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

 

NEW RELEASES

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Turtle (PG)

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

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

Spark: A Space Tail (U)

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

 

 

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A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

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

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

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

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

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

A Bunch of Kunst (18)  

Whatever you may think of their music, and I have to say that, while finding some of the songs and observations powerful stuff, I’m not a huge fan of their musically primitive, raw, aggressive  proto-punk in your face rants in which seemingly every other line contains one obscenity or another, German music journalist turned filmmaker Christine Franz’s documentary, the play on words title referring to the German for art,  is compelling stuff.

Hailed, rather hyperbollocksally by Iggy Pop as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band”, the Sleaford Mods comprise 40something working class Nottingham duo Jason Williamson (who, of course shares his surname with Ig) and Andrew Fearn. The former sings, or rather shouts and spits, the lyrics while, bobbing up and down behind him on stage, Fearn provides the electronic beats. Married with a couple of kids, the gobby Williamson, a former chicken factory worker and more recently benefits officer, writes the words and is the more articulate of the two, Fearn remaining pretty much silent throughout the film, with no details of his background worth mention.

In the tradition of John Cooper Clarke, the Pistols, Angelic Upstarts and, to an extent Sham 69,  they give voice to  the country’s disaffected, disenfranchised working class, the songs chainsawing through any number of social issues, Williamson seeing themselves as something the country needs, although one suspects that a good many of the audience, who seem to be mostly male, are simply there to get aled up and mouth the words back of him, more in thrall to the trend than the movement.

The documentary follows their two year journey from playing the toilet circuit to selling out 2000 seater, a slot at Glastonbury, an appearance on Later With.. and, eventually, signing with Rough Trade, even if that caused their down to earth former bus driver manager, Steve Underwood, a few moments of moral quandary.  As such, it spends much of its time in shitty little venues and cramped studios, mirroring the frustration that explodes through Jason’s abrasive songs. Although some might take issue with his justification of the swearing as being just normal everyday words as well as the sweeping dismissal of pretty much everything in the album charts as shit, his arguments are undeniably well-grounded and he has a welcome self-deprecatory streak, amusingly taking himself to task for having referred to himself as a rock n roll star to wife, Claire.  She makes some significant contributions too, most notably in talking about her husband as someone who, prior to the spotlight the band has brought, would have been someone who fell off the radar and died without anyone being aware.  Given the passion Jason brings to his onstage delivery and his lyrics and their refusal to make a cleaned up version of the album for the BBC, it’s a little surprising to hear him talk about music being not that important to him and how he’d give it up  if  he had too,  likewise his request not to film the street where he lives because he’s had some weirdo fan letters. Very much one for the hardcore fans, but a potent insight into a social and musical UK culture rarely visited by the mainstream media. (Tue: Electric)

 

Colossal  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are  duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with  automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart  to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more   instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Frantz (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

It starts brilliantly. As, hired  by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki),  the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.

Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s  bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula  (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space  and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell),  who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of  70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s  a Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.

It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed  ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.

Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child  trafficking by its leader, a cameoing  Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign.  Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

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

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

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

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

Mindhorn (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sleepless (15)

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

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

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

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

Snatched (15

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

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

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

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

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

 

Their Finest (12A)

Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter  Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a  morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.

The film is to be based on the  story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the  inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include  faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of  drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway

Then, to the consternation of  all concerned, looking to get the US  into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by  handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the  bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw  an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.

Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them.  On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.

Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while  Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either.  (Empire Great Park)

 

 

 

 

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

Songs We Love: The bruised beauty of Evan Dando’s ‘All My Life’

Ever since ‘Stove’ showcased the everyday poignancy of kitchen appliance removal, Evan Dando has been the doleful master of melancholy. From the hazy, sun-drenched strums of It’s A Shame About Ray to the forlorn fuzz of Car Button Cloth, Dando had an unrivalled ability to mix brevity with bludgeoning emotion.

In 2017, Dando is currently on a jaunt across the globe in supporting of the Fire Records reissue of Baby I’m Bored, his debut solo record originally released in 2003. The album was suitably sobering, a country-flavoured collection of beautifully brittle tales of self-awareness that was the Bostonian’s most consistent batch of tracks since …Ray‘s universality.

Alongside the hymn to hedonism, ‘The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Part I Can Live Without’, and ‘My Idea’ and its crushing tale of a curtailed relationship, the album’s high-water mark was, and still is, the harrowing, heartfelt ‘All My Life’. A sombre strum reminiscent of The Lemonheads’ most naked, arresting moments – think ‘The Outdoor Type’ and ‘Being Around’ – Dando paints himself as the ne’er-do-well antagonist rallying against his previous dalliances as he laments “to be filled with hatred, for the time I’ve wasted.” This was a man who hadn’t, at this point, released a record for seven years.

“God knows how will I get through it, I bit my own sweet heart and blew it,” he sighs before it reaches the crushing chorus, where the celebrated sinner reaches the road to redemption. Simplistic yet strong, the line “all my life, I thought I wanted all the things I didn’t want at all” reaches an emotional apex through Dando’s cracked, contemplative cry.

Most surprising, though, was that despite the song seemingly being one of Dando’s finest druggy confessions, it was actually penned for the lank-haired troubadour by Australian singer Ben Lee, who also penned Baby I’m Bored’s atmospheric, transient chug of ‘Hard Drive’. Props to Lee for delicately, and fiercely accurately, crafting a snapshot of Dando’s past and present, but Dando’s performance remains, 14 years on, bruised and beautiful.

 

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri May 19-Thu May 25

 

NEW RELEASES

Colossal  (15)

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

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

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

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

The supporting characters, Tim especially, aren’t given much more than a one dimensional treatment, indeed, save for one scene as Oscar’s nasty side ignites,  both Garth and Joel are pretty much dispensable to the plot.

That said, blending in some black comedy, there’s a compelling psychological intrigue that keeps you involved as the film evolves from rom com to Godzilla-like disaster  movie to  a potent character-driven self-absorption melodrama about two psychological trauma. Playing against type, the two leads are the core, Hathaway turning in a disarming self-mocking note while Sudeikis perfectly shades his character’s transition from ostensible nice guy to one consumed by his self-pity and inner demons. In many ways it echoes the recent A Monster Calls, although its climax, while equally cathartic, is rather less redemptive and decidedly unforgiving. And oddity then, but one well worth puzzling over.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Frantz (12A)

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

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

Loosely based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby, although the second half other narrative is original, this is director Francois Ozon’s first film to be shot in mostly German and on 35mm with large parts of it in black and white. However,  his meticulous craft and familiar themes remain firmly in evidence,  the film mirroring the similarities between the two countries and the bereaved after the war, with a  pacifist message of reaching out in reconciliation, forgiveness and how sometimes a lie is better than the truth.

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

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

Forget Le Morte d’Arthur, forget Camelot, forget T.H. White’s classic novel, forget John Boorman’s Excalibur, this is Guy Ritchie’s vision of the Arthurian story, recast as a sort of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Broadswords, more rock n roll than troubadour. The gist of this revision is that, having defeated the evil mage Mordred, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is then betrayed by his power-thirsty brother  Vortigern (a camped up  Jude Law) who, sacrificing his own wife to do so, summons up a demon to kills both Uther and his queen, but not before they manage to send their infant son off in a boat, Moses style.

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

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

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

Snatched (15)

Directed by Judd Apatow, Trainwreck, her first starring feature and which she also wrote, proved Amy Schumer could be  just as funny on the big screen as on the small one. However, the follow-up, directed by The Night Before Christmas’s Jonathan Levine  and penned by the Ghostbusters remake scribe, Katie Dippold, might have audiences revising that opinion.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

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

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

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

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

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Belko Experiment (18)

Director Greg McLean and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of office drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with  metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO,  Barry (Tony Goldwyn), reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted  in their heads start going off, that’s clearly not the case.

At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.

Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker  Michael Rooker, stoner  Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter  as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at  explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Electric)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are  duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with  automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart  to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more   instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Get Out (15)

Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re  like part of the family.  Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield)  of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’

It is, of course, rather too late for that  and  it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and  discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

It starts brilliantly. As, hired  by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki),  the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.

Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s  bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula  (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space  and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell),  who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of  70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s  a Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.

It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed  ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.

Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child  trafficking by its leader, a cameoing  Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign.  Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Mindhorn (15)

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

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

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

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

Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

Miss Sloan (12A)

When high-powered insomniac lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) goes to bed, she usually grabs a John Grisham courtroom thriller to read. The plot here wouldn’t be out of place, and, while there may not be a courtroom, there is a Senate hearing, chaired by Congressman Sperling (John Lithgow), to which Sloane has been summoned, accused of  violating ethics. It’s here that the film begins, but then rolls back in time to find Sloane, who’s employed by a top DC consulting film (headed by Sam Waterson), laughing down a Senator who wants her to campaign on behalf of the NRA and turn images of mothers crying for their shot children  into a women for guns  message to secure a vote against gun registration.

She duly quits on moral principle ground and, taking with her all of her team save for assistant Jane (Alison Pill) .who reckons her career’s better served staying put with top associate Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), sets up camp with a smalltime lobbying firm run by idealist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) who are trying to swing the  vote in favour of registration

Although you need a reasonable working knowledge of how lobbyists work, director John Madden sweeps you along, cutting back and forth between the hearing and the events leading up to it. A driven character who’s sacrificed private life for career (there’s never explored hints of a trouble childhood) and releases her tensions in hotel rooms with a hunky Southern male escort (Jake Lacy), Sloane is a compelling figure, but far from sympathetic. Determined to win, she’s willing to exploit anything and everyone to do so, something her gun violence survivor new colleague Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) learns to her cost, but, as a lobbyist, she believes the end justifies the means. She also operates on the principle that  “It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”, a credo which reveals itself in an implausible  third act which  that may well defy narrative  logic and require a credibility straining foresight that chess grandmasters would envy, but undeniably delivers a crowd pleasing sting.

While the supporting turns are solid, Mbatha-Raw in particular, this is firmly  Chastain’s film, her Elizabeth Sloane an obsessive,  coolly efficient Lady Macbeth without the guilty conscience who makes it her business to not  only know where all the bodies are buried, but who made the shovels, but yet still with flashes of humanity behind that implacable exterior. More likely to share the box office fate of Sandra Bullock’s political consultant  drama Our Brand Is Crisis than George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, both of which mined similar territory, even so, this is well worth voting for with your ticket money.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

The Sense of an Ending (15)

Adapted by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’ novel and directed in a gentle low key manner by  Ritesh Batra,  this is a bittersweet look at the memories we hide from ourselves in the reinvention of the past.

It’s built around a memorable, unassuming central performance by Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, an elderly, somewhat self-absorbed   divorcee who runs a second-hand camera shop whose lawyer ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and pregnant lesbian daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) refer to him affectionately as The Mudge,  as in  curmudgeon.

One day, he gets a letter informing him that the mother of his teenage old flame, Veronica,  has passed away and left him something in her will. Although,  the now middle-aged Veronica  (a coolly composed Charlotte Rampling) won’t release it to the solicitors, Tony learns that it’s a diary, written by an old schoolfriend of his, the intellectually sharp Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who inexplicably committed suicide.  Annoyed at being denied what he regards as his property, Tony sets about trying to make contact with  her, fantasising that there might  still be a spark between them.

As Tony recounts past events  to Margaret, the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her  genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother  Jack (Edward Holcroft)  and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tony’s forced to  confront his actions.

Gradually peeling away false memories to get at the truth, although Broadbent’s inherent warmth somewhat softens Tony’s selfish and narcissistic character and the redemptive coda is an emotional cop out, it’s a slowburning work the impact of which creeps up on you, its small moments gathering to a heartbreaking climax.  (Electric)

 

Sleepless (15)

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

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

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

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Their Finest (12A)

Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter  Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a  morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.

The film is to be based on the  story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the  inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include  faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of  drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway

Then, to the consternation of  all concerned, looking to get the US  into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by  handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the  bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw  an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.

Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them.  On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.

Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while  Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife (12A)

In occupied Poland, during World War II, Antonina Żabińska and   zookeeper husband  Jan sheltered 300 Jews from the Nazis in the Warsaw Zoo,  recording her experiences in a  diary, subsequently adapted into a book by Diane Ackerman on which this is based. Directed by Niki Caro, who has yet to better debut feature Whale Rider, it stars a distractingly accented Jessica Chastain in the title role with  Johan Heldenbergh as Jan, opening in the idyllic summer of 39 as she cycles around the zoo greeting and feeding the animals. The imoment is abruptly shattered by the German invasion, the zoo itself being bombed, setting camels, tigers and other animals loose on the ravaged city streets in a series of somewhat strikingly surreal images as the invading army are given no option but to gun them down. It is, of course, a symbolic portent of what is to follow as the city’s Jews are systematically rounded up and herded off to concentration camps in crammed trains. Meanwhile, having convinced  chief Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) to allow the zoo to remain open as a pig farm, providing meat for the solders while the surviving prize specimens are shipped to Germany for selective breeding as a sort of animal master race, she takes the courageous decision to shelter their Jewish neighbours in the basement of her house, shipped in from the Warsaw Ghetto by  Jan in the truck he uses to collect the garbage to feed the pigs.

Just as she refers to  the place as now being a human zoo, so does the film adopt a similarly literal narrative, underlining the image by Antonina looking after one traumatised teenager sheltering in one of the cages. As part of her efforts to keep the zoo open and her new charges safe, she starts flirting with the eugenics obsessed Heck, who has naturally fallen for her, which, of course, despite her intentions, doesn’t sit well with the stoic Jan.

Interspersed with third act scenes of  the Resistance fighting the Germans in the streets, it’s all solidly made and, for the most, decently acted, but everything is about surface drama, Caro directing audience emotions with predictable shots of smilingly unaware young children being bundled into trains and such familiar Holocaust signifiers as piles of suitcases. It’s all nicely polished, but rarely engages with the complexity of the events or the emotions. Intercutting between the Ghetto’s destruction and a Passover meal is banal filmmaking, while Żabińska’s young son’s remark that it’s snowing as the ashes float gracefully through the sky should never have made it to the page let alone the screen.

Another problem is that, while the film celebrates the couple’s bravery,  the Jews they shelter remain somewhat sketchy, emblematic characters. Tastefully done but ultimately perfunctorily told with only the faintest excursion into tension, it never rises to the heights of the recent similarly themed The Book Thief, far less Agnieska Holland’s Into Darkness, seemingly far more concerned with the visual details than the human ones, whose fates ultimately have less of an impact than those of the animals. (MAC)

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 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

MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri May 12-Thu May 18

 

NEW RELEASES

Alien: Covenant (15)

Set 10 years after Prometheus (2012), Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the seemingly endless sci fi horror Alien saga offers further insights into the creatures’ origins, although the film itself feels more like a  bridging link to the next chapter rather than a self-contained narrative in its own right.  It’s 2104 and Covenant is taking a 2000 sleeping colonists and several trays of embryos to a new habitable world. The ship and its systems (Mother) are under the control of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the latest upgrade of the original David model from the last film, the latter seen as the film opens, talking with his creator (Guy Pearce) in an airless, sterile white room, naming himself after Michelangelo’s statue and already displaying a sense of superiority over his human ‘father’.

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

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

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

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

Given the franchise trajectory and the in-production sequel, none of this is much of a spoiler, the real disappointment is how generic it all becomes with the assorted gun battles, acid sprays, dismemberments, face huggers and running through  dark narrow spaces pausing only for a discussion between Walter and the cool but patently deranged David on their different natures and the purpose of creation, although the screenplay seems to use the latter more as a plot engine than any serious existential philosophising.

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

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

 

Jawbone (15)

There’s nothing particularly new in this story of a washed up boxer fighting his demons (almost obligatory alcoholism) and taking on one last fight that serves as both a reaffirmation of who he is and the springboard to face and seek help for his problems. However, in the hands of Thomas Napper, stepping up from second unit director and both starring and written by Johnny Harris, who brings a touch of Ken Loach to the film’s social issues, this really does deliver a punch.

Harris stars as Jimmy McCabe, a former South London child boxing champion who pissed it all away and who, between his addiction, unemployable nature and the recent death of his mother, finds himself facing eviction and without benefits, or dignity.  Although it’s clear old friends care about him, he’s too proud to ask for help, even when he’s hungry and homeless, as to do so would mean acknowledging how far he’s sunk. Hence, why he never speaks at the AA meetings he attends.  He does, however, fetch up at the local amateur boxing gym owned by gruff but warm-hearted former mentor Bill Carney (Ray Winston) where he learned to box and gets to do some training and occasionally help out  Bill and his partner Eddie (Michael Smiley) with the boys there to learn the craft. Evicted, he also ends up sleeping there.

Desperate for money, he turns to a shady promoter (a briefly cameoing Ian McShane) who sets him up with an unlicenced bout up north where he can at least earn £2,500 by getting beaten by the local bully boy hot shot. At which point Bill breaks some dark news.

It all unfolds in predictable underdog comeback fashion (albeit not in some stadium but a tiny back street ring), but Harris’ screenplay delivers a deeply felt character study on which melancholy and sadness hangs heavy while, looking a little like a battered and broken Jason Statham, his complex, brooding and nuanced performance is outstanding. Although his rage does explode at times, for the most he keeps the main and self-loathing internalised, a restraint that also extends to Winstone who gives his subtlest performance in years.

Landing emotional body blows every bit as powerful as the physical ones served up in the well-staged brutal match on which the film climaxes, downbeat yet ultimately optimistic it may lack the flash and brash of a Rocky, but it still delivers a knockout that deserves far more than its single screen showing. (Everyman)

The Journey (12A)

Held in Fife between October 11 to 13, 2006, the Northern Ireland peace talks concluded with the historic St. Andrews Agreement, with both sides in the Troubles agreeing to share power with prudist Protestant firebrand preacher Ian Paisley as First Minister and his sworn Catholic enemy Martin McGuiness, the alleged former IRA Chief of Staff turned Sinn Fein MP, as his deputy.

It seemed an almost impossible outcome, but, directed by Nick Hamm and written by Colin Bateman, this film speculates on how the rapprochement between the two (who went on to become great friends and were dubbed the Chuckle Brothers) came about during an imagined and wholly fictional car journey they share as, for political protocol, McGuiness (Colm Meaney) insists on accompanying Paisley (a pursed lips Timothy Spall) as he’s driven to Edinburgh to catch a plane home for his 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.

