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

 

NEW RELEASES

Dunkirk  (12A)

Clocking in at a concise 106 mins, his shortest feature since  69 minute debut Following, Christopher Nolan has executed a technical if not necessarily emotional triumph in his account of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940 with the help of a flotilla of small privately owned vessels, dubbed Operation Dynamo,  following their collapse under the German offensive.

Essentially, this is more about the operation itself, and splitting the narrative into three interconnected stories (and, indeed, time frames), on land, sea and air, means there’s only limited engagement with  any of the characters involved. Unfolding over the course of a week, we’re first introduced to one of the soldiers, the generically named teenage Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he narrowly escapes German bullets (in a departure from the usual war films, the enemy are never seen other than in the aircraft and two blurry figures in the final scene) to make it to the beach where the British Expeditionary Force  troops (some 400,000 in all) are awaiting a miracle, the film casually but pointedly making the  point about how the British were willing to leave the French soldiers to look after themselves. Hooking up with another soldier (Aneurin Barnard), they initially manage to get aboard a rescue ship berthed at the Mole (the pier) by stretchering a wounded soldier, only for the ship to be sunk, leaving them back where they started.

Very much evoking 40s wartime features, the sea section, which takes place over one day,  begins back in England with the  Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a local civilian skipper, his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and, seeking to prove himself,  his enthusiastic schoolfriend  George (Barry Keoghan) setting sail for Dunkirk to help with the rescue. En route they rescue an unnamed shellshocked sailor (Cillian Murphy) from  the wreck of his torpedoed ship, his reluctance to return to Dunkirk setting up a subsequent tragedy.

The air section, which covers just one hour, involves two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) as. mostly behind oxygen masks, they take on the Messerschmitts and Heinkels wreaking havoc on the troops and ships, the three time scales coming together for the final moments as Dawson’s boat heads towards a bombed minesweeper while Tommy and fellow soldier (singer Harry Styles acquitting himself well) flounder in the sea after their appropriated trawler, strafed by the unseen enemy as target practice, sinks.

Rounding out the cast, Kenneth Branagh gives a quietly impressive performance as the highest-ranking naval offer at the scene, while James D’Arcy is his opposite number in the Army

As ever, making very effective use of sound design, especially in the opening gunshot moments, and keeping the dialogue sparse and to the point, Nolan delivers massive spectacle (no less than three ships sink, spewing survivors into the waves) but without ever feeling the need to offer the visceral graphics of a Saving Private Ryan (indeed, there’s almost no blood to be seen), tightly winding up the tension which, even if it circumvents the heart, has a firm grip on the nerves.

Save for the more conventional ration of the Dawson scenes, the film is shot in 70mm which, should you be fortunate to have a cinema capable of screening it as such, gives the film an extra sense of immersion and depth, but whatever the format, this is the work of a master, if perhaps slightly clinical,  filmmaker and stunning stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

All Eyez On Me (15)

On September 13, 1996, aged 25, Tupac Shakur, actor and a rap superstar, was gunned down in his car while waiting at an intersection. His killers have never been found and his story has already been told in numerous documentaries, most notably Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac which charted the friend to feud relationship with Biggie Smalls, himself gunned down.

He’s also figured in assorted rapper biopics, among them The Notorious B.I.G and, more recently, Straight Outta Compton, F Gary Gray’s film about N.W.A. He now gets his own, named after his fourth album, directed by Benny Boom and starring convincing lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. But, despite a solid lead performance,  Boom is no Gray and this is no Compton.

Much is clunkily recounted through flashbacks during a 1995 TV interview while he’s doing time after being  convicted of the illegal touching of a woman who claimed he and members of his entourage raped her,  essentially serving up a wedge of exposition that begins with his East Harlem childhood, the son of Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira),  her fellow activist Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector)  being his stepfather. A series of further flashbacks take us through his growing up, his  distancing from his mother as she descends into drug addition, his platonic Baltimore School of friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) , his initial exploration of rap poetry, his emergence onto the scene via the Digital Underground and his breakthrough with 2Pacalypse Now.

It’s all rather rote in both the way it unfolds and is told, charting his ascendency to the superstar ranks, his embracing of the hedonistic lifestyle that goes with the territory, his ill-advised signing with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) after his release from prison and the feuds with Biggy  (Jamal Woolard, who also played the character in Notorious) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis).

But, given the huge amount he packed into a short life, the film ends up feeling just like a series of visual sound bites, checking off  assorted incidents and episodes (and missing out a  fair few too, like his first prison sentence and marriage), while ensuring to keep the hagiography glowing even while acknowledging Tupac’s more negative traits, not least a  somewhat combustible temper.  The recreations of the videos and live shows are first rate and a soundtrack that rolls out such hits as Hit Em Up ,Who Shot Ya? and the crossover breakthrough California Love ensures its always pumped, but, while it may be true, it’s a familiar and much told story, but messily,  sketchily  and uninspiringly delivered here with little of the passion or insight it needs and deserves.   (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Alone in Berlin (12A)

When their son, a German soldier, was killed fighting in France, his father, Otto Hampel, a factory foreman, took to writing anonymous postcards calling for the downfall of Hitler’s regime, bearing such messages as Mother! The Führer has murdered my son! and Hitler’s war is the worker’s death!  and, with the help of his wife, Elise, depositing them around Berlin. They placed around 250 before they were caught and executed, their story told in Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel, Every Man Dies Alone,  albeit the pair being renamed Otto and Anna Quangel.

The courageous small scale resistance against the Nazis has now been adapted in an equally small scale feature directed, in English,  by Vincent Perez and  starring Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson adopting unconvincing German accents as the dour bereaved parents with Daniel Bruhl as Escherich, the police inspector charged with tracking down the culprits. It’s an undeniably compelling story, but the telling is rather less so. Gleeson and Thompson both deliver understated, modulated performances that rein in the grief so tightly it barely registers and, while Bruhl develops as a complex character, shifting from typical Nazi to a more sympathetic position after being roughed up by his SS superior, the rest of the supporting cast are at best flat and at worst painfully wooden. The same holds true for the dialogue and screenplay that rarely suggests the tension that must have been involved in the couple’s mission with its narrow escapes, which renders it something of a plodding thriller with no real thrills or suspense, nor indeed much by way of an emotional grip. If you want a truly gripping account of how ordinary Germans resisted Hitler at the cost of their lives, then track down the German drama Sophie Scholl, and leave this well alone. (MAC)

 

Baby Driver (15)

His first film since polishing off the Three Cornettos trilogy with World’s End in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright turns his attention to lovingly subverting the car chase/heist movie with what he’s described as  “a car film driven by music”, the scenes built around the songs rather than the songs added later.  It hinges on a gimmick with a plot that puts a spin on the familiar one last job scenario and stars Ansel Elgort as man of few words Baby who, thanks to an ill-advised car theft,  now finds himself in debt to  acerbic, smooth criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s enlisted his skills behind the wheel to serve as his regular getaway driver for whatever bank job his ever-changing gang are pulling off.

The twist is that, as a result of the car accident that killed his mother when he was a kid, Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, which he drowns out by constantly listening to music on his headphones, and which he synchronises to the time taken for his manoeuvres. This is, however, really just an excuse for Wright to serve up his answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tapes since listening to the music has nothing to actually do with his driving skills and,  in the several scenes where he doesn’t have the earphones plugged in, there’s no indication that the tinnitus affects his ability to function in any way. But, really, who cares when you’re watching him tearing up the city streets, avoiding the pursuing cops, to the strains of anything from The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and  Focus’ Hocus Pocus.

The first of the heists teams him with  Buddy (Jon Hamm), his sexy wife  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and  the surly Griff (Jon Bernthal), whose sceptism about Baby sets up the scene that lets us know he can lip read too.  The second heist introduces a new crew, among them the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) who doesn’t trust anyone, let alone some kid with an iPod, and sets up an hysterically inspired mix up involving confusion between Michael Myers and Mike Myers masks. Between jobs, however, Baby’s met diner waitress Debora (Lily James), naturally prompting burst of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, while not letting on what he actually does, the pair fall in love in the laundromat and make loose plans to hit the open road together.  He is, after all, now free of any debt to Doc. But not, it would appear of Doc who regards him as his lucky charm and insists on him doing the proverbial one last big job, knocking off a post office to steal a fortune in money orders.

For this one, he’s reunited with Buddy and Darling who are also joined by Bats and, as you’ll doubtless have guessed by now, it doesn’t go smoothly, leaving them on the run with Baby burning with rage and his, Debora and his invalided deaf foster father’s lives under threat.

Naturally, the film’s stuffed with movie homages and references (among them Heat, Reservoir Dogs and even Monsters Inc while the courtroom scene features  the voice of Walter Hill, director of 1978 classic The Driver) as well as music, but they never get in the way of the storytelling, the burning rubber thrills or the emotional heft. Hamm and Foxx subvert their usual good guy roles (the latter has a particularly inspired exit), Spacey does his familiar dry menace to perfection (but turns out to have a surprising sentimental streak) while James is just perfect as Debora, the chemistry between her and Elgort everything a meet cute could ask. However, it’s Elgort who, whether behind the wheel or dancing through the streets, carries the film, often called on to do little more than  give a quizzical, knowing look.

Arguably, the coda feels a touch tacked on, but given the unbridled adrenaline flooding the screen during the many highly choreographed car chases, the bristling tension when the gang gather in the diner,  unaware of Baby’s connection to Debora, and such idiosyractic touches as Baby recording conversations between the gang members to make mash up music mixes, you can forgive it anything. Its engines feel just great.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Beguiled  (15)

Based on Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name, Sofia Coppola’s award winning  Southern Gothic melodrama is far more restrained, atmospheric and airlessly claustrophobic adaptation, and with, inevitably, a more feminist perspective to the gender dynamics,  than Don Siegel’s 1971 version  starring Clint Eastwood.

Out collecting mushrooms in the Virginia woods, young Amy (Oona Laurence) comes upon Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), an Irish mercenary who, badly wounded, has deserted. Smooth-tongued, he convinces her to help him to the girls’ boarding school seminary at which she is one of the few remaining pupils. The place is run by headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and her teaching assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).  Persuaded that it is the Christian thing to take him in and help him heal rather than hand him over to any passing Confederate troops, Martha tends to his injured leg, washes him (with a lingering intensity) and puts him up in the music room.

Shut away from the outside world, from the start, the only male in the place, it’s clear that his presence – not to mention his good looks – is having an effect on all concerned, particularly stirring repressed, frustrated or nascent sexual feelings and desires in Martha, Edwina and precocious 18-year-old Alicia (Elle Fanning). Despite his charming, deferential manner, McBurney’s also wily enough to  use his virility and sexual magnetism to  play on both the women, winning them over to ensure they allow him to remain and heal, looking to make himself useful in the garden in the hope of sitting out the war, and particularly focusing on Edwina who patently has a strong attraction to him.  Rather inevitably, such simmering hormones in a hothouse of  desires are going to lead to tensions between the womenfolk as they battle for his favours, climaxing in a night time visit that has very dramatic repercussions and finally brings into play the solitary firearm.

Dispensing with the previous film’s flashbacks and sexualised fantasies, Coppola weaves a narcotic, dreamlike spell that perfectly echoes the title, cleverly bringing the arbiter of McBurney’s fate full circle while summoning a palpable air of brooding menace that’s further complemented by the muted lighting, colour palette, score and the moss hung, mist shrouded landscape.

