original movie made a fortune from  taking the mocking piss out of itself and the whole superhero franchise genre, a self-referential orgy of meta-fiction that demolished the fourth wall, winked to the camera and the audiences  and bundled together onscreen and offscreen personas (at one point Deadpool signs an autograph as  Ryan Reynolds) in a gloriously violent and hilarious WTF of gargantuan proportions. This one tops it. Indeed, directed by Atomic Blonde’s David Leitch (or, as the opening credits have it, One of the Two Guys Who Killed John Wick’s Dog), it starts with scarred cancer victim wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Reynolds) turning on a  dead Wolverine musical box before posing on a bunch of gasoline drums, tossing a lit cigarette and blowing himself to pieces. And then backtracking six weeks to explain why as, having gone into the scum-killing business fulltime (cue gallons of blood), the one that got away ends up killing  girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) just as she and Wade have decided to make a baby, sending him into a guilt-ridden, suicidal funk. Of course, the body parts gathered together by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and hauled back to the X-Men’s mansion, he regenerates and the plot kicks in.

It’s fairly simple, joining  Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her new girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna), he gets to become an X-Men trainee, his first call to action being an attempt to cool down, fireball-hurling teenage mutant Randall (New Zealand’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople breakout star Julian Dennison) who’s threatening to incinerate the mutant hating headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of his orphanage. Suffice to say, things don’t quite work out as planned and both he and the kid end up  in the high-tech mutants prison, the Ice-Box. At which point, enter uber-intense Cable (Josh Brolin), a bionic-enhanced super-soldier who’s beamed in from the future intent on killing Randall in revenge for turning his family to cinders. Cue Deadpool resignedly opting to play the surrogate dad (thereby earning his redemption stripes to reunite with Vanessa) and protect Randall, ultimately attempting to change the course of events that will lead to the present scenario.

Along the way there’s the formation of   his own mutants spin-off, X-Force (“tough, morally flexible and young enough to carry this franchise another 10 to 12 years”, Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Vanisher (a blink of Brad Pitt), Zeigeist (Bill Skarsgård), Domino (a spin-off friendly Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is being lucky, and Peter (Rob Delaney), an ordinary schmuck who just saw the ad. Not that they get to stick around long, only one (and you can guess who from the powers) surviving to take the fight to Cable in one of the many spectacular action sequences, as it gathers to a vaguely Terminator salvational climax.

Bloodier, more visceral and far more foul-mouthed than the original, it sprays pop culture references and in-jokes like nail-bomb confetti, cameos including Alan Tudyk, a glimpse of three X-Men and a very surprising mid-credits appearance of a fourth, alongside returning characters Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (T.J.Miller)  and taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) who wants in on the mercenary lark, not to mention Wade’s favourite  unstoppable villain from the X-Men comics. There’s also deluge of references to and quips about the DC Universe, the Avengers (at one point Deadpool calls Cable Thanos), Robocop, Canada, James Bond , Frozen (how come no one else drew the Yentl comparison!), Annie, Say Anything and a hysterical Green Lantern gag set to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, plus dozens more you’ll have to catch on subsequent viewings as well as its brazen acknowledgement of  the plot holes. And the four post-credit scenes that change everything. Basically, it’s everything you loved about Deadpool – on Viagra. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Edie (12A)

When, after decades of incapability following a stroke that trapped her in a loveless marriage, her husband finally dies, rather than be dumped in the care home her daughter has in mind, and regretful at her ‘wasted years’, octogenarian Edie (Sheila Hancock, who is onscreen for most of the film) decides to fulfil a trip she and her father once vowed to undertake and heads to Suilven in the outer reaches of Scotland to climb its mountain. To which end, she is inveigled into hiring local camping equipment shop owner Johnny (Kevin Guthrie) to serve as her trainer. Initially in it for the money (his girlfriend and business partner wants to expand the shop), assuming she’ll never go through with it, and despite a somewhat prickly relationship,  the closer he becomes to Edie the more he’s inspired by her resolve and courage as a friend rather than a guide.

Directed by Simon Hunter and written by Elizabeth O’Halloran, it’s a fairly formulaic affair that would seem to have an air of Harold and Maude about it, but, thanks to the strength of the central performances, with Guthrie’s easy going charm and Hancock’s superbly nuanced ability to convey Edie’s turbulent emotions and the memories that drive her to rediscover her true self, it rises well above its Scottish Tourist Board picture postcard appearance. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Greatest Showman (12A)

The year’s most successful film and album, with songs by La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, first time director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon may take any number of liberties with the life of  19th century  showman and legendary hoaxer Phineas T Barnum, but succeed in serving up a fabulous sugar rush, candy coloured helping of feelgood family entertainment about the man who pretty much invented modern day entertainment.

Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the real Barnum, who looked more like Mel Smith and didn’t get into show business until he was in his 60s, Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life, positively exploding with energy in the musical routines (and let’s not forget he first made his name in musical theatre and won a Tony for the Broadway production of The Boy From Oz), but also hitting the key emotional notes when needed.