Their apparently naïve young driver (Freddie Highmore) is a covert security agent getting instructions from his MI5 boss (the late John Hurt) through an earpiece while, the car fitted out with security cameras, he and the others back at the hotel, among them Gerry Adams (Ian Beattie) and Tony Blair (Toby Stephens), watch what’s going on between the two men, hoping that, if they’re given enough time, they’ll somehow find common ground. As such, while there are diversions such as the pair wandering through the woods and into an abandoned church, when the car collides with a deer and has a puncture, the bulk of the film takes place in the back seats, the garrulous McGuiness trying to get the terse Paisley to talk to him, lend him his phone or simply crack a smile.

Naturally, there’s plenty of politically focused dialogue with the pair exchanging accusations about things done by both sides, but the tone is generally light with a considerable degree of comedic banter, mostly on McGuiness’s part, though Paisley reveals a dry wit too; a particular high note is a shared joke over Irish figures of speech, while a sequence when the latter confronts a recalcitrant petrol station cashier is as funny as any road trip comedy you might care to name.

The whole set-up is, of course, too fanciful to take seriously, the film’s comic sensibilities underscored by Stephens playing Blair as his caricature rather than his character. But, thanks to the two splendidly offset lead performances that brilliantly channel the two rivals capturing the humanity behind the public image, McGuiness’s explanation of his change of heart after the Enniskillen bombings especially effective. It never happened like this of course, but the film makes you wish it had. (Electric)

Mindhorn (15)

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

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

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

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

Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman)

Miss Sloan (12A)

An insomniac, unable to sleep, when high-powered lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) goes to bed, she usually grabs a John Grisham courtroom thriller to read. The plot here wouldn’t be out of place, and, while there may not be a courtroom, there is a Senate hearing, chaired by Congressman Sperling (John Lithgow), to which Sloane has been summoned accused of  violating ethics. It’s here that the film begins, but then rolls back in time to find Sloane, who’s employed by Cole, Kravitz & Waterman, a top DC consulting film (headed by Sam Waterson), laughing down a Senator who wants her to campaign on behalf of the NRA and turn images of mothers crying for their shot children  into a women for guns  message to secure a vote against gun registration.

She duly quits on moral principle ground and, taking with her all of her team save for assistant Jane (Alison Pill) .who reckons her career’s better served staying put with top associate Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), sets up camp with the a smalltime boutique lobbying firm run by idealist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong in an underwritten role) who are trying to swing the  vote in favour of registration

Although you need a reasonable working knowledge of how lobbyists work (especially in America), director John Madden sweeps you along, cutting back and forth between the hearing and the events leading up to it, with Sloane’s attorney  (David Wilson Barnes) bemused and frustrated at her tactics. A driven character whose sacrificed private life for career (there’s never explored hints of a trouble childhood) who releases her tensions in hotel rooms with a hunky Southern male escort (Jake Lacy), Sloane is a compelling figure, but far from sympathetic. Determined to win, she’s willing to exploit anything and everyone to do so, something her gun violence survivor new colleague Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) learns to her cost, but, as a lobbyist, she believes the end justifies the means. She also operates on the principle that  “It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”, a credo which reveals itself in an implausible  third act which  that may well defy narrative  logic and require a credibility straining foresight that chess grandmasters would envy, but undeniably delivers a crowd pleasing sting.

While the supporting turns are solid, Mbatha-Raw in particular, this is firmly  Chastain’s film, her Elizabeth Sloane an obsessive,  coolly efficient Lady Macbeth without the guilty conscience who makes it her business to not  only know where all the bodies are buried, but who made the shovels, but yet still with flashes of humanity behind that implacable exterior. More likely to share the box office fate of Sandra Bullock’s political consultant  drama Our Brand Is Crisis than George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, both of which mined similar territory, even so, this is well worth voting for with your ticket money.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

 

NOW PLAYING

A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

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

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

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

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Belko Experiment (18)

Director Greg McLean and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of office drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with  metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO,  Barry (Tony Goldwyn), reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted  in their heads start going off, that’s clearly not the case.

At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.

Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker  Michael Rooker, stoner  Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter  as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at  explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Showcase Walsall)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are  duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with  automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart  to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more   instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Get Out (15)

Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re  like part of the family.  Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield)  of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’

It is, of course, rather too late for that  and  it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and  discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

 

Going In Style (12A)

A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch  always going on about how he could die  any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.

Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.

Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

It starts brilliantly. As, hired  by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki),  the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.

Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s  bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula  (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space  and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell),  who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of  70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s  a Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.

It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed  ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.

Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child  trafficking by its leader, a cameoing  Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign.  Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Lady Macbeth  (15)

Adapted from Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s 1860 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and relocated to the bleak County Durham moors of Victorian England , while its titular character may have the single-minded ruthlessness of Shakespeare’s schemer, there’s also a strong touch of Lady Chatterley too, along with the gothic sensibilities of  Emily Bronte.

The feature debut of theatre director William Oldroyd, there’s some effective theatrical touches to his period piece in the use of still moments in which the camera simply focuses on the character as she sits staring out of the screen that compound the unease that permeates this bleak and emotionally brutal work.

Bought as domestic property by elderly and sadistic  wealthy miner Boris (a loathsome Christopher Fairbank) as a bride for his hard-drinking obnoxious and ineffectual son Alexander (Paul Hilton),  who runs their  large farm, the young Katherine (Florence Pugh) quickly finds her life is not one she relishes, her husband showing no hint of affection (he never consummates the marriage) and even the servants treating her with disdain. Often left alone  save for her black maid Anna (Naomie Ackie), a virtual prisoner in her own home,  she’s bored and restless, until she meets mixed race stable-hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) whose  sexual magnetism quickly brings out her wild side as they embark on frenzied and frequent sex while Alexander is off dealing with some colliery incident and his father’s in London.

When Boris returns and sniffs out what’s been going on, Katherine disposes of him with poison mushrooms and then, when his son returns and confronts her with the same accusations, he too meets a bloody fate. However, Katherine and Sebastian’s murderous lustful union then faces another setback with the arrival of a refined black woman and her child claiming a connection to the family. Clearly further obstacles need to be removed.

Oppressed by a patriarchal tyranny, initially a figure of sympathy whose actions could be argued as justifiable, her subsequent crime, with Sebastian as accomplice, and her manipulation of blame in her power games are decidedly less so, the film confronting audiences with one especially hard to watch sequence. Rarely off screen, Pugh is mesmerising while, creating the sense of oppressive claustrophobia, both physically and psychology, Oldroyd delivers a very different sort of period piece from the usual heritage cinema that also touches on questions of class and race. Stunning.  (MAC)

 

Sleepless (15)

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

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

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

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Their Finest (12A)

Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter  Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a  morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.

The film is to be based on the  story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the  inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include  faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of  drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway

Then, to the consternation of  all concerned, looking to get the US  into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by  handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the  bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw  an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.

Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them.  On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.

Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while  Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Unlocked (15)

It’s not going to win any awards, but, efficiently directed by Michael Apted, this terrorist-themed thriller does a watchable enough job despite its  convoluted plot’s twists and turns and unreliable characters.

Blaming herself for not cracking the code soon enough to prevent the deaths of numerous civilians during a terrorist bombing in Paris, former CIA agent Alice (Noomi Rapace) is working for an counselling agency in London’s East End, feeding back any hints of terrorist activity to the head of MI5 (Toni Collette).

Then she’s approached by a CIA agent who says she’s needed to interrogate a courier they’ve snatched who’s supposed to be delivering  message from a local Imam suspected of being behind terrorist attacks.  They need her to unlock his message so they can switch their man to meet the mastermind behind what they believe to be an upcoming biological attack. Which she duly does, only to get a call from MI5 at a crucial moment asking her to interrogate the self-same courier. Clocking that she’s been played, she escapes and seeks help from her former CIA mentor (Michael Douglas), only for him to be gunned down,  giving her the address of a safe house apartment. However, arriving there she finds it being burgled by Jack (Orlando Bloom) who says he’s a former marine who served in Iraq and, after rescuing her from a couple of armed officers sent to apprehend her (CIA station boss John Malkovich acting on the assumption she’s gone rogue), they set off to try and track down the guy the courier was supposed to meet, enlisting the help of one of her agency’s clients in the process.

Given it’s established early on that the CIA has been ‘penetrated’, Alice has no idea of who to trust, and the audience are pretty much in the same position as characters motivations and alliances seem to switch at the drop of a plot twist hat.

Riddled with heavy handed expositionary dialogue and preposterous set-ups, it rumbles along merrily enough, punching up the tension as it goes and slotting into the recent niche of thrillers adopting cynical view about the lengths to which government agencies will go to achieve their ends.

If it’s a little hard to take Bloom as an East End macho man, Rapace delivers an  intense performance worthier of a far better film while Collette plays things with a twinkle in her eye and Malkovich adds a wry sense of fun with his dry humour and comic timing. Ultimately, though., it feels a bit like a poor man’s Spooks and the sort of B movie opportunist zeigeist thriller you’d expect to go straight to DVD or on-demand when you can use the remote to switch between plot holes as you watch.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

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

Alex Ohm to release debut EP this month with sold-out Birmingham show

Birmingham-born singer-songwriter Alex Ohm is set to release his debut solo EP, At First a Drop, Then a Flood, on Friday 19 May, and will showcase its content at a sold-out show at Birmingham’s Victoria the night after.

Ohm had previously enjoyed considerable success with The Lines, who had ticked off a range of support slots with their peers (The Charlatans and Ian Brown, to name just two), but now ploughs a more introspective furrow as a solo artist. His debut EP is a contemplative collection that’s vibrant and unpredictable, from Every Ocean”s cascading rhythms and gentle fiddle, to ‘Days Like These’ and its fragile finger picking.

Ohm recorded the EP with Wolverhampton-based producer Ryan Pinson, who has worked with a raft of local talent (most notably God Damn), and the polished mix from U2 and Killers knob-twiddler Pete Maher has ensured it has a stately shimmer.

To celebrate the EP’s release, Ohm is returning to Birmingham for a sold-out gig at the Victoria on Saturday 20th. For more details, head to Alex’s website. You can hear ‘Another Ocean’ on his Soundcloud.

MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri May 5-Thu May 11

 

NEW RELEASES

Sleepless (15)

Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar, Golden Globe and a BAFTA for Ray and was nominated in all three for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes two Horrible Bosses and the  black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in the engaging but generic cop thriller, a remake of a 2011’s Nuit Blanche,  in which none of the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.

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

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

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Having previously directed My Life As  A Dog and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Lasse Hallstrom now adds a third canine title to the CV with this wallowingly sentimental family yarn that takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up and takes it for a walk on a very long leash. Starting with a young stray puppy being picked up by a Michigan dog-catcher and euthenised. Only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. Or, as the dog thinks, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the school bully Bailey humiliated seeks revenge and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad – Luke Kirby)- has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the K9 partner of lonely copy Carlos only to be killed in action and come bacg again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, who’s taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (now played by Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

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

There are some shamelessly manipulated sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, any emotional involvement going walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour (he sees kissing as searching one another for  food) are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Mindhorn (15)

Unfortunately, lack of screening availabilty means this, the latest from the Mighty Boosh crew can’t be  reviewed until next week, but, despite a somewhat limited outing, it’s already being hailed by some as the comedy of the year. It’s a spoof on  the 80s detective/secret agent TV genre with Julian Barratt as Richard Thorncroft, a washed-up and now overwight, out of condition actor who was once the star of popular TV series Mindhorn, set on the Isle of Wight with the titular character being a pricate detective with a robotic eye that lets him see the truth . He gets a chance to relive his glory days and make a comeback when he’s called upon by Andrea Risborough’s cop to help nail an elusive serial killer (Russell Tovey) who believes Mindhorn was actually a documentary and will only talk to him

Featuring cameos from Steve Coogan as the  star of the Windjammer spinoff, Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves, and with co-writer Simon Farnaby as Thorncroft’s stunt double with Essie Davis as their shared love interest, a hefty degree on post-modern irony and knowing silliness can be expected. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman)

 

Unlocked (15)

 

It’s not going to win any awards, but, efficiently directed by Michael Apted, this terrorist-themed thriller does a watchable enough job even if it convoluted plot’s twists and turns and unreliable characters might induce headaches trying to keep up.

Blaming herself for not cracking the code soon enough to prevent the deaths of numerous civilians during a terrorist bombing in Paris, former CIA agent Alice (Noomi Rapace) is working for an counselling agency in London’s East End, feeding back any hints of terrorist activity to the head of MI5 (Toni Collette channelling Annie Lennox).

Then she’ approached by a CIA man who says she’s needed to interrogate a courier they’ve snatched who’s supposed to be delivering  message from a local Imam suspect of being behind terrorist attacks.  They need her to unlock his message so they can switch their man to meet the mastermind behind what they believe to be an upcoming biological attack. Which she duly does, only to get a call from MI5 at a crucial moment asking her to interrogate the self-same courier. Clocking that she’s been played, she escapes and seeks help from her former CIA mentor (Michael Douglas), only for him to be gunned down,  giving her the address of a safe house apartment. However, arriving there she find sit being burgled by the heavily tattooed Jack (Orlando Bloom) who says he’s a former marine who served in Iraq and, after rescuing her from a couple of armed officers sent to apprehend her (CIA station boss John Malkovich acting on the assumption she’s gone rogue), sets off to try and track down the guy the courier was supposed to meet, enlisting the help of one of her agency clients in the process.

Given it’s established early on that the CIA has been ‘penetrated’, Alice has no idea of who to trust, and the audience are pretty much in the same position as characters motivations and alliances seem to switch at the drop of a plot twist hat.

Riddled with heavy handed expositionary dialogue and preposterous set-ups, it rumbles along merrily enough, punching up the tension as it goes and slotting into the recent niche of thrillers adopting cynical view about the lengths to which government agencies will go to achieve their ends.

If it’s a little hard to take Bloom as some East End macho man, Rapace delivers a solid intense performance worthier of a far better film while Collette plays things with a twinkle in her eye and Malkovich adds a wry sense of fun with his dry humour and comic timing. Ultimately, having made its theatrical  debut in Russia of all places, which seems a bit ironic given that’s where the deadly bio-agent has been smuggled out of, it feels a bit like a poor man’s Spooks and the sort of B movie opportunist zeigeist thriller you’d expect to go straight to DVD or on-demand when you can use the remote to switch between plot holes as you watch. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Belko Experiment (18)

Director Greg McLean and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of office drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with  metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO,  Barry (Tony Goldwyn), reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted  in their heads start going off, that’s clearly not the case.

At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.

Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker  Michael Rooker, stoner  Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter  as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at  explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Death Of Mr Lazarescu (15)

If you think the NHS is bad, be grateful you don’t live in Romania. Based on a true story, Cristi Puiu’s film follows symbolically named old Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) from his first call to the ambulance service complaining of stomach pains through the long night to his eventual admission by a world-weary doctor.

By then, dutiful fiftysomething paramedic Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu) will have taken him to three other hospitals where she’ll be patronised by arrogant doctors and he’ll be variously ignored, dismissed as a drunk who deserves all he gets, and, even when diagnosed, passed on for others to deal with by a succession of short-tempered doctors and nurses worried about their own interests, flirting or just plain overworked.

The film’s non judgmental, content to observe in almost documentary fashion as others impose their own perceptions in their response to the dying Lazarescu as he slips into dementia.Some viewers will feel anger and frustration, others will sympathise with medical staff working impossible hours in impossible conditions, trying to cope with the victims of a major bus crash. Throughout, everyone is credibly human, glimpses of compassion peeking through the walls erected against personal involvement in the life and death passing before them. Filmed in long takes, devoid of music, and veined with a seam of black humour, it’s a long, slow film that casts a unsentimental piercing gaze through the bleak darkness and holds you transfixed throughout its journey.(Sun: MAC)

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are  duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with  automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart  to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more   instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Get Out (15)

Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re  like part of the family.  Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield)  of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’

It is, of course, rather too late for that  and  it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and  discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Going In Style (12A)

A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch  always going on about how he could die  any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.

Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.

Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

It starts brilliantly. As, hired  by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki),  the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.

Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s  bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula  (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space  and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell),  who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of  70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s  a Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.

It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed  ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.

Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child  trafficking by its leader, a cameoing  Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign.  Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Following Peter Jackson’s bloated 2005 remake, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts takes another swing at reviving cinema’s most famous ape. And  knocks it out of the park.

Clocking in at a tightly packed two hours, it balances explosive action, breathtaking effects, throwaway humour and some respectful nods to the original (effectively recreating that iconic Fay Wray/Kong moment) to wildly entertaining effect. However, the most striking thing  is that, set in 1973, it’s essentially Apocalypse Now with a  100 foot gorilla, Coppola’s movie very clearly referenced in any number of  shots  recreating that iconic image of the red streaked sun, both with and without helicopters blaring out rock music. In Samuel  L Jackson as Lt Col. Preston Packard, the army officer who doesn’t want to the war to end, especially not in ‘abandonment’, as he terms it, it also has its own crazed Kurtz.

Opening with a brief WWII  prologue as two young pilots, one American, one Japanese, are fighting to the death after crashing on some island when two giant hairy hands appear on the cliff top, it fast forwards to Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads up  Monarch, a secret agency seeking  “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” as he convinces  a senator (Richard Jenkins) to back an expedition to a hitherto uncharted island “where myth and science meet.”

Requisitioning a military escort headed up by Packard and his  chopper squad (among them Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell and Toby Kebbell) most of whom serve as cannon fodder along with the assorted scientists, Randa  and his team (Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing) also recruit ex SAS officer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as their tracker  while, sensing a story, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also inveigles a place on the mission.

However, no sooner have they battled their  way through the electrical storm shrouding the island  and started dropping seismic bombs, than they’re  being swatted out of the sky by an angry Kong.

Initially separated, the film charts their attempt to survive as they head for the pick up point, Conrad, Weaver and the rest of his group encountering Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), the American pilot from the opening, who has been living with the natives ever since and warns of even more dangerous beasts, against which Kong, the last of his kind, has become the island’s protector. Which means they now have to stop Packard from blasting the monkey to pieces.   With familiar  don’t screw with nature messages and observations on how war can make a man see enemies everywhere, it wastes little time on exposition and  gets on with mounting its spectacular action, introducing docile giant water buffalos, towering killer spiders and a humongous  octopus before finally bringing on lizard-like monsters  to raise the bloody body count tally further.