Not without its touches of black humour and a brief moment of sexual violence, it’s a generally sombre and deliberately low-key affair.  The cast are impeccable, Farrell keeping you unsure as to whether he’s genuinely  attentive and sincere or a very clever conman, Dunst a complex cocktail of inferiority complex, resentment and caged longings behind her dowdy appearance, Fanning all petulance and sexual curiosity and Kidman letting just enough desire flicker behind her cool, steely manner. The younger girls too, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke and especially, Laurence  also deliver solid, confidant performances, adding further depth and resonance to this truly beguiling work. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric)

 

Cars 3 (U)

After the underevved Cars 2, Pixar shifts back up a gear as past his prime race car champ Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is dethroned by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), one of the new generation of faster, more hi-tech models with their number-crunching strategies. Following a nasty crash, it seems his track days are over, but, with the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonz), a young female trainer at the revamped state of the art Rust-eze Racing Centre run by his  sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion),  Smokey Yunick (Chris Cooper), the repair truck of his former mentor, Doc Hudson and the support of loyal buddies like  Luigi, Guido and goofball tow truck Mater, the humiliated McQueen trains hard to learn the tricks he needs to beat Storm in the Florida 500, getting back to his roots after a disastrous VR session, by taking part –  anonymously and not entirely successfully – in a demolition derby.

Carrying a believe in yourself message, this is very much a passing the torch story (Cruz never had the confidence to be a racer herself) and, while it lacks the emotional edge of the first film, it is sufficiently warm, funny and inspiring enough to make it to the finish line. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

The third (fourth if you count the Minions spin-off) in the animated series finds itself having to work hard to keep the spark going. Following their failure to capture  80s-obsessed washed-up Hollywood  child star turned  criminal, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker),  Gru (Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their jobs as Anti-Villain League agents and, when he refuses to return to his super-villain ways, all but two of the Minions walk out on him too. His depression’s lifted when he learns he has a twin brother, Dru (Carrell), the pair apparently being separated when their parents (Julie Andrews voices their sour mom) divorced. The super cool Dru, who wears white in contrast to Gru’s black (cue a clever Yin/Yang symbol gag) not only has blonde hair but is a fabulously rich pig farm owner, but what he wants most is to follow in his brother’s – and as it turns out – father’s footsteps and become a  villain. Seeing this as a chance to recover the world’s biggest diamond, which Bratt has now stolen, and finally capture him, Gru pretends to go along with the idea, he just doesn’t tell Lucy.

The problem is that film’s split into three storylines.  Gru and Dru’s assault on Bratt’s HQ, the quest by Agnes, the youngest of  Gru’s young foster daughter,  to find a unicorn, and the misadventures of the Minions (who wind up in and escaping from prison), as well as Lucy trying to get a handle on this mom thing, the disparate characters  finally coming together as  Bratt, in his giant size Bratt doll, seeks to send  Hollywood into space on giant bubblegum balloons. Switching between them all rather saps the film’s energy.

There’s some inspired touches, Bratt  pulls off his heists to 80s tunes by the likes of Michael Jackson and Van Halen, there’s a dose of sentiment in the scenes with the three girls, and it always looks good, but the jokes are fewer and more far between this time round. Once again, the  Minions steal the film, most notably with their gibberish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance,  and, while this will undoubtedly keep the kids amused, it may be time for Gru to retire and let his yellow accomplices take over keeping the franchise alive.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Mummy (15)

Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener,  holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Vue Star City)

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 Norwegian directors 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, and 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 stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  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 explained 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 a  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 zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. 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 Davy Jones’ locker once and for all.  (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

The third actor to play the webslinger on the big screen, Tom Holland made his debut cameoing in Captain America: Civil War, and this latest reboot is set a few months after those events. It opens, however, in the wake of the first Avengers movie as, mid-way through salvage work, New York contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is told all such operations involving alien material now comes under Damage Control. Still, he and his crew have stowed away enough to go into the super-weapons business, which is where we pick up events eight years later (no Spidey origin stories here). On a high after helping out The Avengers, making his own web diary footage of events to revel in on playback, gawky 15-year-old Queens high schooler Peter Parker (Holland) is keen to see more action in his Stark ‘internship’, but, with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his babysitter,  is advised by Tony (a typically snarky Robert Downey Jr) to keep his super-heroing on a neighbourhood level, although he does get a  new hi-tech suit (with its very own Jarvis in the vocal form of Jennifer Connelly) to go with the job, even if he has no idea what all its powers are or how to use them.

As such, things toddle along with his handling petty crime and helping out old ladies until he stumbles on a heist with a gang using alien-technology weapons. This, in turn, leads him to track down the suppliers and run foul of Toomes who now sports a pair of armoured flying wings (he’s essentially The Vulture, but is never really referred to as such until the end), and, although warned off from getting involved by Stark, climaxes in a near disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry (in a sequence that mirrors Tobey Maguire saving the elevated train in the original movie) that requires Iron Man to come to the rescue and take back the suit.

On top of all this, Peter’s having to deal with the usual high school problems, such as the class bully, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and the senior on whom he has a crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), but is too shy to say anything. Plus the fact that he’s accidentally revealed his secret identity to science partner and equally geeky best buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and that his webslinging heroics force him to both duck out on the  Academic Decathlon (he’s busy saving the other students in the Washington Tower) and, finally going places with Liz, the homecoming ball. And now he’s stuck with his old homemade suit too.

It’s a little ADD in the early going, reflecting Peter’s uber-enthusiasm and desire to impress Stark, but it soon settles down into a solid and, importantly, hugely entertaining fanboy addition to the Marvel Universe. Although things have been tweaked, there’s still plenty of familiar notes from the comics, including a new spin on MJ (a dry, scene stealing Zendaya), a much younger Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), nods to the many variations the costume’s been through and even the theme from the animated 60s TV series, not to mention a tease of Maguire’s famous upside down kiss.

Holland brings a likeable wide-eyed boyish glee as well as a disarming vulnerability to Parker, regularly screwing up but always getting back on his feet,  while Keaton, who, like Doctor Octopus, is a human-scaled villain with mechanical appendages  and a moral ambiguity, is menacingly compelling and, essentially a victim of the Avengers fall-out himself,  comes with a truly unexpected kick of a twist. Downey Jr and Favreau reprise their familiar shtick and the film also finds room for cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and, albeit by  way of school training videos, the now disgraced Captain America. Filling out the supporting cast, Martin Starr makes the most of his scenes as the Decathlon coach and Bokeem Woodbine does duty as one of Toomes’ crew aka the Shocker. Climaxing in a mid-air battle atop an Avengers  jet, it may ultimately resort to the usual super-hero tropes, but getting there is a whole web of fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth box-office bombing  instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise  grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.

The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to  her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard  populated by, among others,  gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.

Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator,  Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a  plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.

All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on  bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally,  and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that  King Arthur – with the help of  a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon –  defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck  deal with the TRF,  are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.

Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder  it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty  street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!

There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a  film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

Following on from the Rise Of and Dawn Of  remakes, director Matt Reeves winds up the trilogy in triumphant, epic form. Picking things up after the end of Dawn, that saw Caesar (Andy Serkis) kill the human-hating Koba, he and his fellow apes, among them  sidekick orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and youngest son Cornelius, are now hiding out while being hunted down by Alpha-Omega, a rogue army of  surviving humans and renegade apes (referred to as Donkey – as  in Kong) headed up by the psychotic Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), who, shaven-headed and obsessed, patently echoes  Brando’s Kurtz  with, following Kong: Skull Island, the second ape-themed nod to Apocalypse Now this year, indeed at one point the word Ape-pocalypse Now is seen scrawled on a tunnel wall.

After having his men driven back in an assault on the hideaway, the Colonel himself leads a second incursion, this time leaving Cornelia and Caesar’s eldest son, Blue Eyes,  dead, prompting Caesar to send the others to find the sanctuary Rocket (Terry Notary) and Blue Eyes discovered while setting off on a  personal mission of vengeance. To which end, Maurice, Rocket and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) insist on accompanying him. Along the way, the small band is augmented by the addition of a young girl (Amiah Miller), the victim of a plague mutation that renders its victims mute (which itself sets up a powerful scene explaining the Colonel’s driven crusade), and, providing some comic relief, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a small, hermit zoo ape survivor of the Simian Flu outbreak who’s learned to talk  and who is persuaded to guide them to the Colonel’s base in the frozen wastelands.

The third act shifts homages to take on Biblical echoes as, discovering the clan have been captured and imprisoned as slave workers by the Colonel, Caesar now becomes a sort of Moses, delivering his people from bondage as the film builds to a full on battle spectacular as (nodding to The Great Escape) the apes sees to escape the gulag with Maurice and Bad Ape exploiting the tunnels beneath the compound.

Combining western and war movie influences and motifs, the central performances deeply weighted in character with Serkis in particular bringing huge expression and emotional intensity  to his CGI-rendered Caesar,  it’s an often dark and sombre narrative, the prison camp sequences  particularly so, and, while action scenes are visceral, these are also balanced by lengthy philosophical moments addressing  such themes as loyalty, family, freedom and, especially for Caesar,  mindful of his own legacy, the blinding nature of vengeance. While ostensibly the final film of the series, the remainder of humanity seemingly eliminated in a final avalanche, with Cornelius inheriting his father’s mantle (and linking things back to the original Planet of the Apes), given the likely box office figures, further monkey business should not be ruled out yet.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Wonder Woman (12A)

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (Empire Great Park; 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 Jul 14-Thu Jul 20

NEW RELEASES

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

Following on from the Rise Of and Dawn Of  remakes, director Matt Reeves winds up the third in the trilogy in triumphant, epic form. Picking things up after the end of Dawn, that saw Caesar (Andy Serkis) kill the human-hating Koba, he and his fellow apes, among them  sidekick orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and youngest son Cornelius (Devyn Dalton), are now hiding out while being hunted down by Alpha-Omega, a rogue army of  surviving humans and renegade apes (referred to as Donkey – as  in Kong) headed up by the psychotic ruthless  Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson). They’re the rogue Alpha-Omega platoon, commanded by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), who, shaven-headed and obsessed, patently echoes  Brando’s Kurtz  with, following Kong: Skull Island, the second ape-themed nod to Apocalypse Now this year, indeed at one point the word Ape-pocalypse Now is seen scrawled on a tunnel wall.

After having his men driven back in an assault on the hideaway, following an act of betrayal, the Colonel himself leads a second incursion, this time leaving Cornelia and Caesar’s eldest son, Blue Eyes,  dead, prompting Caesar to send the others to find the sanctuary Rocket (Terry Notary) and Blue Eyes discovered while setting off on a  personal mission of vengeance. To which end, Maurice, Rocket and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) insist on accompanying him. Along the way, the small band is augmented by the addition of a young girl (Amiah Miller), the victim of a plague mutation that renders its victims mute (which itself sets up a powerful scene explaining the Colonel’s driven crusade), and, providing some comic relief, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a small, hermit zoo ape survivor of the Simian Flu outbreak who’s learned to talk  and who is persuaded to guide them to the Colonel’s base in the frozen wastelands.

The third act shifts homages to take on Biblical echoes as, discovering the clan have been captured and imprisoned as slave workers by the Colonel, Caesar now becomes a sort of Moses, delivering his people from bondage as the film builds to a full on battle spectacular as (nodding to The Great Escape) the apes sees to escape the gulag with Maurice and Bad Ape exploiting the tunnels beneath the compound.

Combining western and war movie influences and motifs, the central performances deeply weighted in character with Serkis in particular bringing huge expression and emotional intensity  to his CGI-rendered Caesar,  it’s an often dark and sombre narrative the prison camp sequences  particularly so, and, while action scenes are visceral, these are also balanced by lengthy philosophical moments addressing  such themes as loyalty, family, freedom and, especially for Caesar,  mindful of his own legacy, the blinding nature of vengeance. While ostensibly the final film of the series, the remainder of humanity seemingly eliminated in a final avalanche, with Caesar’s infant  son Cornelius inheriting his father’s mantle (and linking things back to the original Planet of the Apes), given the likely box office figures, further money business should not be ruled out yet.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

The Beguiled  (15)

Based on Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name, Sofia Coppola’s award winning  (Best Director at Cannes) Southern Gothic melodrama is far more restrained, atmospheric and airlessly claustrophobic adaptation, and with, inevitably, a more feminist perspective to the gender dynamics,  than the previous 1971 version  by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood.