It opens with a brief background prologue, introducing the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) as the son of a struggling tailor who falls for  Charity (Skylar), the daughter of his dad’s stern and snobbish client who sends her away to  put an end to the friendship. Barnum’s father dies and the kid’s reduced to stealing food on the streets, until befriended by a disfigured stranger, he’s inspired to become more than he is and chase his Million Dreams.

Fast forward and, having made something of himself as an office clerk, the now grown Barnum marries Charity (Michelle Williams, somewhat underused), again to her father’s disapproval,  and they have two cute daughters, Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and, when the shipping company he works for goes belly-up, a flash of inspiration leads Barnum to open his American Museum, a collection of  historical wax figures and stuffed exotic animals, in the hope of attracting the curious. A bedtime observation from one of the kids that it could do with an exhibit that’s not dead then prompts him to round up all manner of society’s freaks, among them bearded lady singer Lettie  (Keala Settle), a 22-year old dwarf (Sam Humphrey) he dresses up as General  Tom Thumb, a giant, Siamese twins, a fat man, the hairy Dog Boy and,  brother and sister trapeze artists whose only ‘deformity’ is being African American, exaggerating their ‘freakishness’ for extra effect and nigger ‘humbug’.

Scamming the bank for a loan, he opens his theatre  and, proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, transforms a scathing review into  an audience magnet with the New York crowds flocking in, restyling his show as a circus with himself as the ringmaster. Looking to move beyond  lowbrow audiences, he then forms a partnership with Philip Caryle (Zac Efron in his first musical role since High School Musical and very loosely based on James Bailey of the Barnum and Bailey Circus), a bored  theatrical producer with a hefty trust fund and the sort of connections that can earn the troupe an audience with Queen Victoria.

It’s here Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the feted opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, and sees an opportunity to move from the peanut to the champagne market. Gambling both his reputation and his wealth, he signs her up for  first a New York showcase and then a mammoth American tour. Suffice to say, things do not go well, resulting in a marriage threatening scandal while, back in New York, the bigot mob protests about the ‘freaks’ get out of hand and the tentative road to romance between Philip  and Anne (Zendaya), one half of the trapeze act, is hitting some racial prejudice bumps.

Naturally, setbacks are just a spur to bigger and better success and, as such the film is very much a hymn to the underdogs chasing the American Dream, not to mention a clarion cry for diversity that strikes  a far more right on contemporary note about those on the margins than would have been the case in Barnum’s day, even if none of the troupe are given anything like a backstory.

But social commentary is secondary to the spectacle and the songs, the rooftop dance routines,  the lavish circus ring bombast, and the cast and film deliver with exuberant gusto, standout  moments being Ferguson (albeit overdubbed by Loren Allred) singing out the pain of being the outsider with Never Enough, Settle leading the charge with the showstopper  This Is Me, Jackman and Efron’s  lithe shot glass shifting barroom negotiations dance routine and the literally soaring circus ring Rewrite the Stars sequence  with Efron and Zendaya. Climaxing with Jackman leading the rousing cast finale of From Now On, this is a fabulous celebration of the power of unadulterated  entertainment to raise the spirits and fill the heart which, as predicted here, has been announced as being turned into a Broadway musical. (Vue Star City)

 

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (12A)

Alexander McCall Smith arguably started the current trend for quirky titles with the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, finding further expression on the big screen with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Adapted from the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, this pitches for much the same audience with its bittersweet account of a tragedy that cast a shadow over the lives of the titular’s society’s members.

Director Mike Newell’s first film in almost six years, it’s set shortly after the end of WWI, as, a celebrated author with the publication of her wartime-set first novel (though her critical study of Anne Bronte sold just 29 copies worldwide), Juliet Ashton (Lily James), writing under the name of Izzy Biggerstaff, receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman with a somewhat free floating accent), a Guernsey pig farmer and society member, who, having found her name in a secondhand book and there being no bookshops on the island, wonders if she could secure him a copy of Charles Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.

Intrigued by mention of the oddly named society (the potato bit comes from the wartime food shortage), and looking to write something of a less frivolous nature for a commissioned Times article, she informs her supportive agent and friend Sidney (Matthew Goode) that she’s off to the island to find out more. Invited to read at a society meeting (from her Bronte work rather than the bestseller), on mentioning her planned article, one of the circle’s elderly members, Amelia (Penelope Wilson), pointedly refuses to give permission, inevitably setting Juliet on the path of unravelling the mystery and, in the process, just engaged to American officer Mark (Glenn Powell), her feelings about her life in London.

The film opens during the German occupation of the island as, drunkenly returning from a clandestine gathering revealed later, Amelia, Dawsey, postmaster Eben (Tom Courteney), gin-making herbalist wallflower Isola (Katherine Parkinson making the most of an undeveloped character) and firebrand Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findley) are stopped out by a  German patrol  and spontaneously come up with the name of the book club  as an excuse for being out after curfew, thereby forcing them to actually form it.