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Vue Star City)

 

Lady Macbeth  (15)

Adapted from Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s 1860 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and relocated to the bleak County Durham moors of Victorian England , while its titular character may have the single-minded ruthlessness of Shakespeare’s schemer, there’s also a strong touch of Lady Chatterley too, along with the gothic sensibilities of  Emily Bronte.

The feature debut of theatre director William Oldroyd, there’s some effective theatrical touches to his period piece in the use of still moments in which the camera simply focuses on the character as she sits staring out of the screen that compound the unease that permeates this bleak and emotionally brutal work.

Bought as domestic property by elderly and sadistic  wealthy miner Boris (a loathsome Christopher Fairbank) as a bride for his hard-drinking obnoxious and ineffectual son Alexander (Paul Hilton),  who runs their  large farm, the young Katherine (Florence Pugh) quickly finds her life is not one she relishes, her husband showing no hint of affection (he never consummates the marriage) and even the servants treating her with disdain. Often left alone  save for her black maid Anna (Naomie Ackie), a virtual prisoner in her own home,  she’s bored and restless, until she meets mixed race stable-hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) whose  sexual magnetism quickly brings out her wild side as they embark on frenzied and frequent sex while Alexander is off dealing with some colliery incident and his father’s in London.

When Boris returns and sniffs out what’s been going on, Katherine disposes of him with poison mushrooms and then, when his son returns and confronts her with the same accusations, he too meets a bloody fate. However, Katherine and Sebastian’s murderous lustful union then faces another setback with the arrival of a refined black woman and her child claiming a connection to the family. Clearly further obstacles need to be removed.

Oppressed by a patriarchal tyranny, initially a figure of sympathy whose actions could be argued as justifiable, her subsequent crime, with Sebastian as accomplice, and her manipulation of blame in her power games are decidedly less so, the film confronting audiences with one especially hard to watch sequence. Rarely off screen, Pugh is mesmerising while, creating the sense of oppressive claustrophobia, both physically and psychology, Oldroyd delivers a very different sort of period piece from the usual heritage cinema that also touches on questions of class and race. Stunning.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric)

 

Logan (15)

The third and final chapter in Wolverine’s standalone  story wears its template on its sleeve in both referring to and showing clips from classic Alan Ladd Western Shane, the story of a loner drawn into a fight not of his making but which becomes inescapably personal. Not to mention Terminator 2.

Set in 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are the last of the X-Men (it’s never stated what happened to the others, but an enigmatic reference suggests a cataclysmic tragedy) and something has blocked the birth of any new mutants. The conflicted Logan is now old, grizzled, limping,  his eyesight failing, his healing powers on the blink and the adamantium in his body poisoning him. Deadening his physical and emotional pain with drink, he’s working as a limo driver in Texas, shacking up at an abandoned industrial site near the Mexican border where, along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant-tracker, he’s looking after the  nonagenarian Professor X, who, hidden in a  rusting toppled water tower and suffering from Alzheimer’s, needs constant medication to prevent his powerful mental powers running out of control and causing seizures for anyone in the vicinity.

In one of his lucid periods, Xavier insists that he’s senses a new mutant, something Logan dismisses. Until, that it is, he encounters  Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse offering a considerable wad of cash to drive her and her Hispanic daughter Laura ((Dafne Keen) to Canada. However, arriving at the motel to collect them, he finds the woman dead and, on returning to his hideout, discovers the girl had stowed away in the car. Although, she says nothing, it seems she is the mutant Xavier sensed. As to her powers, they’re bloodily revealed with the arrival of  Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the cyborg head of the paramilitary  Reavers. Much to Logan’s shock, she too sprouts deadly adamantium claws and has the same fast healing abilities. It transpires that she was genetically bred, along with other young mutants, by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who runs shady bioengineering program Transigen, using Logan’s DNA. As Xavier points out, basically, she’s his daughter.

From here, the film becomes a chase road movie as the three set out to find Eden, the supposed mutant safe haven in the Dakota hills, despite Logan insisting it’s merely something dreamed up in one of the X-Men comics for which he has no time, with Pierce, Rice and the latter’s genetically created secret weapon, in pursuit.

Given Jackman’s stated this is his last outing as the character, the way things end won’t come as any real surprise. The fact that it is profoundly moving may well. Directed by James Mangold, from the opening scene as Logan slices his way through a bunch of would be carjackers, the film is spectacularly violent, both Logan and the feral Laura’s claws ripping off limbs and slashing through skulls in graphic detail. Yet this is balanced with moments of humour and  the tender ruminations on family (if Laura’s Logan’s genetic daughter, Xavier is his surrogate father), loneliness and redemption.

Giving a superbly nuanced performance, ranging from extreme rage to heavy weariness the mesmerising Jackman is terrific, as indeed is Stewart who lends the film his own imposing gravitas, while, in her debut role, an impressive eleven-year-old Keen, although wordless until the final stretch, has striking presence and a penetrating stare, something that bodes well should the Wolverine saga spin off to a second generation. In recent years, superheroes have become darker and more grown up, ending with an inspired final image this is among the best of them.  (Vue Star City)

 

 Mulholland Drive (15)

A welcome reissue of the 2001 thriller involving the convoluted, twisted, dark and dreamlike narrative patterns that spawned the term Lynchian, as the title suggests, this  is David Lynch’s answer to Sunset Boulevard, a disturbing nightmare plucked from the Hollywood dream factory. Originally conceived as a pilot for an open-ended TV series the network rejected  it as too slow and too weird, French studio Canal Plus  stumping  up the finance to film a further 45 minutes worth of material and reconfigure it into a feature film.

The result is a slice of schizoid Chandler-like neo noir that makes Twin Peaks look like Janet and John. Initially it pans out in not dissimilar manner, a mystery thriller unravelling in a dream. An opening jitterbug contest credits sequence cuts to a sleeping woman, then we’re on the titular LA thoroughfare as a limo pulls up and the driver points a gun at his brunette female passenger (Laura Harring). Before he can fire, speeding joyriders crash into the car, killing everyone except the woman in the black cocktail dress. She crawls from the wreck and staggers into the night, slipping into an apartment as its owner is driven off in a cab.

Re-enter the jitterbug girl, now identified as Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a relentlessly perky blonde Canadian ingenue in town to try and make it as an actress. It’s her aunt’s apartment. She finds the woman who, suffering from amnesia, tells her her name is Rita (after seeing a poster of Rita Hayworth film Gilda on the apartment wall).

Discovering ‘Rita’ has a bagful of cash and a mysterious blue key, the two women set out to learn who she really is, falling in love along the way. So far, so coherent. Well, as coherent as any plot that also involves a man being scared to death by a dreadlocked vagrant who lives behind a coffee shop,  movie director Adam (Justin Theroux) being heavied by a mobster to cast an unknown actress called Camilla as the lead in his latest film, and a punky contract killer whose latest hit has turned into a bit of a body count farce. And let’s not forget the mysterious menacing midget who lives in a vacuum sealed glass room. The shudderingly unsettling cackling elderly couple Betty meets on the plane. Or the decaying corpse of the woman named Diane.

At which point, and following a steamy lesbian sex scene, just as you think you’ve got it relatively sussed Lynch doesn’t so much as pull the rug from under your feet as demolish the entire floor, turning the film’s tone on its head and switching names, identities, personalities and situations in a manner that makes Lost Highway seem an object lesson in logic.

Teeming with red herrings and throwaways (Robert Forster appears for all of  a minute as one of two cops investigating the opening crash), Lynch obsessives will revel in the proliferation of his trademark signatures, including a classic coffee moment and, in echo of  Blue Velvet, an erotically charged rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying – in Spanish. But what will delight most is the way he brilliantly orchestrates the film’s dream logic, Chinese (blue) box structure and tinseltown references. Characters such as apartments manager Coco (veteran legend Anne Miller) and the menacing Cowboy reappear in their ‘real’ selves, colours and names take on deep Freudian connotations and buffs will note that it is awash with allusions to Hollywood lore.

Visually and stylistically dazzling, and with awe inspiring performances topped off by breathtakingly sensational newcomer Watts, it may not at first sight appear to make rational sense. However, veined with themes of  wishful illusion and bitter reality and a bleak through line about the corruption and betrayals of the cruelly destructive movie industry, the more you think about its tale of  the disintegration of one woman and her dream(s), the clearer the parallels with Billy Wilder’s masterpiece become. It may be a swimming pool or it may be a dingy apartment, but in Hollywood all losers’ roads ultimately lead to the same metaphorical destination.

It’s a night out in the hallucinatory  freak circus of a schizophrenic Los Angeles where creepy characters (the grinning old folks who haunt Betty are terrifying) pass across the screen, nothing is what it seems, the red herrings swim in shoals and the arch humour comes thick black like the coffee. It’s hysterical, it’s frightening, it’s mesmerising.  It’s Raymond Chandler’s Alice in Wonderland with a blue box instead of a rabbit hole  It’s nothing Lynch hadn’t done before. But  never as such an intoxicating a drug. (Mockingbird)

 

Power Rangers (12A)

 And here’s yet another revival, this time of the  mid-90s (and still ongoing) live-action TV series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers about five ‘teenagers with attitude’ recruited by the wizard Zordon to battle the evil (and risibly named) Rita Repulsa as she attempts to conquer Earth, each of them having their own super-powers and  wearing individually colour-coded spandex suits and helmets.

Directed by Dean Israelite, this latest entry takes things back to the start for an origin story that kicks off 67 million years ago as Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his team are defeated by rogue Ranger Rita (a gleefully hamming Elizabeth Banks), taking her out with him in one last act, but not before burying the Rangers’ power crystals to be found by those next worthy of using them. Cut to the present as sports star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) pulls off a high school prank involving a bull, crashes his car, is busted, thrown off the team and sentenced to Saturday detentions, where he meets autistic Billy (RJ Cyler) and cool chick Kimberly (Naomi Scott) who apparently punched some boy’s tooth out.  Jason steps into protect Billy from the class bully and  agrees to drive him out to some quarry in the neighbouring hills where it seems Kimberely goes to chill out. It also happens to be frequented by fellow screw-ups/misfits Zack (Ludi Lin), who escapes there when caring for his sick mom on the trailer park gets too much, and Trini (Becky G.), who’s dealing with her own identity issues.

Anyways, Billy sets off a charge and all five find themselves plummeting into some cavern, discovering what seems to be an alien spaceship, falling into water and inexplicably waking up back home the next day and discovering they’ve acquired superstrength. So, it’s back to the site where they get to meet a wisecracking talking robot (Bill Hader) and Zordon, or rather his essence which is now trapped in some sort of giant 3D pin-art sculpture, who informs them they’ve been chosen to be the new Power Rangers, but they have to prove themselves worthy before they can summon up the armour within them.

Which means, what with everyone having to confront their dark secrets, it’s almost 80 minutes into the two hours before the familiar red, blue, purple, blue, black and yellow suits appear and the film can get on with the action as, behind the controls of their  Dinozords, they face off against the now resurrected Rita who, with her equally naffly named creation, Goldar (yes, it’s a monster made from gold) and rock-creatures army, is destroying  the town looking for the energy source which will ensure her conquest and which just happens to be located beneath the film’s glaring product placement, a Krispy Kreme store.

With its joke about ‘milking’ a bull along with inference that Trini’s a lesbian (thus Hollywood’s first gay superhero) and the focus on her fellow Rangers’ personal issues,  this skews older than the TV series, and, while, closer to The Fantastic Four than Captain America: Civil War, despite the CGI confusion of the finale, is, as such, rather more fun than might have been expected. (Vue Star City)

 

The Promise (12A)

Another film looking to illuminate  little known historical events, having previously made Hotel Rwanda, director Terry George now addresses another genocide, that conducted by Turkey against the Armenian people from 1915-1923 and for which the Turkish government has, to this day, never acknowledged responsibility.

However, unlike his previous film, where the genocide was the central focus, this  sets it as a backdrop to a clichéd romantic triangle  and takes forever in getting to the crux of the issue.

The local apothecary, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) wants to become a doctor but can’t afford the fees. So his parents arrange a  marriage to  Maral (Angela Sarafyan) and Mikael duly sets off to medical school in Constantinople using his 400 gold coins dowry to pay for his tuition. Taking lodgings with his wealthy businessman uncle, he meets Ana (Charlotte LeBon), a fellow Armenian who’s nanny to his two nieces, while, at  the Imperial Medical School, he becomes friends with Emre (Marwan Kenzari), the son of a high ranking Turk who has only enrolled so as to avoid military service.

Mikael is drawn to Ana, and she to him; however, he doesn’t mention his fiancée back home and she’s in a relationship with Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a reporter for the American Press Association who’s covering the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany. He’s also documenting the growing tensions between Turkey and Armenia and, as WWI hostilities break out., the systematic attempt by the former to wipe the latter from the face of the earth, which quickly leads to Mikael being rounded up for forced labour and Emre being forced into the army. Meanwhile, Chris is  attracting attention with his coverage of atrocities.

Unfortunately, while there are some harrowing moments along the way, until the last act, when fleeing Armenians take a stand against Turkish troops on a mountain outside Aleppo and a French warship steams into rescue them, the narrative focus is firmly on the relationships between Ana, Mikael and Chris, the three of them frequently separated by events.

It’s unfortunate – not to say offensive – enough that the genocide plays second narrative fiddle, even more so since the romantic drama is a rather  lifeless affair with no chemistry sparking between any of those involved.

It’s patently obvious that Bale is only really there for financing reasons, which no doubt also explains brief cameos by Tom Hollander, James Cromwell and Jean Reno in roles that could have been played by anyone. It runs through some familiar clichés and overused machinations in workmanlike fashion while the dialogue often creaks and the performances occasionally slip into melodrama. However, while wearily overlong and at times rather dull, it’s watchable enough and George’s earnest attempt to put the genocide back in the spotlight is admirable. But, save for one scene of slaughter, it says much that the most effective things here are the title cards detailing  how  1.5 million Armenians were killed, leaving any promise decidedly unfulfilled. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Vue Star City)

 

Their Finest (12A)

Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter  Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a  morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.

The film is to be based on the  story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the  inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include  faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of  drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway

Then, to the consternation of  all concerned, looking to get the US  into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by  handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the  bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw  an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.

Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them.  On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.

Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while  Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Unforgettable (15)

A ludicrous thriller that revisits the tired psychotic ex genre, it stars Rosario Dawson as  Julia, an editor for an online publisher who relocates from the city to share a house in sunny California with her fiancée, recently divorced David (Geoff Stults), who gave up Wall Street to  run his late father’s small brewery. It’s not long before she meets the ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl), a Stepford blonde control freak who orders around her and David’s young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice).,  just as her own mother (Cheryl Ladd) dominates her. The frosty pleasantries and intense stare of that first encounter tells you all you need to know, Tessa is, as one character puts it, Psycho Barbie. Initially it’s just barbed exchanges, but when she learns that she and David are getting married, her barely repressed crazed bitch bubbles over. Next thing you know, she’s stolen Julia’s phone, engagement ring, keys, panties and the watch she bought David, set up a fake Facebook page and is sending come on messages to Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides), Julia’s aggressive ex against whom she had to take out a (now expired) restraining order, and about whom she’s naturally not told David.

Given the film opens with a bloodied Julia being interviewed about the fact Vargas’ body was found in her house and that they appeared to have been carrying on a steamy Facebook conversation, not to mention those panties and photos they found, you’ll already have a good idea of where this is going before the flashbacks get there.

Feeling like a particularly trashy soap, with a screenplay so ridiculous it was presumably dashed off by Christina Hodson while leafing through a book of clichés over coffee, Heigl’s  sociopathic Tess chews her way through the dialogue and physical stuff with a manic determination to take on every other Hollywood bunny boiler, but the ham and her one-dimensionally written character are likely to elicit more sniggers than gasps. But then no one emerges with much credit, Dawson acting with her mind seemingly elsewhere. There was potential to exploit the genuine issues of a child caught between two  mothers, but sadly Lily’s just a prop to the narrative. Unforgettable it is, but not in the way they filmmakers intended. Still, as the coda suggests, Unforgettable 2- Grandma’s Revenge is surely not far away. (Vue Star City)

 

 

 

 

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

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Releases, Fri Apr 28- Thu May 4

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

It starts brilliantly. As, hired  by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki),  the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.

Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s  bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula  (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space  and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell),  who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of  70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s  an immortal Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.

It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed  ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empathy with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.

Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child  trafficking by its leader, a cameoing  Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser Face (his name a source of much amusement for Rocket) mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Soverign.  Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgmental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. Go break the law.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

A Bunch of Kunst (18)

Whatever you may think of their music, and I have to say that, while finding some of the songs and observations powerful stuff, I’m not a huge fan of their musically primitive, raw, aggressive  proto-punk in your face rants in which seemingly every other line contains one obscenity or another, German music journalist turned filmmaker Christine Franz’s documentary, the play on words title referring to the German for art,  is compelling stuff.

Hailed, rather hyperbollocksally by Iggy Pop as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band”, the Sleaford Mods comprise 40something working class Nottingham duo Jason Williamson (who, of course shares his surname with Ig) and Andrew Fearn. The former sings, or rather shouts and spits, the lyrics while, bobbing up and down behind him on stage, Fearn provides the electronic beats. Married with a couple of kids, the gobby Williamson, a former chicken factory worker and more recently benefits officer, writes the words and is the more articulate of the two, Fearn remaining pretty much silent throughout the film, with no details of his background worth mention.

In the tradition of John Cooper Clarke, the Pistols, Angelic Upstarts and, to an extent Sham 69,  they give voice to  the country’s disaffected, disenfranchised working class, the songs chainsawing through any number of social issues, Williamson seeing themselves as something the country needs, although one suspects that a good many of the audience, who seem to be mostly male, are simply there to get aled up and mouth the words back of him, more in thrall to the trend than the movement.