Out collecting mushrooms in the Virginia woods, young Amy (Oona Laurence) comes upon Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a Irish mercenary who signed up for the Union and now, badly wounded, has deserted. Smooth-tongued, he persuades her to help him to the girls’ boarding school seminary at which she is one of the few remaining pupils. The place is run by headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and her French-teaching assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).  Persuaded that it is the Christian thing to take him in and help him heal rather than hand him over to any passing Confederate troops, Martha tends to his injured leg, washes him (with a lingering intensity) and puts him up in the music room.

Shut away from the outside world, from the start, the only male in the place, it’s clear that his presence – not to mention his good looks – is having an effect on all concerned, particularly stirring repressed, frustrated or nascent sexual feelings and desires in Martha, Edwina and somewhat surly precocious 18-year-old Alicia (Elle Fanning). Despite his charming, deferential manner, McBurney’s also wily enough to  use his virility and sexual magnetism to  play on both the girls and the two women, winning them over to ensure they allow him to remain and heal, looking to make himself useful in the garden in the hope of sitting out the war, and particularly focusing on Edwina who patently has a strong attraction to him.  Rather inevitably, such simmering hormones in a hothouse of  desires are going to lead to tensions between the womenfolk as they battle for his favours, climaxing in a night time visit that has very dramatic repercussions and finally brings into play the solitary firearm.

Dispensing with the previous film’s flashbacks and sexualised fantasies, Coppola weaves a narcotic, dreamlike spell that perfectly echoes the title, cleverly bringing the arbiter of McBurney’s fate full circle while summoning a palpable air of brooding menace that’s further complemented by the muted lighting, colour palette, score and the moss hung, mist shrouded landscape.

Not without its touches of black humour and a brief moment of sexual violence, it’s a generally sombre and deliberately low-key affair.  The cast are impeccable, Farrell keeping you unsure as to whether he’s genuinely  attentive and sincere or a very clever conman, Dunst a complex cocktail of inferiority complex, resentment and caged longings nehind her dowdy appearance, Fanning all petulance and sexual curiosity and Kidman letting just enough desire flicker behind her cool, steely manner. The younger girls too, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke and especially, Laurence  also deliver solid, confidant performances, adding further depth and resonance to this truly beguiling work.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Vue Star City)

 

Cars 3 (U)

After the underevved Cars 2, Pixar shifts back up a gear as past his prime race car champ Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is dethroned by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) one of the new generation of faster, more hi-tech models with their number-crunching strategies. Following a nasty crash, it seems his track days are over, but, with the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonz), a young female trainer at the revamped state of the art Rust-eze Racing Centre run by his  sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion),  Smokey Yunick (Chris Cooper), the repair truck of his former mentor, Doc Hudson (flashbacks partly featuring the voice of Paul Newman),  and the support of loyal buddies like  Sally, Luigi, Guido and goofball tow truck Mater, the humiliated McQueen trains hard to learn the tricks he needs to beat Storm in the Florida 500, getting back to his roots after a distaraous VR session, by taking part –  anonymously and not entirely successfully – in a demolition derby overseen by drawling schoolbus Miss Fritter.

Directed by storyboard artist turned first timer Brian Fee, carrying a believe in yourself message, this is very much a passing the torch story (Cruz never had the confidence to be a racer herself) and, while it lacks the emotional edge of the first film, it is sufficiently warm, funny and inspiring enough to make it to the finish line. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

All Eyez On Me (15)

On September 13, 1996, aged 25, Tupac Shakur, actor and a rap superstar, was gunned down in his car while waiting at an intersection. His killers have never been found and his story has already been told in numerous documentaries, most notably Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac which charted the friend to feud relationship with Biggie Smalls, himself gunned down.

He’s also figured in assorted rapper biopics, among them The Notorious B.I.G and, more recently, Straight Outta Compton, F Gary Gray’s film about N.W.A. He now gets his own, named after his fourth album, directed by Benny Boom and starring convincing lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. But, despite a solid lead performance,  Boom is no Gray and this is no Compton.

Much is clunkily recounted through flashbacks during a 1995 TV interview while he’s doing time after being  convicted of the illegal touching of a woman who claimed he and members of his entourage raped her,  essentially serving up a wedge of exposition that begins with his East Harlem childhood, the son of Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira),  her fellow activist Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector)  being his stepfather. A series of further flashbacks take us through his growing up, his  distancing from his mother as she descends into drug addition, his platonic Baltimore School of friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) , his initial exploration of rap poetry, his emergence onto the scene via the Digital Underground and his breakthrough with 2Pacalypse Now.

It’s all rather rote in both the way it unfolds and is told, charting his ascendency to the superstar ranks, his embracing of the hedonistic lifestyle that goes with the territory, his ill-advised signing with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) after his release from prison and the feuds with Biggy  (Jamal Woolard, who also played the character in Notorious) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis).

But, given the huge amount he packed into a short life, the film ends up feeling just like a series of visual sound bites, checking off  assorted incidents and episodes (and missing out a  fair few too, like his first prison sentence and marriage), while ensuring to keep the hagiography glowing even while acknowledging Tupac’s more negative traits, not least a  somewhat combustible temper.  The recreations of the videos and live shows are first rate and a soundtrack that rolls out such hits as Hit Em Up ,Who Shot Ya? and the crossover breakthrough California Love ensures its always pumped, but, while it may be true, it’s a familiar and much told story, but messily,  sketchily  and uninspiringly delivered here with little of the passion or insight it needs and deserves.   (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Baby Driver (15)

His first film since polishing off the Three Cornettos trilogy with World’s End in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright turns his attention to lovingly subverting the car chase/heist movie with what he’s described as  “a car film driven by music”, the scenes built around the songs rather than the songs added later.  It hinges on a gimmick with a plot that puts a spin on the familiar one last job scenario and stars Ansel Elgort as man of few words Baby who, thanks to an ill-advised car theft,  now finds himself in debt to  acerbic, smooth criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s enlisted his skills behind the wheel to serve as his regular getaway driver for whatever bank job his ever-changing gang are pulling off.

The twist is that, as a result of the car accident that killed his mother when he was a kid, Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, which he drowns out by constantly listening to music on his headphones, and which he synchronises to the time taken for his manoeuvres. This is, however, really just an excuse for Wright to serve up his answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tapes since listening to the music has nothing to actually do with his driving skills and,  in the several scenes where he doesn’t have the earphones plugged in, there’s no indication that the tinnitus affects his ability to function in any way. But, really, who cares when you’re watching him tearing up the city streets, avoiding the pursuing cops, to the strains of anything from The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and  Focus’ Hocus Pocus.

The first of the heists teams him with  Buddy (Jon Hamm), his sexy wife  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and  the surly Griff (Jon Bernthal), whose sceptism about Baby sets up the scene that lets us know he can lip read too.  The second heist introduces a new crew, among them the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) who doesn’t trust anyone, let alone some kid with an iPod, and sets up an hysterically inspired mix up involving confusion between Michael Myers and Mike Myers masks. Between jobs, however, Baby’s met diner waitress Debora (Lily James), naturally prompting burst of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, while not letting on what he actually does, the pair fall in love in the laundromat and make loose plans to hit the open road together.  He is, after all, now free of any debt to Doc. But not, it would appear of Doc who regards him as his lucky charm and insists on him doing the proverbial one last big job, knocking off a post office to steal a fortune in money orders.

For this one, he’s reunited with Buddy and Darling who are also joined by Bats and, as you’ll doubtless have guessed by now, it doesn’t go smoothly, leaving them on the run with Baby burning with rage and his, Debora and his invalided deaf foster father’s lives under threat.

Naturally, the film’s stuffed with movie homages and references (among them Heat, Reservoir Dogs and even Monsters Inc while the courtroom scene features  the voice of Walter Hill, director of 1978 classic The Driver) as well as music, but they never get in the way of the storytelling, the burning rubber thrills or the emotional heft. Hamm and Foxx subvert their usual good guy roles (the latter has a particularly inspired exit), Spacey does his familiar dry menace to perfection (but turns out to have a surprising sentimental streak) while James is just perfect as Debora, the chemistry between her and Elgort everything a meet cute could ask. However, it’s Elgort who, whether behind the wheel or dancing through the streets, carries the film, often called on to do little more than  give a quizzical, knowing look.

Arguably, the coda feels a touch tacked on, but given the unbridled adrenaline flooding the screen during the many highly choreographed car chases, the bristling tension when the gang gather in the diner,  unaware of Baby’s connection to Debora, and such idiosyractic touches as Baby recording conversations between the gang members to make mash up music mixes, you can forgive it anything. Its engines feel just great.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

Beached at the  box office, Seth Gordon’s  big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the  fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly  soap opera  cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.

Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.

It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable  12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a  lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Showcase Walsall)

Churchill (PG)

Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky delivers a solid character story and meditation on the nature of leadership that goes behind the scenes of the preparations for Operation Overlord aka D-Day, as, haunted by the slaughter at Gallipoli in WWI, for which he carries a sense of guilt, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) is having serious reservations about the plans to invade Normandy  drawn up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill reckons they are ill-advised and will cost the lives of thousands of young men, if not the war, and, in company with King George VI (James Purefoy, who gets a scene-stealing moment when he has to tell Churchill neither of them can be allowed to go with the troops) and, just a few days before the launch, announces to the allied commanders that he intends to draw up his own alternatives.

What follows is essentially a battle about who’s running the war, Eisenhower, Montgomery and even his close personal advisor, Boer War veteran Jan Smuts (Richard Durden) trying to persuade him that warfare has changed since he last saw action. Indeed, even his loyal wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson), their marriage sidelined by his single focus on the conflict, feels he may have lost his way and should step back and play the role of the country’s political leader rather than the warrior.

Condensing months into just a few days, it’s loosely based on historical fact (though one suspects the admiring new secretary –  Ella Purnell – who gets to deliver  a wake-up call and whom Churchill personally reassures her that her fiancé, who was in the first wave, is alive and well – may be dramatic licence), but  paints a somewhat different picture of the man often referred to as the greatest ever Briton; an irascible, cantankerous figure, prone to depression and doubt, overly fond of the whisky,  plagued by uncertainty, fearful of his post-war position and realising he has less power and control than he likes to imagine. As such, Cox delivers a bravura performance, not just physically resembling Churchill but perfectly capturing his voice and delivery, while Richardson is excellent as the exasperated but redoubtable long-suffering Clemmie. The supporting cast are essentially just that, but all serve well, just as Teplitzky does a commendably serviceable job on a limited budget and, while ultimately very much a  drama  about people talking in rooms, it’s engagingly watchable.  (MAC)

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

The third (fourth if you count the Minions spin-off) in the animated series finds itself having to work hard to keep the spark going. Following their failure to capture  80s-obsessed washed-up Hollywood  child star turned  criminal, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker),  Gru (Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their jobs as Anti-Villain League agents and, when he refuses to return to his super-villain ways, all but two of the Minions walk out on him too. His depression’s lifted when he learns he has a twin brother, Dru (Carrell), the pair apparently being separated when their parents (Julie Andrews voices their sour mom) divorced. The super cool Dru, who wears white in contrast to Gru’s black (cue a clever Yin/Yang symbol gag) not only has blonde hair but is a fabulously rich pig farm owner, but what he wants most is to follow in his brother’s – and as it turns out – father’s footsteps and become a  villain. Seeing this as a chance to recover the world’s biggest diamond, which Bratt has now stolen, and finally capture him, Gru pretends to go along with the idea, he just doesn’t tell Lucy.