Variously flashing back between the occupation and the present day, the circle now joined by Eben’s voracious reader young nephew Eli (Kit Connor) and with Dawsey caring for the absent Elizabeth’s four-year-old daughter, the film, which considerably reworks some of the novel’s elements,  is, despite the second half reveal as to why Elizabeth is no longer on the island and narrative touching on the wartime scars of  collaboration and betrayals, is as predictable as it is blandly charming. Wilton has a particularly potent moment as the emotionally wounded Amelia, but, dispensing with any ideas about the power of literature early on, the tone generally favours humour and romance rather than tragedy and years. The locations (ironically not in Guernsey) are attractive and the performances are amiable enough, even if the chemistry between Juliet and Dawsey never really fizzes as it should, but, overstretched at two hours, it’s ultimately pleasantly undemanding fare which, like that pie, could have done with considerably more seasoning. (MAC)

 

I Feel Pretty (12A)

While undeniably flawed, this Amy Schumer comedy, working a  similar riff to Trainwreck,   is far better than some of the scathing reviews would suggest and comes with book/cover and be who you are/self-esteem messages that would do Disney proud. Schumer plays New Yorker Renee Bennett who works for the online department of mega cosmetics company Lily LeClaire, albeit ferreted away in a  dingy Chinatown office with her slobby co-worker (Adrian Martinez) because the company only wants beautiful things in its Fifth Avenue HQ. She and her equally ‘ordinary’ friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) post photos on a dating site but get no views, further persuading Renee that looks are everything (though one wonders how, if they  get no views they can be rejected on their appearance) and, one night, after watching bodyswap comedy Big, fed up of being ignored in bars and stores, she impulsively rushes out into the rain and throws a coin into a wishing fountain asking to be beautiful.

The next day, attending Soul Cycle class (basically a keep fit workout on a fixed bike), she falls and bangs her head and, when she comes round and looks in the mirror she sees the figure she wants to be. Physically, she looks exactly the same, but persuaded she’s now drop dead gorgeous, her confidence crawls out from under its shell and she applies for the job of receptionist at Lily LeClaire. As the first face visitors see, she’s understandably not the sort of person the interviewing panel of CFO Helen  (Naomi Campbell) and squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams making the most of a gag that rapidly wears thin) are looking for. But, having been recently given an earful by her company founder grandmother (Lauren Hutton) about appealing to the ‘ordinary’ consumer in launching their new budget line, Avery, who has her own self-esteem issues, hires her. And, not only does she land a swanky job, but she also acquires a sensitive boyfriend in the shape of Ethan (Rory Scovel) following a  meet cute in the dry cleaners where she takes the initiative. On top of which, she’s also given the eye by Avery’s hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), although that subplot never really goes anywhere.

As per narrative requirements, Renee’s elevation to a new social circle, and the fact that the company call on her for her sensible marketing advice for the new product, means she shuts out her old friends (spelled out all too blatantly when she dumps them at a restaurant to gain access to an exclusive party). And, of course, there’s inevitably another bump to the head that removes the ‘magic’, right on the eve of a major conference where she’s supposed to deliver the important pitch. No longer thinking she looks the way she thought she did, she can’t bring herself to face LeClaire or, indeed, Ethan. She first has to realise who she was all along.

Given that  Vivian or Jane could easily point out she looks exactly the same despite her saying they probably don’t recognise who she is, it’s a somewhat flawed premise, but, even so, there’s an infectious sweetness to it with Renee a likeable character while Schumer, who has built a stand-up career on ironic self-deprecation and the superficiality of society, always shines when the material doesn’t. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who fared far better with He’s Just Not That Into You and How To Be Single, never seem quite sure how to get to the final destination of their positive body-image moral, such as Renee taking part in a bikini contest, which, while amusing, negates the admiration for her balls  since she’s oblivious to the fact that he clearly looks nothing like the other curvy contestants.

At the end of the day it’s basically Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Devil Wears Prada with a dressing of ‘magic’ and all too obvious soundtrack beats like Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and Meghan Trainor’s Me Too to point the audience in the right direction, but you shouldn’t judge it just on how it looks.  (Cineworld Solihull;Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Life of the Party (12A)

Following on from Amy Schumer’s underachieving I Feel Pretty, now it’s the turn of Melissa McCarthy to misfire in her third teaming with writer-director husband Ben Falcone. Pitched as a mother-daughter slash female buddy back to school comedy, McCarthy plays middle-aged mom Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) who, just minutes after dropping their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at Decatur University for her senior year, is told my hubbie Dan (Matt Walsh) that he wants a divorce so he can marry high powered real estate agent Marcie (Julie Bowen).