The documentary follows their two year journey from playing the toilet circuit to selling out 2000 seater, a slot at Glastonbury, an appearance on Later With.. and, eventually, signing with Rough Trade, even if that caused their down to earth former bus driver manager, Steve Underwood, a few moments of moral quandary.  As such, it spends much of its time in shitty little venues and cramped studios, mirroring the frustration that explodes through Jason’s abrasive songs. Although some might take issue with his justification of the swearing as being just normal everyday words as well as the sweeping dismissal of pretty much everything in the album charts as shit, his arguments are undeniably well-grounded and he has a welcome self-deprecatory streak, amusingly taking himself to task for having referred to himself as a rock n roll star to wife, Claire.  She makes some significant contributions too, most notably in talking about her husband as someone who, prior to the spotlight the band has brought, would have been someone who fell off the radar and died without anyone being aware.  Given the passion Jason brings to his onstage delivery and his lyrics and their refusal to make a cleaned up version of the album for the BBC, it’s a little surprising to hear him talk about music being not that important to him and how he’d give it up  if  he had too,  likewise his request not to film the street where he lives because he’s had some weirdo fan letters. Very much one for the hardcore fans, but a potent insight into a social and musical UK culture rarely visited by the mainstream media. (Sat-Wed: Mockingbird)

Lady Macbeth  (15)

Adapted from Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s 1860 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and relocated to the bleak County Durham moors of Victorian England , while its titular character may well have the single-minded ruthlessness of Shakespeare’s schemer (though not her subsequent guilt), there’s also a strong touch of Lady Chatterley here too along with the gothic sensibilities of  Emily Bronte.

The feature debut of theatre director William Oldroyd, there’s some effective theatrical touches to his period piece in the use of still moments in which the camera simply focuses on the character as she sits staring out of the screen that compound the air of unease that permeates this bleak and emotionally brutal work.

Bought as domestic property by elderly and sadistic  wealthy miner Boris (a superbly loathsome Christopher Fairbank) as a bride for his hard-drinking obnoxious and ineffectual son Alexander (Paul Hilton),  who runs their  large farm, the young Katherine (Florence Pugh) quickly finds her life is not one she relishes, her husband showing no hint of affection (he orders her to undress but never consummates the marriage) and even the servants treating her with disdain. Often left alone  save for her Black maid Anna (Naomie Ackie), a virtual prisoner in her own home,  she’s bored and restless, until she meets new mixed race stable-hand Sebastian (singer Cosmo Jarvis) whose brusque manners and  sexual magnetism quickly bring out her wild side as they embark on frenzied and frequent sex while Alexander if off dealing with some colliery incident and his father’s in London.

When Boris returns and sniffs out what’s been going on, Katherine disposes of him with poison mushrooms (you hear his agonies off screen while Katherine engages the distracted Anna in conversation) and then when his son returns and confronts her with the same accusations, he too meets a bloody fate.

However, Katherine and Sebastian’s murderous lustful union then faces another setback with the arrival of a refined black woman and her child claiming a connection to the family. Clearly further obstacles need to be removed.

Oppressed by a patriarchal tyranny (figuratively embodied in the corset’s Katherine’s forced to wear) , initially a figure of sympathy whose actions could be argued as justifiable, especially from a  feminist perspective, her subsequent crime, with Sebastian as accomplice, and her manipulation of blame in her power games are decidedly less so, the film confronting audiences with one especially hard to watch sequence. Rarely off screen, Pugh is mesmerising while, making hugely effective use if an austere budget to create the sense of oppressive claustrophobia, both physically and psychology, Oldroyd delivers a very different sort of period piece from the usual heritage cinema that also touches on questions of class and race. Stunning.  (Cineworld 5 Ways)

The Promise (12A)

Another film looking to illuminate  little known historical events, having previously made Hotel Rwanda, director Terry George now addresses another genocide, that conducted by Turkey against the Armenian people from 1915-1923 and for which the Turkish government has, to this day, never acknowledged responsibility.

However, unlike his previous film, where the genocide was the central focus, here sets it as a backdrop to a clichéd romantic triangle  and takes forever in getting to the crux of the issue.

The local apothecary, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) wants to become a doctor but can’t afford the fees. So his parents arrange a  marriage to  Maral (Angela Sarafyan) and Mikael duly set off to medical school in Constantinople using his 400 gold coins dowry to pay for his tuition. Taking lodgings with his wealthy businessman uncle, he meets Ana (Charlotte LeBon), a fellow Armenian who’s nanny to his two nieces, while at  the Imperial Medical School he becomes friends with Emre (Marwan Kenzari), the son of a high ranking Urk who has only enrolled so as to avoid military service.

Mikael is drawn to Ana, and she to him, however he doesn’t mention his fiancée back home and she’s in a relationship with Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a reporter for the American Press Association who’s covering the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany. He’s also documenting the growing tensions between Turkey and Armenia and, as WWI hostilities break out., the systematic attempt by the former to wipe the latter from the face of the earth, which quickly leads to Mikael being rounded up for forced labour and Emre being forced into the army. Meanwhile, Chris attracting attention with his coverage of atrocities.

Unfortunately, while there are some harrowing moments along the way, until the last act when fleeing Armenians take a stand against Turkish troops on a mountain outside Aleppo and a French warship steams into rescue them, the narrative focus is firmly on the relationships between Ana, Mikael and Chris, the three of them frequently separated by events, Ana, at one point, believing Mikael to be dead.

It’s unfortunate – not to say offensive – enough that the genocide plays second narrative fiddle, even more so since the romantic drama is a rather  lifeless affair with no chemistry sparking between any of those involved.

It’s patently obvious that Bale is only really there for financing reasons, which no doubt also explains brief cameos by Tom Hollander, James Cromwell and Jean Reno in roles that could have been played by anyone. It runs through some familiar clichés and overused machinations in workmanlike fashion while the dialogue often creaks and the performances occasionally slip into melodrama. However, while wearily overlong and at times rather dull, it’s watchable enough and George’s earnest attempt to put the genocide back in the spotlight is admirable. But, save for one scene of slaughter, it says much that the most effective things here are the opening and end credit title cards detailing  how  1.5 million Armenians were killed, leaving any promise decidedly unfulfilled. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Belko Experiment (18)

Director Greg McLean and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of office drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with  metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO,  Barry (Tony Goldwyn), reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted  in their heads start going off, that’s clearly not the case.

At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.

Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker  Michael Rooker, stoner  Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter  as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at  explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are  duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with  automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart  to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more   instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Get Out (15)

Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re  like part of the family.  Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield)  of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’

It is, of course, rather too late for that  and  it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and  discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

Director Rupert Sanders brings Mamoru Oshii’s cult cyberthriller creation to the big screen for its first live action adaptation. Those familiar with the Manga comic and animations will be more conversant with things, but, for newbies, this serves as an origin story, detailing how the unnamed Major (Scarlett Johansson) became a cyborg  cyberterrorism fighter, her brain – her ghost or soul – transplanted to an artificial body by Hanka Robotics. However, working for the government’s cyberterrorist division, under Aramaki (Takeshi Takano) alongside fellow agent Batou (Pilou Asbaek), she’s experiencing glitches in her programming, flashbacks to memories that don’t gel with what she knows of her past.

To put this into context, events are set in Japan in  a  future where technological advancement has allowed humans to enhance their bodies giving them, for example, cybernetic eyes and limbs, existing alongside robots in a high-tech city where giant holograms such as geishas, joggers and swimming  fish  are projected across the cityspace. It’s all the work of Hanka, whose chief scientist,  Cutter (Peter Ferndinando), headed up the project through which Dr. Oulet (Juliette Binoche) transformed the unnamed girl, badly injured in the terrorist attack that killed her parents, into The Major.

However,  when Hanka’s boss is attacked and killed by robots and enhanced  thugs while hosting a business lunch, going ‘deep’ into the deactivated geisha robot, the Major gets a look at Kuze (Michael Pitt), the person behind the attack, but the experience also causes further glitches. Meanwhile, other Hanka scientists are being targeted, all of whom turn out to have worked on a  secret project, with Dr. Oulet now the only survivor.

With the Major accused of having her programming corrupted by the terrorist network, she and her fellow squad members find themselves in a race to find and take down the cloaked Kuze, except, as the Major discovers, not everything she’s been told or remembers is the truth.

Wasting little time on exposition, the film hurtles along, Sanders dropping in visual references that fans of the 1995 animation will recognise, cramming in considerable action and ideas into the 107 minutes. The visual design is breathtaking  in its CGI, whether in the sprawling techno city, the darker, more dystopian  zone or Johansson’s costume, a sort of fleshtone body suit that enables her cyborg self to disappear into the pixels and which, as her workings are exposed, both disturbing and beautiful, conjures thoughts of Japanese body-horror movies.

Inevitably evoking  thoughts of Blade Runner, Scott’s film clearly offers the template for the film’s look as well as its themes about identity and humanity. Undeniably glossily and sleekly thrilling and with a pulsing score by Clint Mansell, on the downside, it’s singularly lacking in humour and, with rather damning irony, despite the title, it’s an entirely soulless affair. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Going In Style (12A)

A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch  always going on about how he could die  any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.

Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.

Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here.(Cineworld Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

I Am Not Your Negro (12A)

Returning to America from self-exile in Paris in the late 1950s after seeing images of black teenager Dorothy Counts being jeered and spat at white youths on her way to her newly integrated school, novelist, playwright, and essayist, his work focused on the complex racial,  sexual and class distinctions in Western societies,  Black and gay James Baldwin became a leading voice in the civil rights movement. He died in 1987, leaving behind an unfinished work, Remember This House,  a memoir of himself as a witness to events and his  personal recollections Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin In The Sun, all of whom were assassinated.

Now his words, given eloquent voice by Samuel L Jackson, form the narration of Raoul Peck’s documentary, a powerful and, with the current  Black Lives Matter protests, timely exploration of America’s race relations, drawing on archive interviews, newsreels, film clips (among them Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Dance, Fools, Dance and Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and photographs, featuring such figures as Harry Belafonte and Bobby Kennedy.

Most potent though is the extensive footage of Baldwin himself, whether holding forth on a  Dick Cavett TV interview or at a debate at Cambridge University, in his deeply articulate discussions of  American history and identity, of denial and forgiveness, of guilt and rage, complicity and resistance. “I’m terrified at the moral apathy, at the death of the heart, which is happening in my country”  he said  on a 1963 TV panel alongside King and X, words that ring as resonantly now as then. But Baldwin clung to and struggled to engender hope, famously noting “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. I’m forced to be an optimist.” Thirty years after his death, in the face of everything that would deny it, his words, his thoughts and his arguments keep that hope alive. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Following Peter Jackson’s bloated 2005 remake, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts takes another swing at reviving cinema’s most famous ape. And  knocks it out of the park.

Clocking in at a tightly packed two hours, it balances explosive action, breathtaking effects, throwaway humour and some respectful nods to the original (effectively recreating that iconic Fay Wray/Kong moment) to wildly entertaining effect. However, the most striking thing  is that, set in 1973, it’s essentially Apocalypse Now with a  100 foot gorilla, Coppola’s movie very clearly referenced in any number of  shots  recreating that iconic image of the red streaked sun, both with and without helicopters blaring out rock music. In Samuel  L Jackson as Lt Col. Preston Packard, the army officer who doesn’t want to the war to end, especially not in ‘abandonment’, as he terms it, it also has its own crazed Kurtz.

Opening with a brief WWII  prologue as two young pilots, one American, one Japanese, are fighting to the death after crashing on some island when two giant hairy hands appear on the cliff top, it fast forwards to Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads up  Monarch, a secret agency seeking  “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” as he convinces  a senator (Richard Jenkins) to back an expedition to a hitherto uncharted island “where myth and science meet.”

Requisitioning a military escort headed up by Packard and his  chopper squad (among them Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell and Toby Kebbell) most of whom serve as cannon fodder along with the assorted scientists, Randa  and his team (Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing) also recruit ex SAS officer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as their tracker  while, sensing a story, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also inveigles a place on the mission.

However, no sooner have they battled their  way through the electrical storm shrouding the island  and started dropping seismic bombs, than they’re  being swatted out of the sky by an angry Kong.

Initially separated, the film charts their attempt to survive as they head for the pick up point, Conrad, Weaver and the rest of his group encountering Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), the American pilot from the opening, who has been living with the natives ever since and warns of even more dangerous beasts, against which Kong, the last of his kind, has become the island’s protector. Which means they now have to stop Packard from blasting the monkey to pieces.   With familiar  don’t screw with nature messages and observations on how war can make a man see enemies everywhere, it wastes little time on exposition and  gets on with mounting its spectacular action, introducing docile giant water buffalos, towering killer spiders and a humongous  octopus before finally bringing on lizard-like monsters  to raise the bloody body count tally further.

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

 

Logan (15)

The third and final chapter in Wolverine’s standalone  story wears its template on its sleeve in both referring to and showing clips from classic Alan Ladd Western Shane, the story of a loner drawn into a fight not of his making but which becomes inescapably personal. Not to mention Terminator 2.

Set in 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are the last of the X-Men (it’s never stated what happened to the others, but an enigmatic reference suggests a cataclysmic tragedy) and something has blocked the birth of any new mutants. The conflicted Logan is now old, grizzled, limping,  his eyesight failing, his healing powers on the blink and the adamantium in his body poisoning him. Deadening his physical and emotional pain with drink, he’s working as a limo driver in Texas, shacking up at an abandoned industrial site near the Mexican border where, along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant-tracker, he’s looking after the  nonagenarian Professor X, who, hidden in a  rusting toppled water tower and suffering from Alzheimer’s, needs constant medication to prevent his powerful mental powers running out of control and causing seizures for anyone in the vicinity.

In one of his lucid periods, Xavier insists that he’s senses a new mutant, something Logan dismisses. Until, that it is, he encounters  Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse offering a considerable wad of cash to drive her and her Hispanic daughter Laura ((Dafne Keen) to Canada. However, arriving at the motel to collect them, he finds the woman dead and, on returning to his hideout, discovers the girl had stowed away in the car. Although, she says nothing, it seems she is the mutant Xavier sensed. As to her powers, they’re bloodily revealed with the arrival of  Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the cyborg head of the paramilitary  Reavers. Much to Logan’s shock, she too sprouts deadly adamantium claws and has the same fast healing abilities. It transpires that she was genetically bred, along with other young mutants, by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who runs shady bioengineering program Transigen, using Logan’s DNA. As Xavier points out, basically, she’s his daughter.

From here, the film becomes a chase road movie as the three set out to find Eden, the supposed mutant safe haven in the Dakota hills, despite Logan insisting it’s merely something dreamed up in one of the X-Men comics for which he has no time, with Pierce, Rice and the latter’s genetically created secret weapon, in pursuit.

Given Jackman’s stated this is his last outing as the character, the way things end won’t come as any real surprise. The fact that it is profoundly moving may well. Directed by James Mangold, from the opening scene as Logan slices his way through a bunch of would be carjackers, the film is spectacularly violent, both Logan and the feral Laura’s claws ripping off limbs and slashing through skulls in graphic detail. Yet this is balanced with moments of humour and  the tender ruminations on family (if Laura’s Logan’s genetic daughter, Xavier is his surrogate father), loneliness and redemption.

Giving a superbly nuanced performance, ranging from extreme rage to heavy weariness the mesmerising Jackman is terrific, as indeed is Stewart who lends the film his own imposing gravitas, while, in her debut role, an impressive eleven-year-old Keen, although wordless until the final stretch, has striking presence and a penetrating stare, something that bodes well should the Wolverine saga spin off to a second generation. In recent years, superheroes have become darker and more grown up, ending with an inspired final image this is among the best of them.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Mulholland Drive (15)

A welcome reissue of the 2001 thriller involving the convoluted, twisted, dark and dreamlike narrative patterns that spawned the term Lynchian, as the title suggests, this  is David Lynch’s answer to Sunset Boulevard, a disturbing nightmare plucked from the Hollywood dream factory. Originally conceived as a pilot for an open-ended TV series the network rejected  it as too slow and too weird, French studio Canal Plus  stumping  up the finance to film a further 45 minutes worth of material and reconfigure it into a feature film.

The result is a slice of schizoid Chandler-like neo noir that makes Twin Peaks look like Janet and John. Initially it pans out in not dissimilar manner, a mystery thriller unravelling in a dream. An opening jitterbug contest credits sequence cuts to a sleeping woman, then we’re on the titular LA thoroughfare as a limo pulls up and the driver points a gun at his brunette female passenger (Laura Harring). Before he can fire, speeding joyriders crash into the car, killing everyone except the woman in the black cocktail dress. She crawls from the wreck and staggers into the night, slipping into an apartment as its owner is driven off in a cab.

Re-enter the jitterbug girl, now identified as Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a relentlessly perky blonde Canadian ingenue in town to try and make it as an actress. It’s her aunt’s apartment. She finds the woman who, suffering from amnesia, tells her her name is Rita (after seeing a poster of Rita Hayworth film Gilda on the apartment wall).

Discovering ‘Rita’ has a bagful of cash and a mysterious blue key, the two women set out to learn who she really is, falling in love along the way. So far, so coherent. Well, as coherent as any plot that also involves a man being scared to death by a dreadlocked vagrant who lives behind a coffee shop,  movie director Adam (Justin Theroux) being heavied by a mobster to cast an unknown actress called Camilla as the lead in his latest film, and a punky contract killer whose latest hit has turned into a bit of a body count farce. And let’s not forget the mysterious menacing midget who lives in a vacuum sealed glass room. The shudderingly unsettling cackling elderly couple Betty meets on the plane. Or the decaying corpse of the woman named Diane.

At which point, and following a steamy lesbian sex scene, just as you think you’ve got it relatively sussed Lynch doesn’t so much as pull the rug from under your feet as demolish the entire floor, turning the film’s tone on its head and switching names, identities, personalities and situations in a manner that makes Lost Highway seem an object lesson in logic.

Teeming with red herrings and throwaways (Robert Forster appears for all of  a minute as one of two cops investigating the opening crash), Lynch obsessives will revel in the proliferation of his trademark signatures, including a classic coffee moment and, in echo of  Blue Velvet, an erotically charged rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying – in Spanish. But what will delight most is the way he brilliantly orchestrates the film’s dream logic, Chinese (blue) box structure and tinseltown references. Characters such as apartments manager Coco (veteran legend Anne Miller) and the menacing Cowboy reappear in their ‘real’ selves, colours and names take on deep Freudian connotations and buffs will note that it is awash with allusions to Hollywood lore.

Visually and stylistically dazzling, and with awe inspiring performances topped off by breathtakingly sensational newcomer Watts, it may not at first sight appear to make rational sense. However, veined with themes of  wishful illusion and bitter reality and a bleak through line about the corruption and betrayals of the cruelly destructive movie industry, the more you think about its tale of  the disintegration of one woman and her dream(s), the clearer the parallels with Billy Wilder’s masterpiece become. It may be a swimming pool or it may be a dingy apartment, but in Hollywood all losers’ roads ultimately lead to the same metaphorical destination.