The problem is that film’s split into three storylines.  Gru and Dru’s assault on Bratt’s HQ, the quest by Agnes, the youngest of  Gru’s young foster daughter,  to find a unicorn, and the misadventures of the Minions (who wind up in and escaping from prison), as well as Lucy trying to get a handle on this mom thing, the disparate characters  finally coming together as  Bratt, in his giant size Bratt doll, seeks to send  Hollywood into space on giant bubblegum balloons. Switching between them all rather saps the film’s energy.

There’s some inspired touches, Bratt  pulls off his heists to 80s tunes by the likes of Michael Jackson and Van Halen, there’s a dose of sentiment in the scenes with the three girls, and it always looks good, but the jokes are fewer and more far between this time round. Once again, the  Minions steal the film, most notably with their gibberish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance,  and, while this will undoubtedly keep the kids amused, it may be time for Gru to retire and let his yellow accomplices take over keeping the franchise alive.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Hampstead (12A)

Loosely inspired by the true story of  Harry Hallowes, the Irish hermit whose long-term residency on Hampstead Heath  resulted in a successful squatters rights claim to a small area of land when property develops sought to evict him, Joel Hopkins’ film plays firmly to the grey pound audience, throwing in an autumn years romance for good measure.

Channelling Annie Hall, both sartorially and in kookiness, Diane Keaton is Emily, a recently widowed American who lives in a mansion block apartment and finds herself with serious financial problems thanks to her late husband, who,  she discovered after his death,  was also having an affair.

Staring out from loft through a pair of antique binoculars, scanning the heath she lights upon a man swimming in a nearby pond and, from there, the shack in which he lives near an old Victorian hospital. He turns out to be Donald (Brendan Gleason), a self-sufficient, and highly articulate, well-read elective recluse who’s being threatened with eviction by property developers looking to build luxury flats, the boss of which happens to be the husband (Brian Protheroe) of Emily’s bossy, obnoxiously unctuous  neighbour, Fiona (Lesley Manville). She wants Emily and the block’s other privileged harpies to write letters of support for the project and is also trying to set her up with James, the touchy-feely, not to say creepy, accountant doing her books in the expectation of ‘something’ in return.

Suffice to say circumstances bring Emily and Donald together and, while initially reluctant to accept help when she starts a Save the Shack campaign, friendship and, ultimately, romance blossoms between them. As such it follows a fairly predictable path en route to the court hearing, presided over by Simon Callow’s judge and featuring a fine cantankerous cameo by Phil Davis providing the obligatory last minute save the day evidence.

If you can overlook the fact that Emily has apparently never seen or heard of Donald, despite having lived just across the road from him for umpteen years, a totally wasted James Norton as Emily’s somewhat neglectful son, the half-hearted nature of the eco-message, Donald’s clunkily vague backstory,  and the array of stereotypes, while this may not do for Notting Hill what Richard Curtis did, as genial, whimsical, feelgood and all rather twee fluff  with a tacked on happy ending that, like the fictional Emily, bears no relation to the true story, it’s undemanding charm will pass a pleasant enough. (MAC)

The House (15)

Having  opened without the press being allowed to see previews should give you the hint that it’s a bit of a stinker. As indeed it is.  Delighted when their daughter (Ryan Simpkins) gets accepted to a prestigious university, Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are knocked back to be told that, due to budget problems (i.e. funding a new community pool and a little skimming from the top), the weaselling town councilman (Nick Kroll) won’t be giving her the scholarship she needs. Unable to afford her tuition themselves, they hit on an ingenious way to raise money when they and their neighbour, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), who’s about to be divorced on account of his gambling habits,  they come up with the idea of setting  up an illegal casino in his house, because, after all, the house always wins.

With the bored locals all piling in to chance their luck, the money soon starts piling up, but with success Scott and Kate change, he becoming less of a wuss  and more badass and she developing a weed habit, and there’s also a couple of major hiccups in the form of the creepy town councillor who raids them and confiscates the takings and a ruthless mobster (a cameoing Jeremy Renner) one of whose henchman accidentally had his finger chopped off by Scott (earning him the nickname The Butcher) after being caught cheating.

The fact that the casino allows everyone to unleash their inner repressed self (two sniping neighbours get into a girl fight, with everyone betting on the outcome), is a nice touch, but never really developed and the simple fact is that very little is  even remotely funny, while the geysers of blood feel like a forced attempt to up the black comedy ante. Ferrell can be funny given the right script, but he hasn’t had one of those in years and here he’s somewhere between annoying and embarrassing (the running gag about him being awful with numbers is squirm-inducing), taking Poehler down with him. The house may always win,. but it’s the audiences who’ve paid  for a ticket  who are the biggest losers.  (Cineworld NEC; Vue Star City)

 

It Comes At Night (15)

The second feature from Krishna writer-director Trey Edward Shults  is a post-apocalypse chamber thriller of considerable power. Set in the aftermath of some unspecified plague that has devastated humanity, Paul (Joel Edgerton), wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) live in a barricade-up house in the woods, constantly on the alert for any infected who might come their way.  One night, someone breaks in, this turning out to be Will (Christopher Abbott), in search of somewhere to stay with his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young boy Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). They’re not sick and so Paul invites them to share their home.

Given such a claustrophobic arrangement and the inevitable distrust the situation around them engenders, it’s a given that their arrival will impact on the dynamic within the boarded-up house (Travis especially drawn to Kim’s sexuality),  while opening up questions as to what secrets, if any, the newcomers harbour.

Although unfolding within a horror framework, Shults’ film is very much an intense family drama that plays on themes such as suspicion,  sexual desire and guilt, the mood and atmosphere of unease finely tuned by the menacing sound design  and moody low-light photography. Edgerton delivers a suitably taut turn as a protective husband and father given to doubts about his place in the new domestic set-up, especially given his son’s angst after having to dispose of  his grandfather  when he started to show symptoms, while Abbott provides a well judged edginess that keeps you guessing as to his motives.  Heavy with fear and nightmares, as much internal as in the world outside, it builds to a bloody climax and a devastating open-ending dilemma of self-survival and family bonds.   (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

The Mummy (15)

Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener,  holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Vue Star City)

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 Norwegian directors 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, and 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 stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  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 explained 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 a  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 zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. 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 Davy Jones’ locker once and for all.  (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

The third actor to play the webslinger on the big screen, Tom Holland made his debut cameoing in Captain America: Civil War, and this latest reboot is set a few months after those events. It opens, however, in the wake of the first Avengers movie as, mid-way through salvage work, New York contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is told all such operations involving alien material now comes under Damage Control. Still, he and his crew have stowed away enough to go into the super-weapons business, which is where we pick up events eight years later (no Spidey origin stories here). On a high after helping out The Avengers, making his own web diary footage of events to revel in on playback, gawky 15-year-old Queens high schooler Peter Parker (Holland) is keen to see more action in his Stark ‘internship’, but, with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his babysitter,  is advised by Tony (a typically snarky Robert Downey Jr) to keep his super-heroing on a neighbourhood level, although he does get a  new hi-tech suit (with its very own Jarvis in the vocal form of Jennifer Connelly) to go with the job, even if he has no idea what all its powers are or how to use them.

As such, things toddle along with his handling petty crime and helping out old ladies until he stumbles on a heist with a gang using alien-technology weapons. This, in turn, leads him to track down the suppliers and run foul of Toomes who now sports a pair of armoured flying wings (he’s essentially The Vulture, but is never really referred to as such until the end), and, although warned off from getting involved by Stark, climaxes in a near disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry (in a sequence that mirrors Tobey Maguire saving the elevated train in the original movie) that requires Iron Man to come to the rescue and take back the suit.

On top of all this, Peter’s having to deal with the usual high school problems, such as the class bully, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and the senior on whom he has a crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), but is too shy to say anything. Plus the fact that he’s accidentally revealed his secret identity to science partner and equally geeky best buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and that his webslinging heroics force him to both duck out on the  Academic Decathlon (he’s busy saving the other students in the Washington Tower) and, finally going places with Liz, the homecoming ball. And now he’s stuck with his old homemade suit too.

It’s a little ADD in the early going, reflecting Peter’s uber-enthusiasm and desire to impress Stark, but it soon settles down into a solid and, importantly, hugely entertaining fanboy addition to the Marvel Universe. Although things have been tweaked, there’s still plenty of familiar notes from the comics, including a new spin on MJ (a dry, scene stealing Zendaya), a much younger Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), nods to the many variations the costume’s been through and even the theme from the animated 60s TV series, not to mention a tease of Maguire’s famous upside down kiss.

Holland brings a likeable wide-eyed boyish glee as well as a disarming vulnerability to Parker, regularly screwing up but always getting back on his feet,  while Keaton, who, like Doctor Octopus, is a human-scaled villain with mechanical appendages  and a moral ambiguity, is menacingly compelling and, essentially a victim of the Avengers fall-out himself,  comes with a truly unexpected kick of a twist. Downey Jr and Favreau reprise their familiar shtick and the film also finds room for cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and, albeit by  way of school training videos, the now disgraced Captain America. Filling out the supporting cast, Martin Starr makes the most of his scenes as the Decathlon coach and Bokeem Woodbine does duty as one of Toomes’ crew aka the Shocker. Climaxing in a mid-air battle atop an Avengers  jet, it may ultimately resort to the usual super-hero tropes, but getting there is a whole web of fun. (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)

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth box-office bombing  instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise  grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.

The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to  her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard  populated by, among others,  gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.

Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator,  Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a  plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.

All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on  bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally,  and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that  King Arthur – with the help of  a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon –  defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck  deal with the TRF,  are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.

Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder  it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty  street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!

There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a  film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Wonder Woman (12A)

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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 Jul 7-Thu Jul 13

 

NEW RELEASES

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

The third actor to play the webslinger on the big screen (Nicholas Hammond having played him in the 70s TV series), Tom Holland made his debut cameoing in Captain America:Civil War, and this latest reboot is set a few months after those events. It opens, however, in the wake of the first Avengers movie as, mid-way through salvage work, New York contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is told all such operations involving alien material now comes under Damage Control. Still, he and his crew have stowed away enough to go into the super-weapons business, which is where we pick up events eight years later (no Spidey origin stories here). On a high after helping out The Avengers, making his own web diary footage of events to revel in on playback, gawky 15-year-old Queens high schooler Peter Parker (Holland) is keen to see more action in his Stark ‘internship’, but, with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his babysitter,  is advised by Tony (a typically snarky Robert Downey Jr) to keep his super-heroing on a neighbourhood level, although he does get a  new hi-tech suit (with its very own Jarvis in the vocal form of Jennifer Connelly) to go with the job, even if he has no idea what all its powers are or how to use them.

As such, things toddle along with his handling petty crime and helping out old ladies until he stumbles on a heist with a gang using alien-technology weapons. This, in turn, leads him to track down the suppliers and run foul of Toomes who now sports a pair of armoured flying wings (he’s essentially The Vulture, but is never really referred to as such until the end), and, although warned off from getting involved by Stark. climaxes in a near disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry (in a sequence that mirrors Tobey Maguire saving the elevated train in the original movie) that requires Iron Man to come to the rescue and, take back the suit.

On top of all this, Peter’s having to deal with the usual high school problems, such as the class bully, Flash Thompson (Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori), and the senior on whom he has a crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), but is too shy to say anything. Plus the fact that he’s accidentally revealed his secret identity to science partner and equally geeky best buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and that his webslinging heroics force him to both duck out on the  Academic Decathlon (he’s busy saving the other students in the Washington Tower) and, finally going places with Liz, the homecoming ball. And now he’s stuck with his old homemade suit too.