Understandably depressed, back at her parents and confronted with a midlife crisis, Deanne resolves to finally complete her archaeology degree, enrolling at Decatur which she attended years back before dropping out 24 years ago after becoming pregnant. Initially not taken with the idea of having her doting, frumpy mom as a fellow student, Maddie’s soon persuaded, not least since her sorority sisters, most particularly insecure Debbie (Jessie Ennis) and snarky online celeb Helen (Gillian Jacobs), returning after eight years in a coma, think she’s just wonderful.

Before long Deanne’s the campus hit, albeit not with obligatory mean girl Jennifer (Debby Ryan) and her personality-free sidekick, to the extent of embarking on a sexual fling with a much younger fellow student, Jack (Luke Benward), the subject of an awkward reveal later in the movie (but which is never really followed through). Hopping between assorted scenes and set-ups involving parties, sorority initiations, a  dance-battle, a class presentation  meltdown (that, in character terms makes no sense) before a final fund raiser party top pay for Deanne’s fees which the girls claim Christina Aguilera is going to attend, it never really actually goes anywhere or gets beyond the basic find who you are, be true to yourself, self-reliance messages.

There are some decent moments, notably an 80s themed party at which McCarthy, in a  spangled blue jump suit, gives good dance moves and shows her physical comedy skills, but too much is driven by the script rather than the story. McCarthy is fluffily solid enough, but, given surprisingly few sharp one-liners,  she’s overshadowed throughout by Heidi Gardner as her weirdo dormmate Leonor, Maya Rudolph as sex-hungry best friend Christine and, especially Jacobs, scene stealing with just a  roll of her eyes or a facial expression. A film full of ideas but with no real clue what to do with them and with not enough jokes to satisfy trade descriptions, it flops along watchably enough until it simply runs out of steam and just stops. If you want a truly funny  house mother/sorority comedy, then search out Anna Faris in The House Bunny, meanwhile this is the sort of party where you make your excuses and leave early. (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

The Little Vampire (U)

Previously adapted as a live action Uli Edel feature starring Richard E. Grant, Jonathan Lipnicki and Rollo Weeks, here Angela Sommer-Bodenburg’s children’s book gets the animation treatment. The set-up’s different, but the story’s pretty much the same.  Having been thirteen for three thousand years, Rudolph (Rasmer Haricker), the youngest of the aristocratic Sackville-Bagg vampire clan, wants to explore the world outside their crypts and coffins, something forbidden by his imperious father (Tim Piggott-Smith) because of the dangers it can present to the family. Such fears are quickly brought home when, secretly following his equally rebellious brother, he ends up having to save him from ruthless vampire hunter Rookery (Jim Carter reprising his role from the original film) and his new super-light weapon. Unfortunately, Rookery and Maney, his bumbling inventor assistant with a father complex, are now able to track them to the family’s lair in an attempt to kill or seal them away forever.

However, in fleeing from Rooker, Rudolph chances upon twelve-year-old Tony (Amy Saville), a young American vacationing in Transylvania with his mom and dad and who has a fascination for vampires. Offering to help Rudolph on condition there’s no neck-biting, the two become friends and, subsequently joined by the former’s sister, Anna (Phoebe Givron-Taylor), engage in a  race against the clock to stop Rookery from carrying out his dastardly plans.

The animation’s pretty basic with the figures having a plastic-like quality and the plotting overly repetitive as its goes from one Rookery scheme to the next (at one point involving a mid-air chase between the vampires and the former’s plane) and it rather indulges young children’s amusement at poo jokes by having one character being covered in dung from a vampire cow. That said, it flags up an always useful message about tolerance and understanding and has enough child-friendly humour and slapstick to keep  them entertained while the grown ups can appreciate Anna’s borrowing of Lauren Bacall’s classic line about whistling from To Have and Have Not. (Vue Star City)

Mary And The Witch’s Flower (U)

Although  Oscar-nominated Japanese animator and director Yonebayashi Hiromasa is working outside the Studio Ghibli set-up, his latest retains pretty much all the trademarks of his work on The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There, but with a more light-hearted approach. Adapted from Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s book The Little Broomstick, which, with its school of magic, predated Harry Potter by several decades, it’s set in Peter Rabbit-like English countryside where Mary (Ruby Barnhill), her parents away on business, is spending the last week of the summer holidays before starting at a new school with her great-aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron) and the housekeeper (Morweena Banks). Bored with no friends and nothing to do, infuriated with her unmanageable mop of frizzy red hair, and infuriated by the mockery of local boy Peter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), she takes off into the wood, led by a  couple of cats, Tib and Gib, where she chances upon a mysterious blue flower. According to the gardener, it’s a rare species called Fly By Night that was associated with witches. And sure enough, having been led by Tib to discover a broomstick in a tree, accidentally squeezing flower juice over it and her hands, it takes her and the cat off to Endor, a steampunk city in the clouds, where the College of Magic headmistress Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet), impressed by Mary’s apparent super class magical skills, wants to enrol her. However, Mary’s a little disturbed by the transformation experiments her associate, Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent) is carrying out and his talk of failures that he keeps hidden away in a locked vault, and resolves not to return.