It’s a night out in the hallucinatory  freak circus of a schizophrenic Los Angeles where creepy characters (the grinning old folks who haunt Betty are terrifying) pass across the screen, nothing is what it seems, the red herrings swim in shoals and the arch humour comes thick black like the coffee. It’s hysterical, it’s frightening, it’s mesmerising.  It’s Raymond Chandler’s Alice in Wonderland with a blue box instead of a rabbit hole  It’s nothing Lynch hadn’t done before. But  never as such an intoxicating a drug. (Mon-Thu: MAC)

 

 

Power Rangers (12A)

 And here’s yet another revival, this time of the  mid-90s (and still ongoing) live-action TV series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers about five ‘teenagers with attitude’ recruited by the wizard Zordon to battle the evil (and risibly named) Rita Repulsa as she attempts to conquer Earth, each of them having their own super-powers and  wearing individually colour-coded spandex suits and helmets.

Directed by Dean Israelite, this latest entry takes things back to the start for an origin story that kicks off 67 million years ago as Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his team are defeated by rogue Ranger Rita (a gleefully hamming Elizabeth Banks), taking her out with him in one last act, but not before burying the Rangers’ power crystals to be found by those next worthy of using them. Cut to the present as sports star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) pulls off a high school prank involving a bull, crashes his car, is busted, thrown off the team and sentenced to Saturday detentions, where he meets autistic Billy (RJ Cyler) and cool chick Kimberly (Naomi Scott) who apparently punched some boy’s tooth out.  Jason steps into protect Billy from the class bully and  agrees to drive him out to some quarry in the neighbouring hills where it seems Kimberely goes to chill out. It also happens to be frequented by fellow screw-ups/misfits Zack (Ludi Lin), who escapes there when caring for his sick mom on the trailer park gets too much, and Trini (Becky G.), who’s dealing with her own identity issues.

Anyways, Billy sets off a charge and all five find themselves plummeting into some cavern, discovering what seems to be an alien spaceship, falling into water and inexplicably waking up back home the next day and discovering they’ve acquired superstrength. So, it’s back to the site where they get to meet a wisecracking talking robot (Bill Hader) and Zordon, or rather his essence which is now trapped in some sort of giant 3D pin-art sculpture, who informs them they’ve been chosen to be the new Power Rangers, but they have to prove themselves worthy before they can summon up the armour within them.

Which means, what with everyone having to confront their dark secrets, it’s almost 80 minutes into the two hours before the familiar red, blue, purple, blue, black and yellow suits appear and the film can get on with the action as, behind the controls of their  Dinozords, they face off against the now resurrected Rita who, with her equally naffly named creation, Goldar (yes, it’s a monster made from gold) and rock-creatures army, is destroying  the town looking for the energy source which will ensure her conquest and which just happens to be located beneath the film’s glaring product placement, a Krispy Kreme store.

With its joke about ‘milking’ a bull along with inference that Trini’s a lesbian (thus Hollywood’s first gay superhero) and the focus on her fellow Rangers’ personal issues,  this skews older than the TV series, and, while, closer to The Fantastic Four than Captain America: Civil War, despite the CGI confusion of the finale, is, as such, rather more fun than might have been expected. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Rules Don’t Apply (12A)

Taking the rumour that eccentric billionnaire recluse Howard Hughes maintained a stable of young women at his Beverly Hills Hotel and reworking this has having a string of attractive young  aspiring starlets on rolling contracts with RKO Pictures, which he ran in the 50s, Warren Beatty, in his first outing as writer and director in almost twenty years, has crafted a slight,  but entertaining romantic comedy.

Newly appointed as one of the many drivers hired by Hughes to ferry the girls around, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, a sort of charisma-free DiCaprio) is assigned to Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), an equally church going (Baptist to his Presbyterian) virginal Virginian who, Hughes’  latest ingenue, arrives with her protective mother (Annette Bening) expecting to meet Hughes and be given a screen test. Like all the others, she’s to be disappointed. Frank too has never met his boss, but lives in hopes of getting the call.

Since the film opens with him in an  Acapulco hotel room trying to persuade Hughes (concealed behind a curtain) to make a call to a Hollywood press conference and refute  some writer’s book claiming he’s got dementia, it’s clear he eventually does  and the bulk of the film is played out in flashbacks leading up to this point.

Predictably, although he has a devout Christian fiancée back home, Frank finds himself falling for Marla, who would seem to reciprocate the feelings; the problem is anyone caught coming on to one of the starlets is summarily dismissed. Cue a scene where she gets behind the piano and croons him the titular song, something she does later, fuelled by her first taste of alcohol, in rather different circumstances and with very different consequences, to Hughes/

Meanwhile, Hughes’  TWA empire is under threat from airline investors, bankers and the government, he has a Congressional hearing to attend and his mental state is clearly suffering from his drug addiction and threats of being consigned to an asylum. On top of which, they’ve apparently stopped making his favourite ice cream flavour.

With the possible exception of the ice cream, everything actually happened, but over a considerably longer time span than the one year covered here, Beatty gleefully condensing into an eventful flurry of globe-hopping incidents. The tone’s somewhat uneven in the second less playful half, where it’s clear Hughes’ idiosyncrasies, such as repeating himself over and over, are more than just eccentricities and the relationship between Frank and Marla not only takes some convoluted turns, but drops out of the narrative for long stretch. Even so, with a nicely mannered turn from Beatty, a sparkling Collins and sprightly support and cameos from the likes of Martin Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Steve Coogan, Candice Bergen, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt  and Alec Baldwin, this is well worth a look.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park)

The Sense of an Ending (15)

Tastefully adapted by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’ novel and directed in a gentle low key manner by  Ritesh Batra,  this is a bittersweet look at the memories we hide from ourselves in the reinvention of the past.

It’s built around a memorable, unassuming central performance by Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, an elderly, somewhat self-absorbed   divorcee who runs a second-hand camera shop whose lawyer ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and pregnant lesbian daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) refer to him affectionately as The Mudge,  as in  curmudgeon.

One day, he gets a letter informing him that the mother of his teenage old flame, Veronica,  has passed away and left him something in her will. Although,  the now middle-aged Veronica  (a coolly composed Charlotte Rampling) won’t release it to the solicitors, Tony learns that it’s a diary, written by an old schoolfriend of his, the intellectually sharp Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who inexplicably committed suicide.  Annoyed at being denied what he regards as his property, Tony sets about trying to make contact with  her, fantasising that there might  still be a spark between them.

As Tony recounts past events  to Margaret, the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her  genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother  Jack (Edward Holcroft)  and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tony’s forced to  confront his actions.

Gradually peeling away false memories to get at the truth, although Broadbent’s inherent warmth somewhat softens Tony’s selfish and narcissistic character and the redemptive coda is an emotional cop out, it’s a slowburning work the impact of which creeps up on you, its small moments gathering to a heartbreaking climax.  (MAC)

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

After being rescued by the clutches of her creator, evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), in the last film, Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is now living back with the other Smurfs in the Smurf village, but is sad that, unlike the others, such as Clumsy (Jack MacBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello), her name doesn’t define her character. She’s just ‘nice’. Plagued by existential angst, if that’s not too deep a concept for such a trivial film, she’s led to explore the Forbidden Forest where, accompanied by Clumsy, Brainy and Hefty, who have followed her, she discovers a whole new Smurfs community, and they’re all girls and, like Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez) often warriors, with Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts) their answer to Papa Smurf (Mandy Patikin). Unfortunately, Gargamel is also on Smurfette’s trail looking to finally get his hands on the Smurfs so he can drain their essence and become a sorcerer supreme. The new Smurfs are an unexpected bonus.

Ditching the last film’s ill-advised choice of setting things in the city, this is on surer ground, with Wilson as the only non-animated character also taking on a cartoonish performance. Despite the occasional grown up joke, adults will still probably find the experience of sitting through it rather like having their finger-nails extracted, but it has to be admitted that the animation is well handled, there’s some surreal touches (luminous giant rabbits), the songs aren’t bad and the plot is easy to follow, with  messages about female empowerment, not being defined by a singular trait and finding who you are for those willing or old enough to look. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Vue Star City)

 

Their Finest (12A)

Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter  Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a  morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.

The film is to be based on the  story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the  inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include  faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of  drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway

Then, to the consternation of  all concerned, looking to get the US  into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by  handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the  bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw  an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.

Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them.  On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.

Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while  Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Unforgettable (15)

A ludicrous thriller that revisits the tired psychotic ex genre, it stars Rosario Dawson as  Julia, an editor for an online publisher who relocates from the city to share a house in sunny California with her fiancée, recently divorced David (Geoff Stults), who gave up Wall Street to  run his late father’s small brewery. It’s not long before she meets the ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl), a Stepford blonde control freak who orders around her and David’s young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice).,  just as her own mother (Cheryl Ladd) dominates her. The frosty pleasantries and intense stare of that first encounter tells you all you need to know, Tessa is, as one character puts it, Psycho Barbie. Initially it’s just barbed exchanges, but when she learns that she and David are getting married, her barely repressed crazed bitch bubbles over. Next thing you know, she’s stolen Julia’s phone, engagement ring, keys, panties and the watch she bought David, set up a fake Facebook page and is sending come on messages to Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides), Julia’s aggressive ex against whom she had to take out a (now expired) restraining order, and about whom she’s naturally not told David.

Given the film opens with a bloodied Julia being interviewed about the fact Vargas’ body was found in her house and that they appeared to have been carrying on a steamy Facebook conversation, not to mention those panties and photos they found, you’ll already have a good idea of where this is going before the flashbacks get there.

Feeling like a particularly trashy soap, with a screenplay so ridiculous it was presumably dashed off by Christina Hodson while leafing through a book of clichés over coffee, Heigl’s  sociopathic Tess chews her way through the dialogue and physical stuff with a manic determination to take on every other Hollywood bunny boiler, but the ham and her one-dimensionally written character are likely to elicit more sniggers than gasps. But then no one emerges with much credit, Dawson acting with her mind seemingly elsewhere. There was potential to exploit the genuine issues of a child caught between two  mothers, but sadly Lily’s just a prop to the narrative. Unforgettable it is, but not in the way they filmmakers intended. Still, as the coda suggests, Unforgettable 2- Grandma’s Revenge is surely not far away. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Zookeeper’s Wife (12A)

In occupied Poland, during World War II, Antonina Żabińska and   zookeeper husband  Jan sheltered 300 Jews from the Nazis in the Warsaw Zoo,  recording her experiences in a  diary, subsequently adapted into a book by Diane Ackerman on which this is based. Directed by Niki Caro, who has yet to better debut feature Whale Rider, it stars a distractingly accented Jessica Chastain in the title role with  Johan Heldenbergh as Jan, opening in the idyllic summer of 39 as she cycles around the zoo greeting and feeding the animals. The imoment is abruptly shattered by the German invasion, the zoo itself being bombed, setting camels, tigers and other animals loose on the ravaged city streets in a series of somewhat strikingly surreal images as the invading army are given no option but to gun them down. It is, of course, a symbolic portent of what is to follow as the city’s Jews are systematically rounded up and herded off to concentration camps in crammed trains. Meanwhile, having convinced  chief Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) to allow the zoo to remain open as a pig farm, providing meat for the solders while the surviving prize specimens are shipped to Germany for selective breeding as a sort of animal master race, she takes the courageous decision to shelter their Jewish neighbours in the basement of her house, shipped in from the Warsaw Ghetto by  Jan in the truck he uses to collect the garbage to feed the pigs.

Just as she refers to  the place as now being a human zoo, so does the film adopt a similarly literal narrative, underlining the image by Antonina looking after one traumatised teenager sheltering in one of the cages. As part of her efforts to keep the zoo open and her new charges safe, she starts flirting with the eugenics obsessed Heck, who has naturally fallen for her, which, of course, despite her intentions, doesn’t sit well with the stoic Jan.

Interspersed with third act scenes of  the Resistance fighting the Germans in the streets, it’s all solidly made and, for the most, decently acted, but everything is about surface drama, Caro directing audience emotions with predictable shots of smilingly unaware young children being bundled into trains and such familiar Holocaust signifiers as piles of suitcases. It’s all nicely polished, but rarely engages with the complexity of the events or the emotions. Intercutting between the Ghetto’s destruction and a Passover meal is banal filmmaking, while Żabińska’s young son’s remark that it’s snowing as the ashes float gracefully through the sky should never have made it to the page let alone the screen.

Another problem is that, while the film celebrates the couple’s bravery,  the Jews they shelter remain somewhat sketchy, emblematic characters. Tastefully done but ultimately perfunctorily told with only the faintest excursion into tension, it never rises to the heights of the recent similarly themed The Book Thief, far less Agnieska Holland’s Into Darkness, seemingly far more concerned with the visual details than the human ones, whose fates ultimately have less of an impact than those of the animals. (Vue Star City)

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Interview: The Fair Rain

The Fair Rain

The influences of urban and rural environments, classical music and cinema continue to shape The Fair Rain, but as the Birmingham band grow, other elements filter through.

“Those themes and influences continue to speak through the music we’re playing now, though I think as we’ve matured we’ve become bolder and engaged with weaving together more of a human narrative within the songs,” says frontman Robin Beatty. “There are so many possibilities of sound within a seven piece band, and we’re always exploring what we can do.”

Previously known as The Old Dance School, the band – Robin Beatty (guitars, vocals), Helen Lancaster (violin, viola), Charlie Heys (violin), Laura Carter (whistles, vocals), Aaron Diaz (trumpet), Adam Jarvis double bass), and Jim Molyneux (drums) – essentially rebranded in 2015 while putting together their Behind The Glass album – released in the spring of 2016.

Featuring The Banks Of The Tahiti and Mannequin, it’s an accomplished successor to their Old Dance School catalogue.

“I came upon the idea for The Banks of Tahiti from researching in the journals of Joseph Banks on Cook’s expedition to the south-Pacific,” says Robin. “They describe an extraordinary trade practise with the Tahitian women from a radically liberal island culture.

“After months at sea, the ship’s men had near exhausted the supply of their much sought after metal commodities, and resorted to removing the iron nails from the timbers of the ship itself!

“Mannequin is another striking historic story that I wanted to tell. It follows Belgian tailor Frantz Reichelt who self-tested his wing-suit invention off the Eiffel Tower in 1912, with the world’s press gathered below.

“It gives me tremendous respect for the audacity of these early pioneers of technology we now take for granted. I can’t help but feel though, that Reichelt was a man consumed by the idea of fame and glory, which became his sorrowful demise.”

Over the coming months the band have “a handful of festivals over the summer” followed by UK and European dates in the autumn. But before then, they’re appearing on the bill for Birmingham Town Hall’s Imagined Isle festival, as part of the opening Urban Folk Night (12 May 2017) with Birmingham’s The Urban Folk Quartet and Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, plus Dan Walsh and Rusty Shackle, from Wales.

Discussing the bill, Robin says: “I think there are a lot of shared values – an open-mindedness to absorb diverse influences, which I reckon is a characteristic of Birmingham bands generally and strongly linked to the culture in this city.”

* The Fair Rain play Imagined Isle’s late night Urban Folk Night at Birmingham Town Hall on Friday 12 May 2017. Other acts appearing on the bill include The Urban Folk Quartet, Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, Dan Walsh and Rusty Shackle. The Fair Rain’s ceilidh spin-off, Rabscallion, appear at the same venue on Saturday 13 May 2017. Details: thsh.co.uk

* For more information on The Fair Rain see: www.thefairrain.com

Rabscallion
Rabscallion, featuring several members from The Fair Rain.

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Releases, Fri Apr 21-Thu Apr 27

 

 

NEW RELEASES

A Quiet Passion (12A)

Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, when Emily Dickinson died, 56 years later, she left behind almost 1800 poems, only a round a dozen of which had been published, and those often anonymous and altered by the publishers. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two obsessions that also informed much of her correspondence with friends. Today, Dickinson is regarded as one of the seminal American poets, and yet, while she was part of the inspiration being Jane Campion’s The Piano, her fascinating and often troubled life and career has never been the subject of a film.

Veteran British writer-director Terence Davies puts that to rights with one of the finest films of his illustrious career, featuring witty, sharp and barbed dialogue that’s probably the finest you will hear this year. Starring Cythia Dixon looking very much like the only existing authenticated portrait of Dickinson, it opens at the ladies seminary where, as a teenager  (played by Emma Bell) she’s been sent for education, exhibiting an early streak of independence and rejection of conformity, and ends with her death from Bright’s disease (she also suffered from epilepsy).

Rescued from the bullying at college, she returns to share the family home with sister Lavinia (Rose Williams), brother Austin (Benjamin Wainwright), her sickly mother (Joanna Bacon) and unfeeling patriarchal lawyer father (Keith Carradine). Dickinson’s burgeoning feminist streak, rapier wit and attitudes to religion and gender politics are established in a series of delicious confrontations, most notably with her staunchly conservative father and aunt (Annette Badland).

Using a series of portrait sittings, the characters ingeniously morph into their older selves as the film both reinforces what we have already seen but also explores how Dickinson’s romantic hopes are constrained by both her insecurity about her physical attraction and her determination not give up her independence, her desire for recognition and her gradual slide into reclusiveness, wearing mostly white and refusing to come down from her room to meet anyone.

As well as a continuing antagonistic relationship with her father and a falling out with the condescending Austin (Duncan Duff) when he’s found to be cheating on his wife (Jodhi May), it details her friendship with the irreverently unconventional Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey) and  the close if sometimes confrontational relationship with her devoted but long-suffering (and at times frustrated) younger sister (Jennifer Ehle) who insists in seeing good in people, even if it might not actually exist.

Embracing the outbreak of the Civil War, the deaths of her parents and what would become a lifelong friendship with Presbyterian Minister Charles Wadsworth (a cause of a clash between the sisters when Lavinia believes Emily to have romantic desires for the married man), it bristles with Wildean wit and aphorisms.  “If they wanted to be wholesome, I imagine they would crochet,” snaps back at Wadsworth’s starchy wife after she’s criticised the Bronte’s in an exchange about Longfellow’s Hiawatha, while Buffam scandalously observes that “To be shocked by a book you haven’t read is like going to Sodom and Gomorrah and being offended that neither is from Philadelphia.”

Coming thick and fast, there is a slight danger of feeling like a Monty Python sketch, but the direction and performances keep things on a solid even keel, not to mention accentuating the humour. Typically, Davies’ direction is measured and unfussy, and, while there may not be a trademark lengthy long camera pan, there are still many quite moments when it simply stands back and observes, while, as ever he makes effective use of light and colour, the brightness of the early years giving way to more autumnal shades as Dickinson retreats from the world. His choice of music too is again impeccable, reaching its peak in the final moments with Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question.