It’s a little ADD in the early going, reflecting Peter’s uber-enthusiasm and desire to impress Stark, but it soon settles down into a solid and, importantly, hugely entertaining fanboy addition to the Marvel Universe. Although things have been tweaked, there’s still plenty of familiar notes from the comics, including a new spin on MJ (a dry, scene stealing Zendaya), a much younger Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), nods to the many variations the costume’s been through and even the theme from the TV series, not to mention a tease of Maguire’s famous upside down kiss.

Holland brings a likeable wide-eyed boyish glee as well as a disarming vulnerability to Parker, regularly screwing up but always getting back on his feet,  while Keaton, who, like Doctor Octopus, is a human-scaled villain with mechanical appendages  and a moral ambiguity, is menacingly compelling and, essentially a victim of the Avengers fall-out himself,  comes with a truly unexpected kick of a twist. Downey Jr and Favreau reprise their familiar shtick and the film also finds room for cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and, albeit by  way of school training videos, the now disgraced Captain America. Filling out the supporting cast, Martin Starr makes the most of his scenes as the Decathlon coach and Bokeem Woodbine does duty as one of Toomes’ crew aka the Shocker. Climaxing in a mid-air battle atop an Avengers  jet, it may ultimately resort to the usual super-hero tropes, but getting there is a whole web of fun. (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)

It Comes At Night (15)

The second feature from Krishna writer-director Trey Edward Shults  is a post-apocalypse family in terror chamber thriller of considerable power. Set in the aftermath of some unspecified plague that has devastated humanity, Paul (Joel Edgerton), wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) live in a fortifieed house in the woods, constantly on the alert for any infected who might come their way.  One day,  visitors arrives, Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their boy Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). They’re not sick, but they need a place to say. Reluctantly, Paul invites them to share their home.

Given such a claustrophobic arrangement and the inevitable distrust the situation around them engenders, it’s a given that their arrival will impact on the dynamic within the boarded-up house,  while audiences will be questioning what secrets, if any, the newcomers harbour.

Although unfolding with a horror framework, Shults’ film is very much an intense family drama that plays on themes such as suspicion,  sexual desire and guilt, the mood and atmosphere of unease finely tuned by the menacing sound design  and moody low-light photography. Buildings low to give time for characters to establish themselves, it mostly shies away from the usual genre jumps, but nevertheless keeps the nerves taut.

Edgerton delivers a suitably taut turn as a protective husband and father given to doubts about his place in the new domestic set-up, especially given his son’s resentment after having to dispose of  his grandfather  when he started to show symptoms, while Abbott provides a well judged edginess that keeps you guessing as to his true motives. Seen largely through Travis’s perspective, it’s a film heavy with fear and nightmares, as much internal as in the world outside.    (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

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All Eyez On Me (15)

On September 13, 1996, aged 25, Tupac Shakur, actor and rap superstar, was gunned down in his car while waiting at an intersection. His killers have never been found and his story has already been told in numerous documentaries, most notably Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac which charted the friend to feud relationship with Biggie Smalls, himself gunned down.

He’s also figured in assorted rapper biopics, among them The Notorious B.I.G and, more recently, Straight Outta Compton, F Gary Gray’s film about N.W.A. He now gets his own, named after his fourth album, directed by Benny Boom and starring convincing lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. But, despite a solid lead performance,  Boom is no Gray and this is no Compton.

Much is clunkily recounted through flashbacks during a 1995 TV interview while he’s doing time after being  convicted of the illegal touching of a woman who claimed he and members of his entourage raped her,  essentially serving up a wedge of exposition that begins with his East Harlem childhood, the son of Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira),  her fellow activist Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector)  being his stepfather. A series of further flashbacks take us through his growing up, his  distancing from his mother as she descends into drug addition, his platonic Baltimore School of friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) , his initial exploration of rap poetry, his emergence onto the scene via the Digital Underground and his breakthrough with 2Pacalypse Now.

It’s all rather rote in both the way it unfolds and is told, charting his ascendency to the superstar ranks, his embracing of the hedonistic lifestyle that goes with the territory, his ill-advised signing with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) after his release from prison and the feuds with Biggy  (Jamal Woolard, who also played the character in Notorious) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis).

But, given the huge amount he packed into a short life, the film ends up feeling just like a series of visual sound bites, checking off  assorted incidents and episodes (and missing out a  fair few too, like his first prison sentence and marriage), while ensuring to keep the hagiography glowing even while acknowledging Tupac’s more negative traits, not least a  somewhat combustible temper.  The recreations of the videos and live shows are first rate and a soundtrack that rolls out such hits as Hit Em Up ,Who Shot Ya? and the crossover breakthrough California Love ensures its always pumped, but, while it may be true, it’s a familiar and much told story, but messily,  sketchily  and uninspiringly delivered here with little of the passion or insight it needs and deserves.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Alone in Berlin (12A)

When their son, a German soldier, was killed fighting in France, his father, Otto Hampel, a factory foreman, took to writing anonymous postcards calling for the downfall of Hitler’s regime, bearing such messages as Mother! The Führer has murdered my son! and Hitler’s war is the worker’s death!  and, with the help of his wife, Elise, depositing them around Berlin. They placed around 250 before they were caught and executed, their story told in Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel, Every Man Dies Alone,  albeit the pair being renamed Otto and Anna Quangel.

The courageous small scale resistance against the Nazis has now been adapted in an equally small scale feature directed, in English,  by Vincent Perez and  starring Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson adopting unconvincing German accents as the dour bereaved parents with Daniel Bruhl as Escherich, the police inspector charged with tracking down the culprits. It’s an undeniably compelling story, but the telling is rather less so. Gleeson and Thompson both deliver understated, modulated performances that rein in the grief so tightly it barely registers and, while Bruhl develops as a complex character, shifting from typical Nazi to a more sympathetic position after being roughed up by his SS superior, the rest of the supporting cast are at best flat and at worst painfully wooden. The same holds true for the dialogue and screenplay that rarely suggests the tension that must have been involved in the couple’s mission with its narrow escapes, which renders it something of a plodding thriller with no real thrills or suspense, nor indeed much by way of an emotional grip. If you want a truly gripping account of how ordinary Germans resisted Hitler at the cost of their lives, then track down the German drama Sophie Scholl, and leave this well alone. (Electric)

Baby Driver (15)

His first film since polishing off the Three Cornettos trilogy with World’s End in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright turns his attention to lovingly subverting the car chase/heist movie with what he’s described as  “a car film driven by music”, the scenes built around the songs rather than the songs added later.  It hinges on a gimmick with a plot that puts a spin on the familiar one last job scenario and stars Ansel Elgort as man of few words Baby who, thanks to an ill-advised car theft,  now finds himself in debt to  acerbic, smooth criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s enlisted his skills behind the wheel to serve as his regular getaway driver for whatever bank job his ever-changing gang are pulling off.

The twist is that, as a result of the car accident that killed his mother when he was a kid, Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, which he drowns out by constantly listening to music on his headphones, and which he synchronises to the time taken for his manoeuvres. This is, however, really just an excuse for Wright to serve up his answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tapes since listening to the music has nothing to actually do with his driving skills and,  in the several scenes where he doesn’t have the earphones plugged in, there’s no indication that the tinnitus affects his ability to function in any way. But, really, who cares when you’re watching him tearing up the city streets, avoiding the pursuing cops, to the strains of anything from The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and  Focus’ Hocus Pocus.

The first of the heists teams him with  Buddy (Jon Hamm), his sexy wife  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and  the surly Griff (Jon Bernthal), whose sceptism about Baby sets up the scene that lets us know he can lip read too.  The second heist introduces a new crew, among them the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) who doesn’t trust anyone, let alone some kid with an iPod, and sets up an hysterically inspired mix up involving confusion between Michael Myers and Mike Myers masks. Between jobs, however, Baby’s met diner waitress Debora (Lily James), naturally prompting burst of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, while not letting on what he actually does, the pair fall in love in the laundromat and make loose plans to hit the open road together.  He is, after all, now free of any debt to Doc. But not, it would appear of Doc who regards him as his lucky charm and insists on him doing the proverbial one last big job, knocking off a post office to steal a fortune in money orders.

For this one, he’s reunited with Buddy and Darling who are also joined by Bats and, as you’ll doubtless have guessed by now, it doesn’t go smoothly, leaving them on the run with Baby burning with rage and his, Debora and his invalided deaf foster father’s lives under threat.

Naturally, the film’s stuffed with movie homages and references (among them Heat, Reservoir Dogs and even Monsters Inc while the courtroom scene features  the voice of Walter Hill, director of 1978 classic The Driver) as well as music, but they never get in the way of the storytelling, the burning rubber thrills or the emotional heft. Hamm and Foxx subvert their usual good guy roles (the latter has a particularly inspired exit), Spacey does his familiar dry menace to perfection (but turns out to have a surprising sentimental streak) while James is just perfect as Debora, the chemistry between her and Elgort everything a meet cute could ask. However, it’s Elgort who, whether behind the wheel or dancing through the streets, carries the film, often called on to do little more than  give a quizzical, knowing look.

Arguably, the coda feels a touch tacked on, but given the unbridled adrenaline flooding the screen during the many highly choreographed car chases, the bristling tension when the gang gather in the diner,  unaware of Baby’s connection to Debora, and such idiosyractic touches as Baby recording conversations between the gang members to make mash up music mixes, you can forgive it anything. Its engines feel just great.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Baywatch (15)

Beached at the  box office, Seth Gordon’s  big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the  fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly  soap opera  cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.

Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.

It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable  12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a  lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

The third (fourth if you count the Minions spin-off) in the animated series finds itself having to work hard to keep the spark going. Following their failure to capture  80s-obsessed washed-up Hollywood  child star turned  criminal, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker),  Gru (Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their jobs as Anti-Villain League agents and, when he refuses to return to his super-villain ways, all but two of the Minions walk out on him too. His depression’s lifted when he learns he has a twin brother, Dru (Carrell), the pair apparently being separated when their parents (Julie Andrews voices their sour mom) divorced. The super cool Dru, who wears white in contrast to Gru’s black (cue a clever Yin/Yang symbol gag) not only has blonde hair but is a fabulously rich pig farm owner, but what he wants most is to follow in his brother’s – and as it turns out – father’s footsteps and become a  villain. Seeing this as a chance to recover the world’s biggest diamond, which Bratt has now stolen, and finally capture him, Gru pretends to go along with the idea, he just doesn’t tell Lucy.

The problem is that film’s split into three storylines.  Gru and Dru’s assault on Bratt’s HQ, the quest by Agnes, the youngest of  Gru’s young foster daughter,  to find a unicorn, and the misadventures of the Minions (who wind up in and escaping from prison), as well as Lucy trying to get a handle on this mom thing, the disparate characters  finally coming together as  Bratt, in his giant size Bratt doll, seeks to send  Hollywood into space on giant bubblegum balloons. Switching between them all rather saps the film’s energy.

There’s some inspired touches, Bratt  pulls off his heists to 80s tunes by the likes of Michael Jackson and Van Halen, there’s a dose of sentiment in the scenes with the three girls, and it always looks good, but the jokes are fewer and more far between this time round. Once again, the  Minions steal the film, most notably with their gibberish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance,  and, while this will undoubtedly keep the kids amused, it may be time for Gru to retire and let his yellow accomplices take over keeping the franchise alive.  (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. (Reel; 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 Sovereign 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. (Vue Star City)

The House (15)

Having  opened without the press being allowed to see previews should give you the hint that it’s a bit of a stinker. As indeed it is.  Delighted when their daughter (Ryan Simpkins) gets accepted to a prestigious university, Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are knocked back to be told that, due to budget problems (i.e. funding a new community pool and a little skimming from the top), the weaselling town councilman (Nick Kroll) won’t be giving her the scholarship she needs. Unable to afford her tuition themselves, they hit on an ingenious way to raise money when they and their neighbour, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), who’s about to be divorced on account of his gambling habits,  they come up with the idea of setting  up an illegal casino in his house, because, after all, the house always wins.