But, when  Mumblechook learns Mary has found the flowers, a vital ingredient for the experiments (and which links back to the opening sequence of a young witch being chased after stealing gag of seeds), she and Dee kidnap Peter to force Mary to hand them over. Now, Mary has to draw on her own courage and her newfound magic to rescue Peter, save the transformed creatures and put an end to Mumblechook’s plans to create a world of magical beings.

Released in both dubbed and subtitled versions, again exploring the anime concept of the ‘magic girl’, it’s a colourful inventive and fast-paced adventure that carries familiar themes of self-confidence, female empowerment and the dangers of scientific excess that should delight its tweenage girl audience and Studio Ghibli devotees alike. (Mockingbird)

On Chesil Beach (12A)

Adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, set predominantly on one Dorset evening in 1962, punctuated  with flashbacks and moving on to codas in 1975 and 2007, and the feature debut of  theatre director Dominic Cooke, this tells of the wedding night of newlyweds, working class history graduate Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan), a graduate, CND activist and string quartet leader from a privileged background. It’s not a happy one. From the start, as they look across the table at each other in the honeymoon suite while two of the staff knowingly  exchange looks and make innuendo-laced comment as they serve dinner, it is clear there is tension between the pair. As the evening slowly moves towards consummating the marriage, the film flashes back to show how they met (at a CND meeting in Oxord, he anxious to tell someone, anyone, that he’s just got a first) as well as detailing their family settings. He lives in country village with his two younger sisters, his gentle primary shool headmaster father (Adrian Scarborough) and artist mother (Anne-Marie Duff) who has brain damage after being struck by a moving train door, often can’t remember who he is  and has a tendency to wander around naked. She, on the other hand, comes from a wealthy family headed up by competitive, toxic male engineering factory owner Geoffrey (Samuel West), with a younger sister and an arrogant, snobbish Oxford don mother (Emily Watson)  given to chatting on the phone with  Iris Murdoch.

Both are virgins, lacking knowledge about sex (in one scene she reads about erections and penetrations with a sense of horror) and how to handle relationships, with no experience of physical intimacy beyond kissing. So, when they finally fumble their way round to it, it’s not too surprising that it ends in tears, he ejaculating prematurely, she fleeing the room in disgust. Meeting up on the pointedly pebble beach, confessions are made and a proposition of how to handle that side of things put forward. The love lasts forever. The marriage last six hours.

This is the film’s strongest part, a sympathetic and sensitive critique of the British way of love and sex prior to the Swinging Sixties and, dominating the screen, both Ronan and Howle give terrific, she adopting a perfectly clipped English accent and registering profound emotional depths with just an expression. Things are slightly less effective  and more narratively contrived in the later scenes, Ed running a record store in the 70s and part of the free love movement, and living by himself in 2007 when he hears of a farewell concert by Florence’s now famous quartet, respectively prompting both a Chuck Berry moment and a sentimental but nevertheless moving scene, each of which has been set up earlier in the film.

The problem is that it’s only in those final moments that the film really finds an emotional beat as opposed to the somewhat distanced gaze – and slightly mannered dialogue – that characterises the bulk of the narrative, even if it is supposed to echo the society of the time when sex wasn’t something discussed in polite families. Very much an art house offering, as underscored by its limited, selective release, it forgoes storms of passion  for  muted heartbreaks. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; MAC)

Rampage (12A)

Dwayne Johnson scores  two family friendly popcorn triumphs in a row, following Jumanji with this giant monsters destroy cities entry loosely based on the 80s arcade game but also clearly inspired by the likes of King Kong and mutated beast B-movies such as Godzilla. Godzilla and Reuniting with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a San Diego Wildlife Preserve primatologist (and conveniently former military action man) who has a special bond with George, an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers and with whom he converses in sign language. That bond is put to the test, however, when a case containing samples from a covert genetics experiment in a spacelab comes crashing to earth near his compound at the zoo. The experiment, which got out of hand, leading to the destruction of both the spacelab and the escape pod containing the samples, was all about weaponising genetic editing, basically combining aspects of different species,  and promoting rapid growth and strength in the subjects.

The morning after inhaling the fumes, George is found in the bears’ compound where he’s not only killed a grizzly but grown several feet and piled on the weight. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one affected. Out in Wyoming, a wolf has also become a giant predator and, although not putting in an appearance until  later, so has an alligator in the Everglades. All of this is down to ruthless Clare Wyden (Malin Ackerman), who heads up a genetic corporate along with her brother/husband? Brett (Jake Lacy) and also just happens to have a Rampage game (which featured, that’s right a gorilla, wolf and croc) in her office. They’re out to make a bundle regardless of who gets hurt, so naturally would like to get their hands on one of the creatures to extract the  formula, so, when an attempt to bring down the wolf by a bunch of heavily tooled-up mercenaries ends in a bloody mess, she decides to engage a homing beacon atop their Chicago HQ to send out painful sonic signals that will draw the creatures there to shut them down.