The performances throughout are exemplary, but it’s Dixon and Ehle who provide the real anchors, both dramatically and emotionally, although the  confessional scene between Dickinson and her frail mother is movingly devastating. Dickinson’s poetry, mostly written at night,  delivered by Nixon as voiceover is sublime, the context of her life giving it even deeper resonance. Perhaps inevitably, it’s had a very limited release and, yes, it is perhaps very much for a literary-mined art house audience, but it’s also on the year’s very best. (MAC)

 

 

The Belko Experiment (18)

Something of an under-the-radar wide release, Greg McLean, director of Australian packer horror Wolf Creek, and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of (mostly) white collar drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to follow the rules of the game, starting with having to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with  metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO,  Barry (Tony Goldwyn) ,reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted  in their heads (under the pretext of security) start going off, that’s clearly not the case.

At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), as the film’s vaguely  John McLane  figure, removes the explosive from his neck (since they’re being watched he can’t do it for anyone else) and things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and working together and, on the other, there’s the CEO assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies and acting as judge, jury, and executioners. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.

Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker  Michael Rooker, stoner  Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter  as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at  explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

I Am Not Your Negro (12A)

Returning to America from self-exile in Paris in the late 1950s after seeing images of black teenager Dorothy Counts being jeered and spat at white youths on her way to her newly integrated school, novelist, playwright, and essayist, his work focused on the complex racial,  sexual and class distinctions in Western societies,  Black and gay James Baldwin became a leading voice in the civil rights movement. He died in 1987, leaving behind an unfinished work, Remember This House,  a memoir of himself as a witness to events and his  personal recollections Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin In The Sun, all of whom were assassinated.

Now his words, given eloquent voice by Samuel L Jackson, form the narration of Raoul Peck’s documentary, a powerful and, with the current  Black Lives Matter protests, timely exploration of America’s race relations, drawing on archive interviews, newsreels, film clips (among them Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Dance, Fools, Dance and Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and photographs, featuring such figures as Harry Belafonte and Bobby Kennedy.

Most potent though is the extensive footage of Baldwin himself, whether holding forth on a  Dick Cavett TV interview or at a debate at Cambridge University, in his deeply articulate discussions of  American history and identity, of denial and forgiveness, of guilt and rage, complicity and resistance. “I’m terrified at the moral apathy, at the death of the heart, which is happening in my country”  he said  on a 1963 TV panel alongside King and X, words that ring as resonantly now as then. But Baldwin clung to and struggled to engender hope, famously noting “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. I’m forced to be an optimist.” Thirty years after his death, in the face of everything that would deny it, his words, his thoughts and his arguments keep that hope alive. (MAC; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Until Wed: Electric;)

 

 
Rules Don’t Apply (12A)

Taking the allegation that eccentric billionaire recluse Howard Hughes maintained a stable of young women at his Beverly Hills Hotel and reworking this has having a string of attractive young  aspiring starlets on rolling contracts with RKO Pictures, which he ran in the 50s, Warren Beatty, in his first role since 2001’s Town & Country, but, more significantly, his first outing as writer and director in almost twenty years, has crafted a slight,  but entertaining romantic comedy.

Up  from the sticks and newly appointed as one of the many drivers hired by Hughes to ferry the girls around, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, a sort of charisma-free Zak Efron) is assigned to Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), an equally church going (Baptist to his Presbyterian) virginal Virginian who, Hughes’  latest ingenue, arrives with her protective mother (Annette Bening) expecting to meet Hughes and be given a screen test. Like all the others, she’s to be disappointed. Frank too has never met his boss, but lives in hopes of getting the call.

Since the film opens with him in an  Acapulco hotel room trying to persuade Hughes (concealed behind a curtain) to make a call to a Hollywood press conference and refute  some writer’s book claiming he’s got dementia (a nod to the famous Clifford Irving hoax biography) , it’s clear he eventually does  and the bulk of the film is played out in flashbacks leading up to this point.

Predictably, although he has a devout Christian fiancée back home, Frank finds himself falling for Marla, who would seem to reciprocate the feelings; the problem is anyone caught coming on to one of the starlets is summarily dismissed. Cue a scene where she gets behind the piano and croons him the titular song, something she does later, fuelled by her first taste of alcohol in rather different circumstances and with very different consequences, to Hughes/

 

Howard, meanwhile, is under pressure to both prove his infamous Spruce Goose wooden seaplane can actually fly, his TWA empire is under threat from airline investors, bankers and the government, he has a Congressional hearing to attend, he’s half deaf and his mental state is clearly suffering from his drug addiction and threats of being consigned to an asylum. On top of which, they’ve apparently stopped making his favourite ice cream flavour.

Other than the ice cream (although, as Hughes says here ”never check an interesting fact”), everything actually happened, but over a considerably longer time span than the one year covered here, Beatty gleefully condensing into an eventful flurry of globe-hopping incidents. And if

The tone’s somewhat uneven in the second less playful half, where it’s clear Hughes’ idiosyncrasies, such as repeating himself over and over, are more than just eccentricities and the relationship between Frank and Marla not only takes some convoluted turns, but drops out of the narrative for long stretch. Even so, with a nicely mannered turn from Beatty (who spends much of the film unlit), a sparkling Collins and sprightly support and cameos from the likes of Martin Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Steve Coogan, Candice Bergen, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt  and Alec Baldwin, this is well worth a look.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Sense of an Ending (15)

Given a woefully limited release, tastefully adapted by Nick Payne rom Julian Barnes’ novel and directed in a gentle low key manner by  Ritesh Batra this is a bittersweet look at the memories we hide from ourselves in the reinvention of the past.

It’s built around a memorable, unassuming central performance by Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), an elderly somewhat self-absorbed   divorcee who runs a second-hand camera shop whose lawyer ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and pregnant lesbian daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) refer to him affectionately as The Mudge,  as in  curmudgeon.

One day, he gets a letter informing him that the mother of his teenage old flame, Veronica,  has passed away and left him something in her will. Although,  the now middle-aged Veronica  (a coolly composed Charlotte Rampling) won’t release it to the solicitors, Tony learns that it’s a diary, written by an old schoolfriend of his, the intellectually sharp Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who inexplicably committed suicide.  Annoyed at being denied what he regards as his property, Tony sets about trying to make contact with  her, fantasising that there might  still be a spark between them.

As Tony recounts past events  to Margaret (who, until now, had never heard of Veronica), the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her  genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother  Jack (Edward Holcroft)  and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tom’s forced to  confront his actions.

Gradually peeling away false memories to get at the truth, although Broadbent’s inherent warmth somewhat softens Tony’s selfish and narcissistic character and the redemptive coda is an emotional cop out, it’s a slowburning work the impact of which creeps up on you, its small moments gathering to a heartbreaking climax.  (Cineworld 5 Ways)

Their Finest (12A)

Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter  Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a  morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.

The film is to be based on the  story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the  inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include  faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of  drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway

Then, to the consternation of  all concerned, looking to get the US  into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by  handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the  bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw  an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.

Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them.  On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.

Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while  Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Unforgettable (15)

When films open in America without any advance screenings to the press, it’s usually a sign that the distributor is expecting negative reviews and wants to grab audiences before the word gets out. This is no exception to the rule. A risible, borderline ludicrous thriller that revisits the tired psychotic ex genre, it stars Rosario Dawson as  Julia, an editor for an online publisher  who relocates from the city to share a house in sunny California with her fiancée, recently divorced David (a charisma-free Geoff Stults), who gave up Wall Street to  run his late fathers small brewery. It’s not long before she meets the ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl), a Stepford blonde control freak who orders around her and David’s young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice).,  just as her own mother (Cheryl Ladd) dominates her. The frosty pleasantries and intense stare of that first encounter tells you all you need to know, Tessa is, as one character puts it, Psycho Barbie. Initially it’s just barbed exchanges, usually regarding Tessa’s opinion of Julia’s parenting skills, but when she learns that she and David are getting married, her barely repressed crazed pitch bubbles over. Next thing you know, she’s stolen Julia.s phone, engagement ring, keys, panties and the watch she bought David, set of a fake Facebook page (despite being an Internet editor, Julia doesn’t do social networking) and is sending come on messages to Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides), Julia’s aggressive ex against whom she had to take out a (now expired) restraining order, and about whom she’s naturally not told David.

Given the film opens with a bloodied Julia being interviewed about the fact Vargas’ body was found in her house and that they appeared to have been carrying on a steamy Facebook conversation, not to mention those panties and photos they found, you’ll already have a good idea of where this is going before the flashbacks get there.

Feeling like a particularly trashy 70s soap, its directed in workmanlike manner by Denise Di Novi with a screenplay so ridiculous it was presumably dashed off by Christina Hodson while leafing through a book of clichés over coffee. As the patently sociopathic Tess, chews her way through the dialogue and physical stuff with a manic determination to take on every other Hollywood bunny boiler, but the ham and her one-dimensionally written character (a conveniently hacked court order reveals that, as a teen, she burned down her dad and his new girlfriend’s house, but mom refused  psychiatric care) are likely to elicit more sniggers than gasps. But then no one emerges with much credit, Dawson acting with her mind seemingly elsewhere. There was potential to exploit the genuine issues of a child caught between two  mothers, but sadly Lily’s just a prop to the narrative. Unforgettable it is, but not in the way they filmmakers intended. Still, as the coda suggests, Unforgettable 2- the ex-mother—in-law’s revenge is surely not far away.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Zookeeper’s Wife (12A)

In occupied Poland, during World War II, Antonina Żabińska, the wife of   zookeeper Jan Żabińska sheltered 300 Jews from the Nazis in the Warsaw Zoo,  recording her experiences in a  diary, subsequently adapted into a book by Diane Ackerman on which this is based. Directed by Niki Caro, who has yet to better debut feature Whale Rider, it stars a distractingly accented Jessica Chastain in the title role with  Johan Heldenbergh as her husband, opening in the summer of 39 as she cycles around the zoo greeting and feeding the animals. The idyllic moment is abruptly shattered by the German invasion, the zoo itself being bombed, setting camels, tigers and other animals loose on the ravaged city streets in a series of somewhat strikingly surreal images as the invading army are given no option but to gun them down. It is, of course, a symbolic portent of what is to follow as the city’s Jews are systematically rounded up and herded off to concentration camps in crammed trains. Meanwhile, having convinced  chief Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) to allow the zoo to remain open as a pig farm, providing meat for the solders while the surviving prize specimens are shipped to Germany for selective breeding as a sort of animal master race, she takes the courageous decision to also use it to shelter their Jewish neighbours in the basement of her house, shipped in from the Warsaw Ghetto by  Jan in the truck he uses to collect the garbage to feed the pigs.

Just as she refers to  the place as now being a human zoo, so does the film adopt a similarly literal and easy to follow narrative, underlining the image by Antonina looking after one traumatised teenager (Shira Haas) sheltering in one of the cages. As part of her efforts to keep the zoo open and her new charges safe, she starts flirting with the eugenics obsessed Heck, who has naturally fallen for her, which, of course, despite her intentions, doesn’t sit well with the stoic Jan.

Interspersed with third act scenes of  the Resistance fighting the Germans in the streets, it’s all solidly made and, for the most decently acted, but for the most everything is about surface drama, Caro directing audience emotions with predictable shots of smilingly unaware young children being bundled into trains and familiar Holocaust signifiers as piles of suitcases. It’s all nicely polished, but rarely engages with the complexity of the events or the emotions. Intercutting between the Ghetto’s destruction and a Passover meal is banal and obvious filmmaking, while Żabińska’s young son’s remark that it’s snowing as the ashes float gracefully through the sky should never have made it to the page let alone the screen.

Another problem is that, while the film admirably celebrates the couple’s bravery and heroic acts,  the Jews they shelter are never really given as much dimension, remaining somewhat sketchy and emblematic characters. Even  the badly underwritten Heck has more depth. Tastefully done but ultimately perfunctorily told with only the faintest excursion into tension, it never rises to the heights of the recent similarly themed The Book Thief, far less Agnieska Holland’s Into Darkness, seemingly far more concerned with the visual details than the human ones, whose fates ultimately entail less of an impact than those of the animals. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

 

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Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are  duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with  automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart  to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more   instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Get Out (15)

Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re  like part of the family.  Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield)  of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’

It is, of course, rather too late for that  and  it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and  discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

Director Rupert Sanders brings Mamoru Oshii’s cult cyberthriller creation to the big screen for its first live action adaptation. Those familiar with the Manga comic and animations will be more conversant with things, but, for newbies, this serves as an origin story, detailing how the unnamed Major (Scarlett Johansson) became a cyborg  cyberterrorism fighter, her brain – her ghost or soul – transplanted to an artificial body by Hanka Robotics. However, working for the government’s cyberterrorist division, under Aramaki (Takeshi Takano) alongside fellow agent Batou (Pilou Asbaek), she’s experiencing glitches in her programming, flashbacks to memories that don’t gel with what she knows of her past.

To put this into context, events are set in Japan in  a  future where technological advancement has allowed humans to enhance their bodies giving them, for example, cybernetic eyes and limbs, existing alongside robots in a high-tech city where giant holograms such as geishas, joggers and swimming  fish  are projected across the cityspace. It’s all the work of Hanka, whose chief scientist,  Cutter (Peter Ferndinando), headed up the project through which Dr. Oulet (Juliette Binoche) transformed the unnamed girl, badly injured in the terrorist attack that killed her parents, into The Major.

However,  when Hanka’s boss is attacked and killed by robots and enhanced  thugs while hosting a business lunch, going ‘deep’ into the deactivated geisha robot, the Major gets a look at Kuze (Michael Pitt), the person behind the attack, but the experience also causes further glitches. Meanwhile, other Hanka scientists are being targeted, all of whom turn out to have worked on a  secret project, with Dr. Oulet now the only survivor.

With the Major accused of having her programming corrupted by the terrorist network, she and her fellow squad members find themselves in a race to find and take down the cloaked Kuze, except, as the Major discovers, not everything she’s been told or remembers is the truth.

Wasting little time on exposition, the film hurtles along, Sanders dropping in visual references that fans of the 1995 animation will recognise, cramming in considerable action and ideas into the 107 minutes. The visual design is breathtaking  in its CGI, whether in the sprawling techno city, the darker, more dystopian  zone or Johansson’s costume, a sort of fleshtone body suit that enables her cyborg self to disappear into the pixels and which, as her workings are exposed, both disturbing and beautiful, conjures thoughts of Japanese body-horror movies.

Inevitably evoking  thoughts of Blade Runner, Scott’s film clearly offers the template for the film’s look as well as its themes about identity and humanity. Undeniably glossily and sleekly thrilling and with a pulsing score by Clint Mansell, on the downside, it’s singularly lacking in humour and, with rather damning irony, despite the title, it’s an entirely soulless affair. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Going In Style (12A)

A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch  always going on about how he could die  any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.

Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.

Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here.(Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 The Handmaiden (18)

Loosely adapted from Sarah Waters’ bestseller Fingersmith, co-written  by South Korean director Park Chan-Wook of Oldboy fame, this adopts a Rashomon structure, dividing the film into three chapters, the first two offering two different sides to the events with the third bringing them together for a convoluted but cleverly engineered payoff in the grand tradition of The Sting and other such con movies.

Set in Japanese-controlled South Korea in the 1930s, the first part is told from the perspective of Sook-Hee (Tae-Ri Kim), an accomplished  pickpocket who’s recruited by a con artist calling himself Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become the handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). An orphaned Japanese heiress, she  lives in a remote sprawling mansion with her uncle by marriage, Kouzuki (Jin-woong Cho), a sadistic pervy book collector who intends to marry her and forces her to give readings to a select audience of fellow Japanese ‘connoisseurs’ from his collection of Japanese porn. Sook-hee’s job is to get her new mistress to falls for the Count instead, who’ll then marry her, take control of her fortune, have her declared insane and split the takings with  Sook-Hee and her fellow pickpockets.  However, in the course of events, Sook-hee develops a real affection for Hideko which prompts her conscience, before the ending. delivers a wholly unexpected double cross twist in the final seconds

Part Two then retells everything from Hideko’s perspective, offering a very different take on what you’ve just seen, unravelling an even more knotted plot. Then comes Part Three that puts the pieces into place along with a some genuinely disturbing insights into her uncle’s cruelty and perversions, the terrors of ‘the basement’ and a gruesome torture sequence.

A lavishly designed triple-cross  psychological thriller with strong Hitchcockian overtones, it’s also highly erotically charged, a sequence in Part One where Sook-hee demonstrates  what Hideko can expect on her wedding night restaged in even more explicit  intensity in Part Two. Awash with fetishism (check out the tooth filing scene), carnal lust and duplicity, it also has  a vein of  wry humour, albeit incredibly dark, at one point quite literally of the gallows variety. The central performances are outstanding, Tae-Ri Kim making the naïve Sook-hee as funny as she is sexy, Min-hee Kim bringing complex layers to Hideko, Jung-woo Ha’s smooth and slippery as Fujiwara and Jin-woong Cho creating one of  cinema’s most twisted and terrifying monsters in human form. The film clocks in at 145 minutes, but there’s also an even longer 167 minute director’s cut. Given what’s on screen in the normal version, the mind boggles as to what the extra 22 minutes may have to offer. (Electric; Everyman; Odeom Broadway Plaza; Extended cut Sun 23:Electric)

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Following Peter Jackson’s bloated 2005 remake, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts takes another swing at reviving cinema’s most famous ape. And  knocks it out of the park.

Clocking in at a tightly packed two hours, it balances explosive action, breathtaking effects, throwaway humour and some respectful nods to the original (effectively recreating that iconic Fay Wray/Kong moment) to wildly entertaining effect. However, the most striking thing  is that, set in 1973, it’s essentially Apocalypse Now with a  100 foot gorilla, Coppola’s movie very clearly referenced in any number of  shots  recreating that iconic image of the red streaked sun, both with and without helicopters blaring out rock music. In Samuel  L Jackson as Lt Col. Preston Packard, the army officer who doesn’t want to the war to end, especially not in ‘abandonment’, as he terms it, it also has its own crazed Kurtz.

Opening with a brief WWII  prologue as two young pilots, one American, one Japanese, are fighting to the death after crashing on some island when two giant hairy hands appear on the cliff top, it fast forwards to Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads up  Monarch, a secret agency seeking  “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” as he convinces  a senator (Richard Jenkins) to back an expedition to a hitherto uncharted island “where myth and science meet.”