With the bored locals all piling in to chance their luck, the money soon starts piling up, but with success Scott and Kate change, he becoming less of a wuss  and more badass and she developing a weed habit, and there’s also a couple of major hiccups in the form of the creepy town councillor who raids them and confiscates the takings and a ruthless mobster (a cameoing Jeremy Renner) one of whose henchman accidentally had his finger chopped off by Scott (earning him the nickname The Butcher) after being caught cheating.

The fact that the casino allows everyone to unleash their inner repressed self (two sniping neighbours get into a girl fight, with everyone betting on the outcome), is a nice touch, but never really developed and the simple fact is that very little is  even remotely funny, while the geysers of blood feel like a forced attempt to up the black comedy ante. Ferrell can be funny given the right script, but he hasn’t had one of those in years and here he’s somewhere between annoying and embarrassing (the running gag about him being awful with numbers is squirm-inducing), taking Poehler down with him. The house may always win,. but it’s the audiences who’ve paid  for a ticket  who are the biggest losers.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

The Mummy (15)

Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener,  holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Cineworld NEC;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Directed by Roger Michell, this is a handsome rework of the Daphne Du Maurier novel about obsession that originally saw big screen life back in B&W 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This time round, it’s Rachel Weisz  as Rachel, the Anglo-Italian widow of Philip (Sam Clafin), a young and frankly rather dull 19th century Englishman whose adult cousin Ambrose was both his guardian and her husband.

The film opens with him having received a letter from his late cousin describing how his wife was terrorising him and driving him to his death. Understandably then, he’s not ready to welcome her with open arms when he learns she’s coming to visit the farm that, since she wasn’t named in the will, he’s now inherited. He determined to give her the cold shoulder and, on the day of her arrival, takes off leaving instructions that she’s not to be fed until he returns. However, arriving home late at night, he learns she’s taken to her room, already charmed the servants, won over the dogs and politely  invited him to call on her after he’s eaten.

The moment he sets eyes on her, he’s a lost cause, initial fascination giving way to an obsessive love, falling totally under her spell, to the extent that he has his uncle Nick (Iain Glen), who’s managing the estate until he comes of age,  sign  the document he’s had drawn up assigning everything to her from the moment he turns 25.

The question is, of course, whether Rachel is truly the grieving widow who takes a shine to her cousin by marriage or a scheming and free-spending manipulator who, in cahoots with her Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), is conspiring to get her hands on the estate and  inheritance and poisoning him with her herbal teas, or whether Philip is just a jealous paranoid.

It’s all beautifully shot  and  the supporting cast features notable turns from Holliday Grainger as Louise, Nick’s daughter and Philip’s childhood friend with the secret crush, and Tim Barlow as his manservant Seecombe (who gets to deliver the film’s single expletive); however, while a subtly nuanced Weisz is as mesmerising as the role requires, there’s not enough of the enigma about her character to give it the edge of menace it needs,  nor (save for one of Philip’s feverish dreams in which she seems to be being rogered by the vicar) her  much talked about ‘limitless appetite’. With an unnecessary coda that might compound the tragedy, but blows the ambiguity, it’s well made and absorbing, but all a  little too chaste and a little too tame for its gothic nature.  (MAC)

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 Norwegian directors 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, and 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 stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  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 explained 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 a  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 zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. 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 Davy Jones’ locker once and for all.  (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth box-office bombing  instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise  grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.

The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to  her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard  populated by, among others,  gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.

Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator,  Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a  plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.

All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on  bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally,  and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that  King Arthur – with the help of  a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon –  defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck  deal with the TRF,  are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.

Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder  it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty  street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!

There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a  film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Wonder Woman (12A)

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; 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

Man-free festivals – Segregation that the Gender Deserves

There has been great progress made in improving the safety, most of all sexually, in festivals across the UK and beyond. More than that, there has been much more awareness – in terms of social media blackouts and, in Glastonbury’s case, the Sisterhood – in creating gender-specific spaces.

However, the issue in Sweden is, at least on a reported scale, spiralling out of control. Bravalla Festival may have hosted some of music’s globe-gobbling anthem makers (this year saw The Killers amongst the headliners), but beneath its commerciality lies sordid tales of sexual violence that stretch back to the beginning of the noughties. Over the past two festivals, a combined total of nine rapes and 34 sexual assaults have taken place. And they are the ones police are aware of.

The shocking numbers have resulted in an announcement from the festival’s organisers cancelling next year’s festivals, blaming the fact “certain men don’t know how to behave.” Even in context, it’s a statement that is not only odd and clunky, but clumsily understated – on the surface, men misbehaving is tantamount to accidentally spilling a beer or smoking a spliff – rape is far, far away from bad behaviour.

The only positive to come out of the situation is Sweden’s first exclusively non-male festival, which will take place instead of Bravalla in 2018. While festivals in the US have previously hosted successful ‘man ban’ festivals, this action throws into raw reality that despite technological advancements and added security at festivals, sexual abuse remains a disgustingly potent, and prolific, risk.

The news of this has, of course, sparked mixed reviews. The traditional war cry of ‘not all men’ has reared its head, as has the victim-blaming boilerplate of ‘segregation’. Yes, this is segregation. But this is a necessary move. If men are, as the statement deemed it, unable to ‘behave’, then a blanket ban is the only way forward. Alcohol or substance abuse can turn even the staunchest ‘not all men’ chanter into an altogether different beast, and by offering only a segmented segregation, surely the purpose of this festival is thwarted? This is a chance to show that men need to take action and behave in an uniform manner – it is not a case of nice guys finishing last.

It is also not about pinning the blame of one gender. Men, of course, are also victims and can be victims of sexual abuse, but this is a reaction of sexual abuse within a specific, and confined, space. The sheer volume of rape that occurred in Sweden alone warrants such a ban; I’m sure if the genders had been switched and it was men who had been subjected to such staggering statistics, we would have a man-only festival.

Whether or not England will follow suit in the future remains to be seen, and hopefully Sweden will also provide bands that have at least one female member in them, but the threat of sexual abuse continues to be all too real prospect.

 

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 30-Thu Jul 7

 

NEW RELEASES

Baby Driver (15)

His first film since polishing off the Three Cornettos trilogy with World’s End in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright turns his attention to lovingly subverting the car chase/heist movie with what he’s described as  “a car film driven by music”, the scenes built around the songs rather than the songs added later.  It hinges on a gimmick with a plot that puts a spin on the familiar one last job scenario and stars Ansel Elgort as man of few words Baby who, thanks to an ill-advised car theft now finds himself in debt to  acerbic, smooth criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s enlisted his skills behind the wheel to serve as his regular getaway driver for whatever bank job his ever changing gang are pulling off.

The twist is that, as a result of the car accident that killed his mother when he was a kid, Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, which he drowns out by constantly listening to music on his headphones, and which he synchronised to the time taken for his manoeuvres. This is, however, really just an excuse for Wright to serve up his answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tapes since listening to the music has nothing to actually do with his driving skills and in the several scenes where he doesn’t have the earphones plugged in, there’s no indication that the tinnitus affects his ability to function in any way. But, really, who cares when you’re watching him tearing up the city streets, avoiding the pursuing cops, to the strains of anything from The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and  Focus’ Hocus Pocus.

The first of the heists teams him with  Buddy (Jon Hamm), his sexy wife  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and  the surly Griff (Jon Bernthal), whose sceptism about Baby sets up the scene that lets us know he can lip read too.  The second heist introduces a new crew, among them the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) who doesn’t trust anyone, let along some kid with an iPod, and sets up an hysterically inspired mix up involving confusion between Michael Myers and Mike Myers masks. Between jobs, however, Baby’s met diner waitress Debora (Lily James), naturally prompting burst of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, while not letting on what he actually does, the pair fall in love in the laundromat and make loose plans to hit the open road together.  He is, after all, now free of any debt to Doc. But not, it would appear of Doc who regards him as his lucky charm and insists on him doing the proverbial one last big job, knocking off a post office to steal a fortune in money orders.

For this one, he’s reunited with Buddy and Darling who are also joined by Bats and, as you’ll doubtless of guessed by now, it doesn’t go smoothly, leaving them on the run with Baby burning with rage and his, Debora and his invalided deaf foster father’s lives under threat.

Naturally, the film’s stuffed with movie homages and references (among them Heat, Reservoir Dogs and even Monsters Inc while the courtroom scene features  the voice of Walter Hill, director of 1978 classic The Driver) as well as music, but they never get in the way of the storytelling, the burning rubber thrills or the emotional heft. Hamm and Foxx subvert their usual good guy roles (the latter has a particularly inspired exit), Spacey does his familiar dry menace to perfection (but turns out to have a surprising sentimental streak) while James is just perfect as Debora, the chemistry between her and Elgort everything a meet cute could ask. However, it’s Elgort who, whether behind the wheel or dancing through the streets, carries the film, often called on to do little more than  give a quizzical, knowing look.

Arguably, the coda feels a touch tacked on, but given the unbridled adrenaline flooding the screen during the many highly choreographed car chases, the bristling tension when the gang gather in the diner,  unaware of Baby’s connection to Debora, and such idiosyractic touches as Baby recording conversation between the gang members to make mash up music mixes, you can forgive it anything. Its engines feel just great.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Alone in Berlin (12A)

When their son, a German soldier fighting in France, was killed, his father, Otto Hampel, a factory foreman, took to writing anonymous postcards calling for the downfall of Hitkler’s regime, bearing such messages as Mother! The Führer has murdered my son! and Hitler’s war is the worker’s death!  and, with the help of his wife, Elise, depositing them around Berlin. They placed around 250 before they were caught and executed, their story told in of Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel, Every Man Dies Alone,  albeit the pair being renamed Otto and Anna Quangel.

The courageous small scale resistance against the Nazis has now been adapted in an equally small scale feature directed, in English,  by Vincent Perez and  starring Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson adopting unconvincing German accents as the dour bereaved parents with Daniel Bruhl as Escherich, the police inspector charged with tracking down the culprits. It’s an undeniably compelling story, but the telling is rather less so. Gleeson and Thompson both deliver understated, modulated performances that rein in the grief so tightly it barely registers and, while Bruhl develops as a complex character, shifting from typical Nazi to a more sympathetic position after being roughed up by his SS superior, the rest of the supporting cast are at best flat and at worst painfully wooden. The same holds true for the dialogue and screenplay that rarely suggests the tension that must have been involved in the couple’s mission with its narrow escapes, which renders it something of a plodding thriller with no real thrills or suspense, nor indeed much by way of an emotional grip. If you want a truly gripping account of how ordinary Germans resisted Hitler at the cost of their lives, then track down the German drama Sophie Scholl, and leave this well alone. (Electric)

 

All Eyez On Me (15)

On September 13, 1996, aged just 25, Tupac Shakur, actor and a rap supersdtar, was gunned down in his car while waiting at an intersection. His killers have never been found and his story has already been told in numerous documentaries, most notably Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac which charted the friend to feud relationship with Biggie Smalls, himself gunned down, which pointed the finger of blame for Shakur’s murder at Death Row label boss Suge Knight, from whom he was intending to split.

He’s also figured in assorted rapper biopics, among them The Notorious B.I.G and, more recently, Straight Outta Compton, F Gary Gray’s film about N.W.A. He now gets his own, named after his fourth album, directed by Benny Boom and starring convincing lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. But, despite a solid lead performance,  Boom is no Gray and this is no Compton.