On the side of the good guys, you also have Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the geneticist whose work was perverted by the Wydens and who ended up doing time in trying to stop them, plus Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a good’ ole Texas boy from one of those secret government agencies that don’t even have a name, who sums up his role as “When science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.”

So, there you have it. Driven by a  beserker spirit,  George, wolf and the alligator all start tearing apart Chicago, Davis and Kate have to try and get their hands on the antidote while avoiding falling buildings (blink and you’ll miss how it gets delivered) and get George back on side before the hard hat military commander  calls in the mother of all bombs to level the city.

The CGI is, perhaps, not all it could be (the scene of the wolf leaping through the air to bring down a helicopter is particularly hokey), but in terms of mass destruction the film ably lives up to its title for a third act that is essentially one long set piece. Johnson does his familiar sensitive muscle man routine, also flexing his comic biceps to amusing effect, even if Morgan, a sort of cross between Robert Downey Jr and Jack Nicholson, steals every scene with his droll one liners. Akerman and Lacy play their cartoonish villains with a sly wink at how silly it all is and Harris holds her own as more than just the female sidekick. However, the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of George’s signed insults, making you root even more for the big guy when the army’s hitting him with all it has. And if you’re wondering about Rampage 2, just ask yourself what happened to that rat in the glass cage. (Vue Star City)

  

Sherlock Gnomes (U)

The original movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, was a playful, funny, inventive and charming rework of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending. The sequel, which teams the now married lovers with a  gnome version of Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is none of the above. Settling into their owners’ new London home, Juliet (Emily Blunt) is too busy working to get the garden right to give much time to Gnomeo (James McAvoy), who duly has a major sulk and tries to get her attention back on him. Meanwhile, some dastardly villain is kidnapping all of London’s gnomes, to which end master detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are on the trail, the former’s cruelly dismissive treatment of the latter mirroring the domestic disharmony in the garden. When their friends and relations also get snatched, Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with the detectives to track them down in what is a game of wits played out (Toy Story-like) across London between Holmes and his arch nemesis, the supposedly dead Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a garish yellow pie mascot in a purple nappy and bowtie, with just 24 hours before they’re smashed to pieces.

The film’s executive producer is Elton John and don’t you just know it, with an Elton lookalike gnome, either snatches of his songs or in-jokes references to them (Gnomeo’s codename is Tiny Dancer), while, with his teeth,  Moriaty even looks a bit like him. It’s well-animated with lots of detail, but unfortunately that attention doesn’t extend to the frantic but meandering plot (though it does have a clever twist) or the bland characters. Devoid of wit, the film thinks the sight of a gnome in a pink mankini flashing his buttocks is so hilarious it keeps returning to him while relegating Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to mere cameos as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry. It also contrives to have a sequence set in a  doll museum as an excuse to wheel out Mary J Blige to perform a number as Holmes’ ex, Irene. It’s probably best summed up when, in a TV report about the gnome thefts, the announcer says “Some say it’s a job for Sherlock Gnomes!” before adding, “Others say it’s a slow news day!” Bored kids and adults are likely to opt for the latter.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Show Dogs (U)

“No one’s making talking animals movies any more”, bemoans a white Chihuahua in an in-joke to director Raja Gosnel’s previous Beverly Hills Chihuahua. This interminable, mind-numbingly unfunny buddy cop comedy is a good reason why. A Rottweiller with the NYPD, Max (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is on a stakeout involving a stolen baby panda only to accidentally foul-up an FBI sting leading to him and Frank (an understandably embarrassed-looking Will Arnett), the agent involved having to reluctantly work together posing as an owner and his dog entering the prestigious Canini Invitational show at Caesar’s Palace in L.A. to try and flush out the mastermind behind an international animal smuggling ring. Neither much wants to work with the other, and Max reckons the dog show world is full of fakes and poseurs; however, inevitably friendship and mutual respect blooms and Max learns, in the heavy-handedly spelled out message, to not judge others who have a different worldview. In-between there’s supposedly hilarious moments as Max has to submit to being groomed and having his testicles felt in the cause of the competition while having to use his street skills to win each round as they suspect the smugglers are planning to kidnap the eventual Best In Show. A four-pawed Miss Congeniality cross-bred with Tom Hanks’ Turner & Hooch (to which the references seemingly never end), it features an assortment of celebrity voices, among them Stanley Tucci as Max’s mentor, Philippe, an embittered former champion pampered Papillon who went a little crazy; Alan Cumming Dante, a self-important Yorkie who took Philippe’s place; Jordin Sparks as our hero’s romantic interest, Australian Shepherd Elizabeth, owned and entered by FBI grooming consultant Mattie (Natasha Lyonne); RuPaul as fashionista designer mixed breed Persephone; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, the dreadlocked Zen-spouting Komondor belonging to prime suspect Gabriel (Omar Shaparo) ; and Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, an overly enthusiastic Pug. There’s laboured in jokes (Arnett’s Lego Batman included) and pop culture references, a random Elton John show poster and three especially annoying comic relief pigeons and the whole thing creaks and groans it way to a spectacularly badly staged climax. In discussing Max’s chances as a show dog, although it does have the good grace to save the inevitable dog fart until midway. At one point, discussing Max going undercover as a show dog, someone says “I cannot polish the turd, but perhaps I can roll it in glitter.” Save for Max and Frank in an inspired recreation of that classic Dirty Dancing moment, glitter is in very short supply here. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (12A)