Requisitioning a military escort headed up by Packard and his  chopper squad (among them Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell and Toby Kebbell) most of whom serve as cannon fodder along with the assorted scientists, Randa  and his team (Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing) also recruit ex SAS officer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as their tracker  while, sensing a story, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also inveigles a place on the mission.

However, no sooner have they battled their  way through the electrical storm shrouding the island  and started dropping seismic bombs, than they’re  being swatted out of the sky by an angry Kong.

Initially separated, the film charts their attempt to survive as they head for the pick up point, Conrad, Weaver and the rest of his group encountering Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), the American pilot from the opening, who has been living with the natives ever since and warns of even more dangerous beasts, against which Kong, the last of his kind, has become the island’s protector. Which means they now have to stop Packard from blasting the monkey to pieces.   With familiar  don’t screw with nature messages and observations on how war can make a man see enemies everywhere, it wastes little time on exposition and  gets on with mounting its spectacular action, introducing docile giant water buffalos, towering killer spiders and a humongous  octopus before finally bringing on lizard-like monsters  to raise the bloody body count tally further.

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Life  (15)

The plot can be pretty much summed up as ‘omigod, we found life on Mars. Omigod, it’s trying to kill us’, directed by Daniel Espinosa it does serviceable duty here. It’s set on a manned NASA space station where, in the opening sequences, the six-strong international crew of the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission have to snag a specimen-collecting capsule as it shoots past.

Duly accomplished by astronaut Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), English scientist Hugh Derry (Arlyon Bakare), who joined because he doesn’t need a wheelchair in space, sets to work examining the micro-organisms found in the soil and, in the process, awakens a single cell from dormancy.

In a celebratory Q&A educational broadcast between the station and Earth, the organism is officially named Calvin and everyone’s very happy. But then Calvin, a sort of jelly-like squid starts growing, and,  next thing you know, it’s mangled Derry’s hands, escaped from the containment chamber and is trapped in the lab with Adams, whose attempts to destroy result in, well let’s just say viewers there for Reynolds might well leave early.

Then, when it  escapes the lab, the survivors have to find a way to get it off the ship, a task taken up by mission commander, Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya). And so, were soon down to the long-serving David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a medic who prefers the isolation of space, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) from  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in charge of security protocol, and senior crewmember, and new father, Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada). With the now even larger creature on the loose that, presumably having wiped out any original life on Mars,  they have to stop it getting to Earth. Given it can survive in sub-space, withstand fire and go for long stretches without oxygen, that might be easier said than done.

A sort of meeting between Alien and Gravity, it’s superbly designed, the station layout detailed in a lengthy single take, so you can see those hatches the crew really should keep shut but are always opening for to try and save someone or the other, something that ties in to the film’s musing on the biological imperative for the survival of the species.

Well-served by solid and effective performances, Espinosa ratchets up some nail-biting suspense, compounded by the confined spaces and the creatures ability to squeeze through small gaps, leaving audiences with a twist ending which, while it may be a touch obvious, lays the ground for a possible sequel.  (Vue Star City)

 

Logan (15)

The third and final chapter in Wolverine’s standalone  story wears its template on its sleeve in both referring to and showing clips from classic Alan Ladd Western Shane, the story of a loner drawn into a fight not of his making but which becomes inescapably personal. Not to mention Terminator 2.

Set in 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are the last of the X-Men (it’s never stated what happened to the others, but an enigmatic reference suggests a cataclysmic tragedy) and something has blocked the birth of any new mutants. The conflicted Logan is now old, grizzled, limping,  his eyesight failing, his healing powers on the blink and the adamantium in his body poisoning him. Deadening his physical and emotional pain with drink, he’s working as a limo driver in Texas, shacking up at an abandoned industrial site near the Mexican border where, along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant-tracker, he’s looking after the  nonagenarian Professor X, who, hidden in a  rusting toppled water tower and suffering from Alzheimer’s, needs constant medication to prevent his powerful mental powers running out of control and causing seizures for anyone in the vicinity.

In one of his lucid periods, Xavier insists that he’s senses a new mutant, something Logan dismisses. Until, that it is, he encounters  Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse offering a considerable wad of cash to drive her and her Hispanic daughter Laura ((Dafne Keen) to Canada. However, arriving at the motel to collect them, he finds the woman dead and, on returning to his hideout, discovers the girl had stowed away in the car. Although, she says nothing, it seems she is the mutant Xavier sensed. As to her powers, they’re bloodily revealed with the arrival of  Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the cyborg head of the paramilitary  Reavers. Much to Logan’s shock, she too sprouts deadly adamantium claws and has the same fast healing abilities. It transpires that she was genetically bred, along with other young mutants, by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who runs shady bioengineering program Transigen, using Logan’s DNA. As Xavier points out, basically, she’s his daughter.

From here, the film becomes a chase road movie as the three set out to find Eden, the supposed mutant safe haven in the Dakota hills, despite Logan insisting it’s merely something dreamed up in one of the X-Men comics for which he has no time, with Pierce, Rice and the latter’s genetically created secret weapon, in pursuit.

Given Jackman’s stated this is his last outing as the character, the way things end won’t come as any real surprise. The fact that it is profoundly moving may well. Directed by James Mangold, from the opening scene as Logan slices his way through a bunch of would be carjackers, the film is spectacularly violent, both Logan and the feral Laura’s claws ripping off limbs and slashing through skulls in graphic detail. Yet this is balanced with moments of humour and  the tender ruminations on family (if Laura’s Logan’s genetic daughter, Xavier is his surrogate father), loneliness and redemption.

Giving a superbly nuanced performance, ranging from extreme rage to heavy weariness the mesmerising Jackman is terrific, as indeed is Stewart who lends the film his own imposing gravitas, while, in her debut role, an impressive eleven-year-old Keen, although wordless until the final stretch, has striking presence and a penetrating stare, something that bodes well should the Wolverine saga spin off to a second generation. In recent years, superheroes have become darker and more grown up, ending with an inspired final image this is among the best of them.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

 

Power Rangers (12A)

 And here’s yet another revival, this time of the  mid-90s (and still ongoing) live-action TV series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers about five ‘teenagers with attitude’ recruited by the wizard Zordon to battle the evil (and risibly named) Rita Repulsa as she attempts to conquer Earth, each of them having their own super-powers and  wearing individually colour-coded spandex suits and helmets.

Directed by Dean Israelite, this latest entry takes things back to the start for an origin story that kicks off 67 million years ago as Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his team are defeated by rogue Ranger Rita (a gleefully hamming Elizabeth Banks), taking her out with him in one last act, but not before burying the Rangers’ power crystals to be found by those next worthy of using them. Cut to the present as sports star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) pulls off a high school prank involving a bull, crashes his car, is busted, thrown off the team and sentenced to Saturday detentions, where he meets autistic Billy (RJ Cyler) and cool chick Kimberly (Naomi Scott) who apparently punched some boy’s tooth out.  Jason steps into protect Billy from the class bully and  agrees to drive him out to some quarry in the neighbouring hills where it seems Kimberely goes to chill out. It also happens to be frequented by fellow screw-ups/misfits Zack (Ludi Lin), who escapes there when caring for his sick mom on the trailer park gets too much, and Trini (Becky G.), who’s dealing with her own identity issues.

Anyways, Billy sets off a charge and all five find themselves plummeting into some cavern, discovering what seems to be an alien spaceship, falling into water and inexplicably waking up back home the next day and discovering they’ve acquired superstrength. So, it’s back to the site where they get to meet a wisecracking talking robot (Bill Hader) and Zordon, or rather his essence which is now trapped in some sort of giant 3D pin-art sculpture, who informs them they’ve been chosen to be the new Power Rangers, but they have to prove themselves worthy before they can summon up the armour within them.

Which means, what with everyone having to confront their dark secrets, it’s almost 80 minutes into the two hours before the familiar red, blue, purple, blue, black and yellow suits appear and the film can get on with the action as, behind the controls of their  Dinozords, they face off against the now resurrected Rita who, with her equally naffly named creation, Goldar (yes, it’s a monster made from gold) and rock-creatures army, is destroying  the town looking for the energy source which will ensure her conquest and which just happens to be located beneath the film’s glaring product placement, a Krispy Kreme store.

With its joke about ‘milking’ a bull along with inference that Trini’s a lesbian (thus Hollywood’s first gay superhero) and the focus on her fellow Rangers’ personal issues,  this skews older than the TV series, and, while, closer to The Fantastic Four than Captain America: Civil War, despite the CGI confusion of the finale, is, as such, rather more fun than might have been expected. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

After being rescued by the clutches of her creator, evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), in the last film, Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is now living back with the other Smurfs in the Smurf village, but is sad that, unlike the others, such as Clumsy (Jack MacBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello), her name doesn’t define her character. She’s just ‘nice’. Plagued by existential angst, if that’s not too deep a concept for such a trivial film, she’s led to explore the Forbidden Forest where, accompanied by Clumsy, Brainy and Hefty, who have followed her, she discovers a whole new Smurfs community, and they’re all girls and, like Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez) often warriors, with Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts) their answer to Papa Smurf (Mandy Patikin). Unfortunately, Gargamel is also on Smurfette’s trail looking to finally get his hands on the Smurfs so he can drain their essence and become a sorcerer supreme. The new Smurfs are an unexpected bonus.

Ditching the last film’s ill-advised choice of setting things in the city, this is on surer ground, with Wilson as the only non-animated character also taking on a cartoonish performance. Despite the occasional grown up joke, adults will still probably find the experience of sitting through it rather like having their finger-nails extracted, but it has to be admitted that the animation is well handled, there’s some surreal touches (luminous giant rabbits), the songs aren’t bad and the plot is easy to follow, with  messages about female empowerment, not being defined by a singular trait and finding who you are for those willing or old enough to look. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

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

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Apr 14-Thu Apr 20

 

NEW RELEASES

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

The franchise has come a long way since that first film when an undercover cop became seduced by the street racing world he was supposed to take down. One is was just about fast car rivalry, now it’s about saving the world. It opens with a prologue involving  a high speed race around Havana between  the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),  and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.

Returning home from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde woman (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one  the funniest moments) when he’s approached to go on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) and more recent recruit, hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), duly recruited, next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off and split up, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.

Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight sequence between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)  and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family,  is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.

As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal some all powerful surveillance doohickey called God’s Eye,  she now wants him  to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching  a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise in store for all concerned.

Suffice to say, this is, not only a sort of  Mission Impossible with drag racers, but also  by far the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and more automobile destruction than the rest of the series combined, a sequence that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a  heart (cue all those messages about family) to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the bickering between Roman and Tej,  the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the gang ribbing of the dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy, delivering the lines and her steel gaze with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With F&F9 in pre-production and a 10th  instalment announced (with Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 The Handmaiden (18)

Loosely adapted from Sarah Waters bestseller Fingersmith, co-written  by South Korean director Park Chan-Wook of Oldboy fame, this adopts a Rashomon structure, dividing the film into three chapters, the first two offering two different sides to the events with the third bringing them together for a convoluted but cleverly engineered payoff in the grand tradition of The Sting and other such con movies.

Set in Japanese-controlled South Korea in the 1930s, the first part is told from the perspective of Sook-Hee (Tae-Ri Kim), an accomplished  pickpocket who’s recruited by a con artist calling himself Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become the handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). An orphaned Japanese heiress, she  lives in a remote sprawling mansion with her uncle by marriage, Kouzuki (Jin-woong Cho), a sadistic pervy book collector who intends to marry her and forces her to give readings to a select audience of fellow Japanese ‘connoisseurs’ from his collection of Japanese porn. Sook-hee’s job is to get her new mistress to falls for the Count instead, who’ll then marry her, take control of her fortune, have her declared insane and split the takings with  Sook-Hee and her fellow pickpockets.  However, in the course of events, Sook-hee develops a real affection for Hideko which prompts her conscience, before the ending. delivers a wholly unexpected double cross twist in the final seconds

Part Two then retells everything from Hideko’s perspective, offering a very different take on what you’ve just seen, unravelling an even more knotted plot. Then comes Part Three that puts the pieces into place along with a some genuinely disturbing insights into her uncle’s cruelty and perversions, the terrors of ‘the basement’ and a gruesome torture sequence.

A lavishly designed triple-cross  psychological thriller with strong Hitchcockian overtones, it’s also highly erotically charged, a sequence in Part One where Sook-hee demonstrates  what Hideko can expect on her wedding night restaged in even more explicit  intensity in Part Two. Awash with fetishism (check out the tooth filing scene), carnal lust and duplicity, it also has  a vein of  wry humour, albeit incredibly dark, at one point quite literally of the gallows variety. The central performances are outstanding, Tae-Ri Kim making the naïve Sook-hee as funny as she is sexy, Min-hee Kim bringing complex layers to Hideko, Jung-woo Ha’s smooth and slippery as Fujiwara and Jin-woong Cho creating one of  cinema’s most twisted and terrifying monsters in human form. The film clocks in at 145 minutes, but there’s also an even longer 167 minute director’s cut. Given what’s on screen in the normal version, the mind boggles as to what the extra 22 minutes may have to offer. (Electric; Sat/Thu: Extended Cut; Cineworld 5 Ways; Everyman)

 

Mad To Be Normal (15)

During the late 60s/early70s, no self-respecting student would be caught without a copy of either Knots or The Divided Self, the first a collection of poems, the second an account of schizophrenia by noted Scottish psychiatrist and counterculture icon R.D.Laing. From 1965 until 1970 he also ran a controversial psychiatric community project at Kingsley Hall in London’s East End, where patients and therapists lived together, rejecting the use of the drugs (and, naturally, electroconvulsive shock therapy) usually used on mental patients in the prison-hospital system of the time in favour of  the then radical idea of talking to them,  allowing them to open up and be themselves, although he did experiment in the use of LSD, for medical purposes.

Directed by Robert Mullan from a screenplay by himself and Tracy Moreton, the film is a biopic focusing on that period with David Tennent giving a mesmerising performance as the hard-drinking Glasgow-born Laing, treating the residents with understanding and compassion, clashing with his traditional-minded peers and struggling with a private life that includes two daughters from a broken marriage back in Glasgow (one of whom has a terminal illness)  and an increasingly fraught relationship with Angie Wood (Elizabeth Moss) an admiring American student (based on Laing’s girlfriend Jutta Werner, but essentially a composite figure as he had six children by four different women), who becomes his lover, wife and, eventually, victim of his self-absorption.

Following a linear narrative, it has a tendency to wander at times and it ends rather than concludes, wrapping up loose ends with captions. However, within this it effectively interweaves a series of stories involving Laing and his ‘patients’, among them a  troubled young black who hears voices, a mother suffering post-natal depression and a man with a Messiah complex. The main focus though is on the elderly Sidney (Michael Gambon), traumatised by a horrific childhood event we eventually see in a black and white LSD flashback, and, in a terrific turn from Gabriel Byrne, the volatile Jim who, also hearing voices, initially appears quite a sadly gentle soul, but gradually becomes increasingly unstable, threatening the safety of Angie and her new baby. However, it’s arguably a scene with a young female patient  in a mental hospital in America that best  illustrates the effectiveness of Laing’s methods, ones which, while derided at the time, ultimately changed the way the profession approached mental illness, focusing on the causes rather than as symptoms of a physiological disorder.  (Fri/Sat:MAC)

 

The Salesman (12A)

No screenings were available, but this was the winner of this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, although director Asghar Farhadi was prevented from attending to collect his prize because of Trump’s ban on Muslim’s travelling from proscribed countries. Relocated to small flat after being forcibly evacuated from their home in a condemned building, teacher Emad and his wife Rana are the leads in a theatrical adaptation of Death of a Salesman. One night, as Emad stays late at rehearsal, Rema  who has returned home, opens the door when the buzzer rings, assuming it’s her husband. Instead it’s a stranger looking for the woman who previously lived there. He  attacks her, she resists and he runs off, leaving behind his truck, the keys and his mobile phone. Over the following two weeks, traumatised by what happens she’s become withdrawn and  riddled with anxiety while he’s tortured by not having been there or being able to help his wife but also persuade that the play must go ahead. Inevitably there’s s train between them, while he becomes obsessed with finding the man responsible. But what happens when he does? (Fri-Mon: MAC)

 

The Sense of an Ending (15)

Screenings were unavailable, but adapted from  Julian Barnes’ novel, this  stars Jim Boadbent as Tony Webster , the divorced elderly owner of a second hand camera store who, on receiving a letter saying he’s been named in the Last Will and Testament of the mother (Emily Mortimer) of  Veronica, a girl he dated while at University, embarks on a  reflection of the last 50 years that have brought him to where he is today.  Co-starring Harriet Walter as his ex-wife, Michelle Dockery as their pregnant 36 year old daughter,  Billy Howle as the  young Tony, an aspiring poet, Charlotte Rampling as the now elderly Veronica
Charlotte Rampling), it’s a meditation on memory, coming to terms with the past and making the best of the time remaining. To be reviewed. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

 

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Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.

You’ll know  the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a  beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.

Lost during a storm,  Belle’s  father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere,  her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Best: All By Himself (12A)

Featuring archive footage and new interviews, Daniel Gordon ‘s documentary offers an intimate and illuminating look at football’s first rock star, Belfast-born George Best. It charts his life and career from his electrifying debut with Manchester United at 17 through his glory years when United won the 1968 European Cup, through his battles with booze  and depression, and his scandalous romances to his death in 2005 when around a quarter of a million people lined the route of his funeral cortege. (Tue:MAC)

The Boss Baby (U)

If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to  BabyCorp management.  The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work,  which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty  Staci and the  gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.

Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.

Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Get Out (15)

Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re  like part of the family.  Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield)  of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’

It is, of course, rather too late for that  and  it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and  discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

Director Rupert Sanders brings Mamoru Oshii’s cult cyberthriller creation to the big screen for its first live action adaptation. Those familiar with the Manga comic and animations will be more conversant with things, but, for newbies, this serves as an origin story, detailing how the unnamed Major (Scarlett Johansson) became a cyborg  cyberterrorism fighter, her brain – her ghost or soul – transplanted to an artificial body by Hanka Robotics. However, working for the government’s cyberterrorist division, under Aramaki (Takeshi Takano) alongside fellow agent Batou (Pilou Asbaek), she’s experiencing glitches in her programming, flashbacks to memories that don’t gel with what she knows of her past.