Much is clunkily recounted through flashbacks during a 1995 TV interview while he’s doing time after being  found guilty of convicted of the illegal touching of a woman who claimed he and members of his entourage raped her),  essentially serving up a wedge of exposition that begins with his East Harlem childhood, the son of Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira) her fellow activist Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector)  being his stepfather. A series of further flashbacks take us through his growing up, his  distancing from his mother as she descends into drug addition, his platonic Baltimore School of friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) , his initial exploration of rap poetry, his emergence onto the scene via the Digital Underground and his breakthrough with 2Pacalypse Now.

It’s all rather rote in both the way it unfolds and is told, charting his ascendency to the superstar ranks, his embracing of the hedonistic lifestyle that goes with the territory, his ill-advised signing with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) after his release from prison and the feuds with Biggy  (Jamal Woolard, who also played the character in Notorious) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis).

But, given the huge amount he packed into a short life, the film ends up feeling just like a series of visual sound bites, checking off  assorted incidents and episodes (and missingouta  fair few too, like his first prison sentence and marriage), while ensuring to keep the hagiography glowing even while acknowledging Tupac’s more negative traits, not least a  somewhat combustible temper.  The recreations of the videos and live shows are first rate and a soundtrack that rolls out such hits as Hit Em Up ,Who Shot Ya? and the crossover breakthrough California Love ensures its always pumped, but, while it may be true, it’s a familiar and much told story, but messily,  sketchily  and uninspiringly delivered here with little of the passion or insight it needs and deserves.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

The third (fourth if you count the Minions spin-off) in the animated series finds itself having to work hard to keep the spark going. Following their failure to capture  80s-obsessed washed-up Hollywood  child star turned  criminal, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker),  Gru (Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their jobs as Anti-Villain League agents and, when he refuses to return to his super-villain ways, all but two of the Minions walk out on him too. His depression’s lifted when he learns he has a twin brother, Dru (Carrell), the pair apparently being separated when their parents (Julie Andrews voices their sour mom) divorced. The super cool Dru, who wears white in contrast to Gru’s black (cue a clever Yin/Yang symbol gag) not only has blonde hair but is a fabulously rich pig farm owner, but what he wants most is to follow in his brother’s – and as it turns out – father’s footsteps and become a  villain. Seeing this as a chance to recover the world’s biggest diamond, which Bratt has now stolen, and finally capture him, Gru pretends to go along with the idea, he just doesn’t tell Lucy.

The problem is that film’s split into three storylines.  Gru and Dru’s assault on Bratt’s HQ, the quest by Agnes, the youngest of  Gru’s young foster daughter,  to find a unicorn, and the misadventures of the Minions (who wind up in and escaping from prison), as well as Lucy trying to get a handle on this mom thing, the disparate characters  finally coming together as  Bratt, in his giant size Bratt doll, seeks to send  Hollywood into space on giant bubblegum balloons. Switching between them all rather saps the film’s energy.

There’s some inspired touches, Bratt  challenges  Gru to a dance battle and pulls off his heists to 80s tunes by the likes of Michael Jackson and Van Halen, there’s a dose of sentiment in the scenes with the three girls, and it always looks good, but the jokes are fewer and more far between this time round. Once again, the  Minions steal the film, most notably with their gibberish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance on a TV talent show,  and, while this will undoubtedly keep the kids amused, it may be time for Gru to retire and let his yellow accomplices take over keeping the franchise alive.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The House (15)

Another film that opened here and in the US without the press being allowed to see previews, which should give you the hint that it’s a bit of a stinker. As indeed it is.  Delighted when their daughter (Ryan Simpkins) gets accepted to a prestigious university, Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are knocked back to be told that, due to budget problems (i.e. funding a new community pool and a little skimming from the top), the weaselling town councilman (Nick Kroll) won’t be giving her the scholarship she needs. Unable to afford to pay her tuition themselves, they hit on an ingenious way to raise money when, in after losing all their winnings in the final roll of the dice on a fund-raising trip to Vegas with their neighbour, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), who’s about to be divorced on account of his gambling habits,  they come up with the idea of setting  up an illegal casino in his house, because, after all, the house always wins.

With the bored locals all piling in to chance their luck, the money soon starts piling up, but with success Scott and Kate change, he becoming less of a wuss  and more badass and she developing a weed habit, and there’s also a couple of major hiccups in the form of the creepy town councillor who raids them and confiscates the taking and a ruthless mobster (a cameoing Jeremy Renner) one of whose henchman accidentally had his finger chopped off by Scott (earning him the nickname The Butcher) after being caught cheating.

The fact that the casino allows everyone to unleash their inner repressed self (two sniping neighbours get into a girl fight, with everyone betting on the outcome), is a nice touch but never really developed and the simple fact is that very little is  even remotely funny, while the geysers of blood feel like a forced attempt to up the black comedy ante. Ferrell can be funny given the right script, but he hasn’t had one of those in years and here he’s somewhere between annoying and embarrassing (the running gag about him being awful with numbers is just squirm-inducing), taking Poehler down with him. The house may always win,. but it’s the audiences who’ve paid  for a ticket  who are the biggest losers. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Risk (15) 

Following on from Citizenfour, her Oscar-winning documentary about Edward Snowdon, Laura Poitras turns her attention to an even more celebrated whistle blower with an intimate portrait of  WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his activities prior to seeking refuge London’s Ecuadorian embassy following  sexual assault allegations. Previews weren’t available, but the film, shot between  2010-2013 and often playing like a spy thriller, charts the early sessions between Assange and Sarah Harrison and Jacob Appelbaum in exposing government subterfuge, the leaking of FBI tapes and, bizarrely, a rambling interview with  Assange in the embassy by Lady Gaga. (Electric)

 

NOW PLAYING

Baywatch (15)

Seth Gordon’s  big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the  fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly  soap opera  cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.

Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.

It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable  12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a  lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Churchill (PG)

Released  to mark the June anniversary of D-Day, Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky delivers a solid character story and meditation on the nature of leadership that goes behind the scenes of the preparations for Operation Overlord as, haunted by the slaughter at Gallipoli in WWI, for which he carries a sense of guilt, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) is having serious reservations about the plans to invade Normandy  drawn up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill reckons they are ill-advised and will cost the lives of thousands of young men, if not the war, and, in company with King George VI (James Purefoy, who gets a scene-stealing moment when he has to tell Churchill neither of them can be allowed to go with the troops) and, just a few days before the launch, announces to the allied commanders that he intends to draw up his own alternatives.

What follows is essentially a battle about who’s running the war, Eisenhower, Montgomery and even his close personal advisor, Boer War veteran Jan Smuts (Richard Durden) trying to persuade him that warfare has changed since he last saw action. Indeed, even his loyal wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson), their marriage sidelined by his single focus on the conflict, feels he may have lost his way and should step back and play the role of the country’s political leader rather than the warrior.

Condensing months into just a few days, it’s loosely based on historical fact (though one suspects the admiring new secretary –  Ella Purnell – who gets to deliver  a wake-up call and whom Churchill personally reassures her that her fiancé, who was in the first wave, is alive and well – may be dramatic licence), but  paints a somewhat different picture of the man often referred to as the greatest ever Briton; an irascible, cantankerous figure, prone to depression and doubt, overly fond of the whisky,  plagued by uncertainty, fearful of his post-war position and realising he has less power and control than he likes to imagine. As such, Cox delivers a bravura performance, not just physically resembling Churchill but perfectly capturing his voice and delivery, while Richardson is excellent as the exasperated but redoubtable long-suffering Clemmie. The supporting cast are essentially just that, but all serve well, just as Teplitzky does a commendably serviceable job on a limited budget and, while ultimately very much a  drama  about people talking in rooms, it’s engagingly watchable.  (Empire Great Park, 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. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)

Gifted (12A)

Basically a cross between Little Man Tate and Kramer versus Kramer, director Marc Webb delivers an unsentimental tearjerker involving a child maths prodigy and custody battle. When her unmarried mother, Diane Adler, a brilliant mathematician, committed suicide, leaving him with her baby daughter, her bachelor brother, Frank (Chris Evans), gave up his university professorship, moved to a  low rent neighbourhood and took up work as a self-employed Florida boat repairman to raise and home-school his niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), as an ordinary child away from a world that would stigmatise her talent as ‘special’, as it did her mother. However, now she’s six, he feels she should enter the official education system so she can mix with kids her own age and enrols her at the local elementary school, against the advice of  his neighbour, Roberta  (Octavia Spencer, warm but somewhat wasted) who warns nothing good will come of it.

She’s right of course. Understandably thinking that 1+1 is 2 is a bit below her intellectual capabilities, Mary quickly startles her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) with her mathematical prowess. Likewise the headmistress (Elizabeth Marvel) who, when she has to haul Frank in after Mary breaks the school bully’s nose for wrecking her classmate’s zoo model, now well aware of her background, offers to get a place and a scholarship at an academy where her gifts can be nurtured. Frank refuses, insisting he wants to let her grow up an ordinary child, free from the pressures that drove his sister to kill herself.

The next thing he knows, his domineering, estranged English mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), herself a former maths prodigy,  is in town, demanding Mary be given the education befitting her gifts and taking her son to court in order to gain custody of her granddaughter. It’s at the cross-examining that the real reasons why Frank is resisting his mother’s demands and the relationship between her and Diane are  powerfully laid bare.

All of which has the potential to wallow in syrup and schmaltz. Thankfully, a sharp, emotionally satisfying  script by Tom Flynn and assured direction by Webb, who, before webslinging with The Amazing Spider-Man films, made the affectingly poignant 500 Days of Summer,  keep it from movie of the week territory, ensuring the tears (and there will be several) are well earned,  even if more might have been made of the budding romance between Frank and Bonnie. Likewise, in terms of parenting issues, while the script inevitably has to come down on one side, more considered questioning as to whether Frank’s actions really are in Mary’s best interests might not have gone amiss. Such niggles aside, the film is also well served by a strong central cast, Evans showing an unexpected soulful side and, while, ostensibly the villain of the piece,  Duncan making the snobbish Evelyn a far from one-dimensional character, driven by demons of her own. However, it’s Grace, top front teeth missing, who truly elevates the film into the ranks of one of the year’s best, giving an unprecocious turn that spins between smartass, vulnerability, anger, joy, alienation and sadness with a naturalness and charm that is by far the best child actor performance since Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. The one-eyed cat’s just a bonus.  (Cineworld 5 Ways)

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. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

Hampstead (12A)

Loosely inspired by the true story of  Harry Hallowes, the Irish hermit whose long-term residency on Hampstead Heath  resulted in a successful squatters rights claim to a small area of land when property develops sought to evict him, Joel Hopkins’ film plays firmly to the grey pound audience, throwing in an autumn years romance for good measure.

Channelling Annie Hall, both sartorially and in kookiness, Diane Keaton is Emily, a recently widowed American who lives in a mansion block apartment and finds herself with serious financial problems thanks to her late husband, who,  she discovered after his death,  was also having an affair.

Staring out from loft through a pair of antique binoculars, scanning the heath she lights upon a man swimming in a nearby pond and, from there, the shack in which he lives near an old Victorian hospital. He turns out to be Donald (Brendan Gleason), a self-sufficient, and highly articulate, well-read elective recluse who’s being threatened with eviction by property developers looking to build luxury flats, the boss of which happens to be the husband (Brian Protheroe) of Emily’s bossy, obnoxiously unctuous  neighbour, Fiona (Lesley Manville). She wants Emily and the block’s other privileged harpies to write letters of support for the project and is also trying to set her up with James, the touchy-feely, not to say creepy, accountant doing her books in the expectation of ‘something’ in return.