A case of Star Wars fatigue perhaps, the box office response to this Han Solo prequel has been decidedly lacklustre, certainly nowhere near the fervour there was for Rogue One. Nor, playing it on a lighter note more along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones than its predecessor’s drama, is it as good a film.

Essentially an origin tale, we first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich), not yet named Solo, as, having stolen a vial of  coaxium, an indescribably  valuable spaceship fuel, he and fellow thief romantic interest  Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) seek to escape the oppression of Corellia to follow his dream of becoming a  pilot. He makes it past the gate, she doesn’t, and, to avoid capture, he impulsively enlists with the Empire, earning his surname in the process, vowing to return for her when he has his own ship.

Some years later, thrown out of the Imperial Fleet for insubordination, he’s a grunt caught up in one of the Empire’s planet conquering wars when he encounters Tobias  Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his fellow smugglers, Val (Thandie Newton) and chimp-like multiple-armed pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) with whom, after a brief interlude in a mud pit prison where he teams up with imprisoned Wookiee, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), he joins forces in a plan to steal a consignment of coaxium from a transport train. This too doesn’t quite work out, both thinning down the gang and leaving them in debt to Beckett’s ruthless gangster employer Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who fronts the sinister crime cabal the Crimson Dawn,  and facing the likely fatal consequences of failing. They do, however, talk him into giving them another opportunity, this time to steal coaxium directly from the mines  and then processing it before it has the chance to explode.  For this, however, they need a ship. So, enter dandy-ish hustler Lando Calrissian (scene stealer Duncan Glover) who owns, as fans will be aware, the Millennium Falcon (we also learn Hans’ unnamed father used to build Corellian YT-1300 freighters before being laid off) and, along with his sassy droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge),  agrees to come aboard for a take of the payout.  It should also be mentioned that, along the way, Han finds himself unexpectedly reunited with Q’ira who now reluctantly works for Dryden as his top lieutenant. There’s also the slight problem that there’s another gang of thieves, headed up by Beckett’s arch-enemy, who also want the coaxium.

So, there you have it, surname, ship, Wookiee, blaster, trademark clothes, all character’s trademark details ticked off as the core narrative finally kicks in leading to assorted fights, narrow escapes, double crosses, a Warwick Davis cameo, betrayals and surprise twists, including a last act entry by the Alliance rebels and the appearance of a figure from the franchise that doesn’t really actually fit with the timeline.

Although the early chase sequences are suitably kinetic, the narrative’s slow to gather momentum until the gang set off to steal the raw coaxium, involving a tense escape aboard the Falcon through the Maw and Maelstrom as Solo gets to show off his flying skills and  L3 turning into a robot Spartacus to liberate her fellow droids from slavery, but even then the who can you really trust plotting gets a bit repetitive. There’s no Force or lightsabres, though Dryden’s weapon does make a slight nod to the latter, but replacement director Ron Howard and father-son screenwriters  Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan ensure the Star Wars sensibilities remain well polished. Dropping in plenty of franchise references along with the poetry  in-joke character names. And it rarely looks less than amazing.

Ehrenreich is hugely enjoyable channelling the young Han with his rogueish smile, body language, gait, recklessness and charm, so it’s a bit unfortunate that he looks as though he’s more likely to grow up into Dennis Quaid than Harrison Ford. It’s also unfortunate that the chemistry between him and Clarke never fizzles, indeed there’s more spark between Llando and L3 (who reckons her boss has the hots for her). Everyone else is serviceable enough, though sadly Newton’s not round long enough to make good on her first impression, and, at the end of the day, it serves up a fun slice of big screen adventure in the tradition of those Saturday morning matinees that inspired Star Wars in the first place.  But whether there’s further adventures for the pre Mos Eisley Han  and Chewie rather depends on whether those cinema seats start to fill up. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Strangers: Prey at Night (15)

Ten years ago, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman played a couple terrorised by three strangers while staying in an isolated holiday home. Now, a decade later, comes this sequel in which, being reluctantly taken to boarding school after proving too much of a handful, stroppy teen Kinsey (Bailee Madison), her mom and dad (Christina Hendricks; Martin Henderson) and more conformist older Luke (Lewis Pullman), are taking a brief family vacation stopover at the trailer park run by her grandparents.