To put this into context, events are set in Japan in  a  future where technological advancement has allowed humans to enhance their bodies giving them, for example, cybernetic eyes and limbs, existing alongside robots in a high-tech city where giant holograms such as geishas, joggers and swimming  fish  are projected across the cityspace. It’s all the work of Hanka, whose chief scientist,  Cutter (Peter Ferndinando), headed up the project through which Dr. Oulet (Juliette Binoche) transformed the unnamed girl, badly injured in the terrorist attack that killed her parents, into The Major.

However,  when Hanka’s boss is attacked and killed by robots and enhanced  thugs while hosting a business lunch, going ‘deep’ into the deactivated geisha robot, the Major gets a look at Kuze (Michael Pitt), the person behind the attack, but the experience also causes further glitches. Meanwhile, other Hanka scientists are being targeted, all of whom turn out to have worked on a  secret project, with Dr. Oulet now the only survivor.

With the Major accused of having her programming corrupted by the terrorist network, she and her fellow squad members find themselves in a race to find and take down the cloaked Kuze, except, as the Major discovers, not everything she’s been told or remembers is the truth.

Wasting little time on exposition, the film hurtles along, Sanders dropping in visual references that fans of the 1995 animation will recognise, cramming in considerable action and ideas into the 107 minutes. The visual design is breathtaking  in its CGI, whether in the sprawling techno city, the darker, more dystopian  zone or Johansson’s costume, a sort of fleshtone body suit that enables her cyborg self to disappear into the pixels and which, as her workings are exposed, both disturbing and beautiful, conjures thoughts of Japanese body-horror movies.

Inevitably evoking  thoughts of Blade Runner, Scott’s film clearly offers the template for the film’s look as well as its themes about identity and humanity. Undeniably glossily and sleekly thrilling and with a pulsing score by Clint Mansell, on the downside, it’s singularly lacking in humour and, with rather damning irony, despite the title, it’s an entirely soulless affair. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Going In Style (12A)

A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch  always going on about how he could die  any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.

Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.

Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here.(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Clocking in at a tightly packed two hours, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts swing at reviving cinema’s most famous ape balances explosive action, breathtaking effects, throwaway humour and some respectful nods to the original (effectively recreating that iconic Fay Wray/Kong moment) to wildly entertaining effect. However, the most striking thing  is that, set in 1973, it’s essentially Apocalypse Now with a  100 foot gorilla, Coppola’s movie very clearly referenced in any number of  shots  recreating that iconic image of the red streaked sun, both with and without helicopters blaring out rock music. In Samuel  L Jackson as Lt Col. Preston Packard, the army officer who doesn’t want to the war to end, especially not in ‘abandonment’, as he terms it, it also has its own crazed Kurtz.

Opening with a brief WWII  prologue as two young pilots, one American, one Japanese, are fighting to the death after crashing on some island when two giant hairy hands appear on the cliff top, it fast forwards to Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads up  Monarch, a secret agency seeking  “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” as he convinces  a senator (Richard Jenkins) to back an expedition to a hitherto uncharted island “where myth and science meet.”

 

Requisitioning a military escort headed up by Packard and his  chopper squad (among them Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell and Toby Kebbell) most of whom serve as cannon fodder along with the assorted scientists, Randa  and his team (Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing) also recruit ex SAS officer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as their tracker  while, sensing a story, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also inveigles a place on the mission.

However, no sooner have they battled their  way through the electrical storm shrouding the island  and started dropping seismic bombs, than they’re  being swatted out of the sky by an angry Kong.

Initially separated, the film charts their attempt to survive as they head for the pick up point, Conrad, Weaver and the rest of his group encountering Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), the American pilot from the opening, who has been living with the natives ever since and warns of even more dangerous beasts, against which Kong, the last of his kind, has become the island’s protector. Which means they now have to stop Packard from blasting the monkey to pieces.   With familiar  don’t screw with nature messages and observations on how war can make a man see enemies everywhere, it wastes little time on exposition and  gets on with mounting its spectacular action, introducing docile giant water buffalos, towering killer spiders and a humongous  octopus before finally bringing on lizard-like monsters  to raise the bloody body count tally further.

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Life  (15)

The plot can be pretty much summed up as ‘omigod, we found life on Mars. Omigod, it’s trying to kill us’, directed by Daniel Espinosa it does serviceable duty here. It’s set on a manned NASA space station where, in the opening sequences, the six-strong international crew of the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission have to snag a specimen-collecting capsule as it shoots past.

Duly accomplished by astronaut Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), English scientist Hugh Derry (Arlyon Bakare), who joined because he doesn’t need a wheelchair in space, sets to work examining the micro-organisms found in the soil and, in the process, awakens a single cell from dormancy.

In a celebratory Q&A educational broadcast between the station and Earth, the organism is officially named Calvin and everyone’s very happy. But then Calvin, a sort of jelly-like squid starts growing, and,  next thing you know, it’s mangled Derry’s hands, escaped from the containment chamber and is trapped in the lab with Adams, whose attempts to destroy result in, well let’s just say viewers there for Reynolds might well leave early.

Then, when it  escapes the lab, the survivors have to find a way to get it off the ship, a task taken up by mission commander, Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya). And so, were soon down to the long-serving David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a medic who prefers the isolation of space, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) from  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in charge of security protocol, and senior crewmember, and new father, Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada). With the now even larger creature on the loose that, presumably having wiped out any original life on Mars,  they have to stop it getting to Earth. Given it can survive in sub-space, withstand fire and go for long stretches without oxygen, that might be easier said than done.

A sort of meeting between Alien and Gravity, it’s superbly designed, the station layout detailed in a lengthy single take, so you can see those hatches the crew really should keep shut but are always opening for to try and save someone or the other, something that ties in to the film’s musing on the biological imperative for the survival of the species.

Well-served by solid and effective performances, Espinosa ratchets up some nail-biting suspense, compounded by the confined spaces and the creatures ability to squeeze through small gaps, leaving audiences with a twist ending which, while it may be a touch obvious, lays the ground for a possible sequel.  (Vue Star City)

 

Logan (15)

The third and final chapter in Wolverine’s standalone  story wears its template on its sleeve in both referring to and showing clips from classic Alan Ladd Western Shane, the story of a loner drawn into a fight not of his making but which becomes inescapably personal. Not to mention Terminator 2.

Set in 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are the last of the X-Men (it’s never stated what happened to the others, but an enigmatic reference suggests a cataclysmic tragedy) and something has blocked the birth of any new mutants. The conflicted Logan is now old, grizzled, limping,  his eyesight failing, his healing powers on the blink and the adamantium in his body poisoning him. Deadening his physical and emotional pain with drink, he’s working as a limo driver in Texas, shacking up at an abandoned industrial site near the Mexican border where, along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant-tracker, he’s looking after the  nonagenarian Professor X, who, hidden in a  rusting toppled water tower and suffering from Alzheimer’s, needs constant medication to prevent his powerful mental powers running out of control and causing seizures for anyone in the vicinity.

In one of his lucid periods, Xavier insists that he’s senses a new mutant, something Logan dismisses. Until, that it is, he encounters  Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse offering a considerable wad of cash to drive her and her Hispanic daughter Laura ((Dafne Keen) to Canada. However, arriving at the motel to collect them, he finds the woman dead and, on returning to his hideout, discovers the girl had stowed away in the car. Although, she says nothing, it seems she is the mutant Xavier sensed. As to her powers, they’re bloodily revealed with the arrival of  Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the cyborg head of the paramilitary  Reavers. Much to Logan’s shock, she too sprouts deadly adamantium claws and has the same fast healing abilities. It transpires that she was genetically bred, along with other young mutants, by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who runs shady bioengineering program Transigen, using Logan’s DNA. As Xavier points out, basically, she’s his daughter.

From here, the film becomes a chase road movie as the three set out to find Eden, the supposed mutant safe haven in the Dakota hills, despite Logan insisting it’s merely something dreamed up in one of the X-Men comics for which he has no time, with Pierce, Rice and the latter’s genetically created secret weapon, in pursuit.

Given Jackman’s stated this is his last outing as the character, the way things end won’t come as any real surprise. The fact that it is profoundly moving may well. Directed by James Mangold, from the opening scene as Logan slices his way through a bunch of would be carjackers, the film is spectacularly violent, both Logan and the feral Laura’s claws ripping off limbs and slashing through skulls in graphic detail. Yet this is balanced with moments of humour and  the tender ruminations on family (if Laura’s Logan’s genetic daughter, Xavier is his surrogate father), loneliness and redemption.

Giving a superbly nuanced performance, ranging from extreme rage to heavy weariness the mesmerising Jackman is terrific, as indeed is Stewart who lends the film his own imposing gravitas, while, in her debut role, an impressive eleven-year-old Keen, although wordless until the final stretch, has striking presence and a penetrating stare, something that bodes well should the Wolverine saga spin off to a second generation. In recent years, superheroes have become darker and more grown up, ending with an inspired final image this is among the best of them.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Power Rangers (12A)

 And here’s yet another revival, this time of the  mid-90s (and still ongoing) live-action TV series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers about five ‘teenagers with attitude’ recruited by the wizard Zordon to battle the evil (and risibly named) Rita Repulsa as she attempts to conquer Earth, each of them having their own super-powers and  wearing individually colour-coded spandex suits and helmets.

Directed by Dean Israelite, this latest entry takes things back to the start for an origin story that kicks off 67 million years ago as Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his team are defeated by rogue Ranger Rita (a gleefully hamming Elizabeth Banks), taking her out with him in one last act, but not before burying the Rangers’ power crystals to be found by those next worthy of using them. Cut to the present as sports star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) pulls off a high school prank involving a bull, crashes his car, is busted, thrown off the team and sentenced to Saturday detentions, where he meets autistic Billy (RJ Cyler) and cool chick Kimberly (Naomi Scott) who apparently punched some boy’s tooth out.  Jason steps into protect Billy from the class bully and  agrees to drive him out to some quarry in the neighbouring hills where it seems Kimberely goes to chill out. It also happens to be frequented by fellow screw-ups/misfits Zack (Ludi Lin), who escapes there when caring for his sick mom on the trailer park gets too much, and Trini (Becky G.), who’s dealing with her own identity issues.

Anyways, Billy sets off a charge and all five find themselves plummeting into some cavern, discovering what seems to be an alien spaceship, falling into water and inexplicably waking up back home the next day and discovering they’ve acquired superstrength. So, it’s back to the site where they get to meet a wisecracking talking robot (Bill Hader) and Zordon, or rather his essence which is now trapped in some sort of giant 3D pin-art sculpture, who informs them they’ve been chosen to be the new Power Rangers, but they have to prove themselves worthy before they can summon up the armour within them.

Which means, what with everyone having to confront their dark secrets, it’s almost 80 minutes into the two hours before the familiar red, blue, purple, blue, black and yellow suits appear and the film can get on with the action as, behind the controls of their  Dinozords, they face off against the now resurrected Rita who, with her equally naffly named creation, Goldar (yes, it’s a monster made from gold) and rock-creatures army, is destroying  the town looking for the energy source which will ensure her conquest and which just happens to be located beneath the film’s glaring product placement, a Krispy Kreme store.

With its joke about ‘milking’ a bull along with inference that Trini’s a lesbian (thus Hollywood’s first gay superhero) and the focus on her fellow Rangers’ personal issues,  this skews older than the TV series, and, while, closer to The Fantastic Four than Captain America: Civil War, despite the CGI confusion of the finale, is, as such, rather more fun than might have been expected. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; MockingbirdOdeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

After being rescued by the clutches of her creator, evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), in the last film, Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is now living back with the other Smurfs in the Smurf village, but is sad that, unlike the others, such as Clumsy (Jack MacBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello), her name doesn’t define her character. She’s just ‘nice’. Plagued by existential angst, if that’s not too deep a concept for such a trivial film, she’s led to explore the Forbidden Forest where, accompanied by Clumsy, Brainy and Hefty, who have followed her, she discovers a whole new Smurfs community, and they’re all girls and, like Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez) often warriors, with Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts) their answer to Papa Smurf (Mandy Patikin). Unfortunately, Gargamel is also on Smurfette’s trail looking to finally get his hands on the Smurfs so he can drain their essence and become a sorcerer supreme. The new Smurfs are an unexpected bonus.

Ditching the last film’s ill-advised choice of setting things in the city, this is on surer ground, with Wilson as the only non-animated character also taking on a cartoonish performance. Despite the occasional grown up joke, adults will still probably find the experience of sitting through it rather like having their finger-nails extracted, but it has to be admitted that the animation is well handled, there’s some surreal touches (luminous giant rabbits), the songs aren’t bad and the plot is easy to follow, with  messages about female empowerment, not being defined by a singular trait and finding who you are for those willing or old enough to look. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Table 19 (12A)

Whenever there’s a comedy involving a wedding and a cake, it’s a fair bet that the latter will, at some point, end up on the guests. This doesn’t disappoint. Although, over-conceptualised and underwritten to a fault,  it does so in pretty much every other respect.

Receiving an invitation to her best friend’s wedding reception, Eloise (Ana Kendrick agonises on whether to go or not. This is because she was recently dumped  by the bride’s brother, Teddy (Wyatt Russell), who’s the Best Man, and, even though she did the table planning, she’s been replaced as Maid of Honour by his rebound girlfriend. Eventually resolved to see it through, she arrives to find herself seated at the randoms table along with bickering husband and wife  diner owners Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina (Lisa Kudrow, whose  identical jacket to the caterers  provides a limp running gag), the bride’s busybody elderly childhood nanny, Jo (June Squibb), distant cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant) and Renzo (Tony Revolori), an Asian high schooler desperate to get laid.

Having milked this awkward set-up for as long as possible, including Eloise dancing with a mysterious handsome Australian (Thomas Cocquerel) who comes to her aid to make Teddy jealous, the film shifts focus on to what’s troubling her and the others at the table, a cocktail that variously includes a marriage gone stale, pregnancy, parole for embezzlement, terminal illness and a case of confused hormones and sexual insecurity.

An innocuous mess, it’s mildly amusing (save for Merchant who is excruciatingly unfunny) and vaguely  touchy-feely, but does manage to pull some genuine poignancy out of the hat in the final stretch. However, were it not for Kendrick, whose gift for physical comedy, ability to deliver a smart one-liner and tap into emotions beyond the script’s pay grade, this would be feeble stuff, all too often relying on the wedding band’s 80s covers (Heart and Soul, Hold Me Now, All Through The Night, I Melt With You) to give the emotional cues. No one expected the guests on the table to actually turn up, the same might be said of the audience. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull)

 

Trespass Against Us (15)

Populated by unpleasant characters doing  antisocial things, despite two charismatic performances, this is a very hard film to like. Directed by Adam Smith, making his feature debut after assorted BBC programmes like Doctor Who, it stars Michal Fassbender as Chad, the son of Colby Cutler, the patriarchal head of a group of travellers living on a backwoods makeshift site in Gloucestershire, from where he masterminds various robberies. Other than resenting having to pull the latest on a  Sunday, while vaguely discontented with his lot, Chad has no problem with the criminal lifestyle, but, illiterate himself, he does want his two kids to get a proper education, an issue at which he’s at odds with his father who reckons the Earth’s flat and has no truck with evolutionary theory, or indeed anyone’s efforts to better themselves.  Meanwhile, Chad’s missus, Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal), is building up a stash of money with plans to escape the life and get a proper home.

When the Sunday robbery at a stately home belonging to a  political bigwig goes belly up, it attracts the focused attention of the local cops who’ve been trying to pin something on the Cutlers for ages. But, even with a  SWAT-like dawn raid,  gathering the evidence is hard.

As such, there’s not a great deal of plot and what there is fairly clichéd and repetitive, many scenes consisting of frantic car chases between Chad and the police (largely represented by Rory Kinnear) that end up with him running off and hiding in the woods (or, indeed, under a  cow)while a helicopter circles overhead. Fassbender is solid enough while, clad in his black track suit, spouting nonsense and generally excluding menace, Gleeson is superbly unlikeable, but, while the Cutlers are apparently styled on a real life outlaw family in the Cotswolds,  they never feel more than characters on the page. It builds to a somewhat dramatic finale, but it still feels all a bit of  an anticlimax, and overly sentimental to boot, never really having got to grips with what it wants to actually be about. (Wed:MAC)

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

Anxious to divest itself a troublesome part of the Empire it could no longer effectively or economically rule, in 1947  the British government stitched up the Indian people by partitioning the country into India and Pakistan. The film, a strong comeback by director Gurinda Chadha and her writer-husband Paul Mayeda Berges after the misfiring It’s A Wonderful Afterlife  and Mistress of Spices, indicates that  it also stitched up Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), who was charged with finding a solution and overseeing the handover, unaware that a deal had already been done with Nehru by Churchill  for the creation of Pakistan.

Arriving with his wife, Lady Edwina (a perfectly accented Gillian Anderson), Lord Louis Mountbatten is to be the last Viceroy of India, his job to smooth the path to independence and self-governance, not an easy task given the  country’s in turmoil with increasing conflict between Hindus. Sikhs and Muslims, the latter wanting their own nation. As such the film follows two parallel stories. The first focuses on the Mountbattens, she the voice of reason  keen to see the people’s lot improved, he looking to maintain diplomacy while dealing with his own officials, notably Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay (Michael Gambon), who aren’t necessarily telling him everything, and the prime movers for independence, Nehru (Tanveer Ghani),  Jinnah (Denzil Smith) and Ghandi (a brief but striking turn by Neeraj Kabi), as well as Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow), the man brought in for the nigh impossible task of drawing up the actual Partition boundaries that would divide not only the country, but families and communities.

In much the same manner as the recent United Kingdom, set in the same year, all of this affords an insight into the duplicitous nature of English politics and the motives behind the way the Partition was eventually set, while, set against this, is the fictional account of  two civilians,  Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Aalia (Huma Querishi), he part of the Viceroy’s retinue, she part of his wife’s. They are in love, but he’s Hindu and she’s Muslim and has already been promised in marriage by her father (the late Om Puri), a former political prisoner who went blind, but was looked after in jail by Jeet.

Their story is a rather schematic and clichéd contrivance designed to serve the narrative microcosm  and, for all its romantic tribulations and some anguished moments, is less compelling than the account of the problems facing Mountbatten in trying to prevent the whole place descending into ever more ferocious bloodshed than it’s experiencing already.

Nonetheless, impressively mounted with some striking images and good use of original Movietone news footage, it holds the attention and casts light on a now rather overlooked period of British history, the end credits revelation of Chadha’s personal family investment in the telling bringing powerful resonance.  (Vue Star City)

 

 

 

CINEMAS

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