Arriving late at night, the place deserted, they settle into their cabin only to be disturbed by a knock at the door by some girl who’s apparently lost. Sulking, Kinsey takes off to explore the park, accompanied by Luke, and the pair wind up at their grandparents’ home only to find them butchered.  Racing home, Luke takes dad go off to show what they found and, while they’re away she and mom are attacked by a girl in a mask, Kinsey escaping and running of into the night to find the other two. And, with dad also soon despatched, the film grinds down into the siblings being hunted by the three silent, disguised killers, Dollface (Emma Bellomy), Pinup Girl (Lea Enslin) and, sporting a sack over his head, Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), as they seek to survive.

A basic no frills slasher movie with a degree of sadistic nastiness that, back in the 70s would have seen it tagged a video nasty, it’s nihilistic and unpleasant, dwelling unnecessarily on the cruelty of the enigmatic assailants, the axe-wielding male proving inevitably almost unkillable in the final climax. 47 Metres Down director Johannes Roberts does a workmanlike job of assembling the characters and action, but fails to bring anything fresh to the genre or, indeed, much by the way of  scares, suspense or common sense.  Indeed, the scariest thing here is how Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, Kim Wilde’s Kids in America and  Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All seem to have wandered in from the soundtrack of another film entirely. When Kinsey asks Dollface why they’re doing all this she simply says “Why not?” A response that pretty much sums up the film’s own existence. (Vue Star City)

Tully  (15)

The third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reunites them with Young Adult star Charlize Theron as Marlo, a New York mother of two young kids, eight-year-old Sarah (Lia Frankland) and the younger Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who’s about to give birth to a third. Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) works late and helps the kids with their homework before he goes to bed to play video games, but otherwise is oblivious to the demands of being a fulltime mother. On top of which, their son, Jonah, is demandingly ‘quirky’  (for which read autistic, though the film never uses the word) and his elite private school would really like him to have a private tutor (which the couple can’t afford) or place him elsewhere.

The arrival of baby Mia (though her name’s only revealed in passing) just adds to the pressures and, eventually, unable to cope any longer (cue a montage of nappy changing, feeding, etc.), and bearing in mind the never talked about depression she suffered after Jonah’s birth, she gives in and decides to take up the gift from her wealthier brother Craig (Mark Duplass) of a night nanny, someone who will come and take up the strain while she gets some sleep. Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis) a free spirit in the Juno mould who, Marlo’s very own Mary Poppins, not only looks after Mia at night between feeds but cleans the house, bakes cupcakes, offers a friendly ear and even helps reignite Marlo and Drew’s sex life. She’s well-read, well-informed, speaks different languages and dispenses words of wisdom  such as “She’ll grow a little overnight. And so will we!” She is, as Marlo puts it, “a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders.”  She’s also welcomingly non-judgmental.

Marlo gets to have at least part of her life back (“It’s like I can see colour again”) and no longer feels wiped out every waking moment. But then, following a car accident after a girls’ night out in Marlo’s old stomping grounds, comes a reveal that forces you to reassess everything you’ve just seen, even if, logically, it doesn’t quite hang together.

Littered with Cody’s trademark snappy patter (Elaine Tan, as Craig’s spoiled wife Elyse, benefitting from some of the best) and driven by a raw-nerved, unglamorous  and fearless performance from Theron, drained of life through exhaustion one moment, verbally lashing out at the school principal the next, although the dreamlike imagery of mermaids doesn’t quite fit and it overstretches the metaphors in the final stretch, it’s an empathetic, intelligent and insightful examination of the darker side of motherhood they only tend to talk about in the problem pages while putting on that serene glow for the world. At the end of the day, it’s not as hilarious as Juno or as lacerating as Young Adult, but, constituted of a cocktail of ingredients from both,  it’s most definitely one that stressed-out moms should drag their husbands to see. (Mockingbird)

 

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

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 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Broken Social Scene to give Birmingham a ‘Hug Of Thunder’ this week

Broken Social Scene. Image: Norman Wong
Broken Social Scene. Image: Norman Wong

Indie rockers Broken Social Scene will play the O2 Academy 2 in Birmingham on Thursday, May 31st, 2018.

The Canadian collective head back to the UK this week for a string of dates which will see them perform classic hits, as well as cuts from their first album in seven years, Hug Of Thunder. This latest release saw the return of Grammy-nominated band alumni, Feist, and was met with praise from both press and fans upon its release last year.

Broken Social Scene’s supergroup is headed up by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, with an array of long-term collaborators including Feist and members of Do Make Say Think, KC Accidental, Metric and Apostle of Hustle.

The band’s UK tour culminates in a performance at All Points East Festival, at London’s Victoria Park on Saturday, June2nd, 2018.

Headlined by The National, the bill also includes The War On Drugs, Future Islands, Warpaint, Spoon, Cat Power and Public Service Broadcasting among others.

Tickets are available from See Tickets.

Words: Gareth Griffiths

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