Suffice to say circumstances bring Emily and Donald together and, while initially reluctant to accept help when she starts a Save the Shack campaign, friendship and, ultimately, romance blossoms between them. As such it follows a fairly predictable path en route to the court hearing, presided over by Simon Callow’s judge and featuring a fine cantankerous cameo by Phil Davis providing the obligatory last minute save the day evidence.

If you can overlook the fact that Emily has apparently never seen or heard of Donald, despite having lived just across the road from him for umpteen years, a totally wasted James Norton as Emily’s somewhat neglectful son, the half-hearted nature of the eco-message, Donald’s clunkily vague backstory,  and the array of stereotypes, while this may not do for Notting Hill what Richard Curtis did, as genial, whimsical, feelgood and all rather twee fluff  with a tacked on happy ending that, like the fictional Emily, bears no relation to the true story, it’s undemanding charm will pass a pleasant enough 100 minutes. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)

 

The Mummy (15)

Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener,  holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Directed by Roger Michell, this is a handsome rework of the Daphne Du Maurier novel about obsession that originally saw big screen life back in B&W 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This time round, it’s Rachel Weisz  as Rachel, the Anglo-Italian widow of Philip (Sam Clafin), a young and frankly rather dull 19th century Englishman whose adult cousin Ambrose was both his guardian and her husband.

The film opens with him having received a letter from his late cousin describing how his wife was terrorising him and driving him to his death. Understandably then, he’s not ready to welcome her with open arms when he learns she’s coming to visit the farm that, since she wasn’t named in the will, he’s now inherited. He determined to give her the cold shoulder and, on the day of her arrival, takes off leaving instructions that she’s not to be fed until he returns. However, arriving home late at night, he learns she’s taken to her room, already charmed the servants, won over the dogs and politely  invited him to call on her after he’s eaten.

The moment he sets eyes on her, he’s a lost cause, initial fascination giving way to an obsessive love, falling totally under her spell, to the extent that he has his uncle Nick (Iain Glen), who’s managing the estate until he comes of age,  sign  the document he’s had drawn up assigning everything to her from the moment he turns 25.

The question is, of course, whether Rachel is truly the grieving widow who takes a shine to her cousin by marriage or a scheming and free-spending manipulator who, in cahoots with her Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), is conspiring to get her hands on the estate and  inheritance and poisoning him with her herbal teas, or whether Philip is just a jealous paranoid.

It’s all beautifully shot  and  the supporting cast features notable turns from Holliday Grainger as Louise, Nick’s daughter and Philip’s childhood friend with the secret crush, and Tim Barlow as his manservant Seecombe (who gets to deliver the film’s single expletive); however, while a subtly nuanced Weisz is as mesmerising as the role requires, there’s not enough of the enigma about her character to give it the edge of menace it needs,  nor (save for one of Philip’s feverish dreams in which she seems to be being rogered by the vicar) her  much talked about ‘limitless appetite’. With an unnecessary coda that might compound the tragedy, but blows the ambiguity, it’s well made and absorbing, but all a  little too chaste and a little too tame for its gothic nature.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

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 Norwegian directors 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, and 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 stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  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 explained 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 a  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 zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. 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 Davy Jones’ locker once and for all.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth box-office bombing  instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise  grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.

The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to  her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard  populated by, among others,  gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.

Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator,  Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a  plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.

All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on  bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally,  and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that  King Arthur – with the help of  a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon –  defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck  deal with the TRF,  are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.

Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder  it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty  street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!

There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a  film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Wonder Woman (12A)

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; 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

 

NEW RELEASES

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise  grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.

The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to  her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard  populated by, among others,  gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.

Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator,  Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a  plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.

All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on  bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally,  and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that  King Arthur – with the help of  a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon –  defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck  deal with the TRF,  are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.

Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder  it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty  street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!

There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a  film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Book of Henry (12A)

Savaged by the American and UK critics alike (‘catastrophically awful’ being one of the more generous descriptions) and being given a cursory limited release here, Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow directs this suburban small town story of feisty but irresponsible waitress Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts), a single mother of two,  8-year-old Peter (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) and his 11-year-old genius brother Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) who has taken it upon himself to be the family’s protector and financial lifeline. And, when it’s discovered that, Christina, his classmate next door, may be the victim of sexual abuse by her top cop stepfather, he devises a plan to rescue her too. However, dying of a tumour before he can carry it out, he leaves behind his titular red book with the intricate details of what to do- namely, having mom become a sniper.

The lead performances, Watts especially, can’t be faulted, but the screenplay is like a tonal genre rollercoaster that switchbacks from child genius family movie to tearjerker disease of the week  to shlock thriller and expects audiences to take it seriously. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

Hampstead (12A)

 

Loosely inspired by the true story of  Harry Hallowes, the Irish hermit whose long-term residency on Hampstead Heath  resulted in a successful squatters rights claim to a small area of land when property develops sought to evict him, Joel Hopkins’ film plays firmly to the grey pound audience, throwing in an autumn years romance for good measure.

Channelling Annie Hall, both sartorially and in kookiness, Diane Keaton is Emily, a recently widowed American who lives in a mansion block apartment and finds herself with serious financial problems thanks to her late husband, who,  she discovered after his death,  was also having an affair.

Staring out from loft through a pair of antique binoculars, scanning the heath she lights upon a man swimming in a nearby pond and, from there, the shack in which he lives near an old Victorian hospital. He turns out to be Donald (Brendan Gleason), a self-sufficient, and highly articulate, well-read elective recluse who’s being threatened with eviction by property developers looking to build luxury flats, the boss of which happens to be the husband (Brian Protheroe) of Emily’s bossy, obnoxiously unctuous  neighbour, Fiona (Lesley Manville). She wants Emily and the block’s other privileged harpies to write letters of support for the project and is also trying to set her up with James, the touchy-feely, not to say creepy, accountant doing her books in the expectation of ‘something’ in return.

Suffice to say circumstances bring Emily and Donald together and, while initially reluctant to accept help when she starts a Save the Shack campaign, friendship and, ultimately, romance blossoms between them. As such it follows a fairly predictable path en route to the court hearing, presided over by Simon Callow’s judge and featuring a fine cantankerous cameo by Phil Davis providing the obligatory last minute save the day evidence.

If you can overlook the fact that Emily has apparently never seen or heard of Donald, despite having lived just across the road from him for umpteen years, a totally wasted James Norton as Emily’s somewhat neglectful son, the half-hearted nature of the eco-message, Donald’s clunkily vague backstory,  and the array of stereotypes, while this may not do for Notting Hill what Richard Curtis did, as genial, whimsical, feelgood and all rather twee fluff  with a tacked on happy ending that, like the fictional Emily, bears no relation to the true story, it’s undemanding charm will pass a pleasant enough 100 minutes. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

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.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

Seth Gordon’s  big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the  fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly  soap opera  cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.

Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.

It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable  12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a  lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; 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. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Churchill (PG)

Released  to mark the June anniversary of D-Day, Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky delivers a solid character story and meditation on the nature of leadership that goes behind the scenes of the preparations for Operation Overlord as, haunted by the slaughter at Gallipoli in WWI, for which he carries a sense of guilt, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) is having serious reservations about the plans to invade Normandy  drawn up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill reckons they are ill-advised and will cost the lives of thousands of young men, if not the war, and, in company with King George VI (James Purefoy, who gets a scene-stealing moment when he has to tell Churchill neither of them can be allowed to go with the troops) and, just a few days before the launch, announces to the allied commanders that he intends to draw up his own alternatives.

What follows is essentially a battle about who’s running the war, Eisenhower, Montgomery and even his close personal advisor, Boer War veteran Jan Smuts (Richard Durden) trying to persuade him that warfare has changed since he last saw action. Indeed, even his loyal wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson), their marriage sidelined by his single focus on the conflict, feels he may have lost his way and should step back and play the role of the country’s political leader rather than the warrior.

Condensing months into just a few days, it’s loosely based on historical fact (though one suspects the admiring new secretary –  Ella Purnell – who gets to deliver  a wake-up call and whom Churchill personally reassures her that her fiancé, who was in the first wave, is alive and well – may be dramatic licence), but  paints a somewhat different picture of the man often referred to as the greatest ever Briton; an irascible, cantankerous figure, prone to depression and doubt, overly fond of the whisky,  plagued by uncertainty, fearful of his post-war position and realising he has less power and control than he likes to imagine. As such, Cox delivers a bravura performance, not just physically resembling Churchill but perfectly capturing his voice and delivery, while Richardson is excellent as the exasperated but redoubtable long-suffering Clemmie. The supporting cast are essentially just that, but all serve well, just as Teplitzky does a commendably serviceable job on a limited budget and, while ultimately very much a  drama  about people talking in rooms, it’s engagingly watchable.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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. (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.  (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. (Fri, Sun/Mon; MAC)

Gifted (12A)

Basically a cross between Little Man Tate and Kramer versus Kramer, director Marc Webb delivers an unsentimental tearjerker involving a child maths prodigy and custody battle. When her unmarried mother, Diane Adler, a brilliant mathematician, committed suicide, leaving him with her baby daughter, her bachelor brother, Frank (Chris Evans), gave up his university professorship, moved to a  low rent neighbourhood and took up work as a self-employed Florida boat repairman to raise and home-school his niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), as an ordinary child away from a world that would stigmatise her talent as ‘special’, as it did her mother. However, now she’s six, he feels she should enter the official education system so she can mix with kids her own age and enrols her at the local elementary school, against the advice of  his neighbour, Roberta  (Octavia Spencer, warm but somewhat wasted) who warns nothing good will come of it.

She’s right of course. Understandably thinking that 1+1 is 2 is a bit below her intellectual capabilities, Mary quickly startles her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) with her mathematical prowess. Likewise the headmistress (Elizabeth Marvel) who, when she has to haul Frank in after Mary breaks the school bully’s nose for wrecking her classmate’s zoo model, now well aware of her background, offers to get a place and a scholarship at an academy where her gifts can be nurtured. Frank refuses, insisting he wants to let her grow up an ordinary child, free from the pressures that drove his sister to kill herself.

The next thing he knows, his domineering, estranged English mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), herself a former maths prodigy,  is in town, demanding Mary be given the education befitting her gifts and taking her son to court in order to gain custody of her granddaughter. It’s at the cross-examining that the real reasons why Frank is resisting his mother’s demands and the relationship between her and Diane are  powerfully laid bare.

All of which has the potential to wallow in syrup and schmaltz. Thankfully, a sharp, emotionally satisfying  script by Tom Flynn and assured direction by Webb, who, before webslinging with The Amazing Spider-Man films, made the affectingly poignant 500 Days of Summer,  keep it from movie of the week territory, ensuring the tears (and there will be several) are well earned,  even if more might have been made of the budding romance between Frank and Bonnie. Likewise, in terms of parenting issues, while the script inevitably has to come down on one side, more considered questioning as to whether Frank’s actions really are in Mary’s best interests might not have gone amiss. Such niggles aside, the film is also well served by a strong central cast, Evans showing an unexpected soulful side and, while, ostensibly the villain of the piece,  Duncan making the snobbish Evelyn a far from one-dimensional character, driven by demons of her own. However, it’s Grace, top front teeth missing, who truly elevates the film into the ranks of one of the year’s best, giving an unprecocious turn that spins between smartass, vulnerability, anger, joy, alienation and sadness with a naturalness and charm that is by far the best child actor performance since Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. The one-eyed cat’s just a bonus.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

The Graduate (15)

Reissued to mark its 50th anniversary, it – and its attitudes – may have dated somewhat over the years, but Mike Nichols’ classic remains a pleasure to watch as young college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) finds himself seduced by the middle-aged Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the neglected wife of his father’s law partner, matters further complicated when he falls for the daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). While the mother seeks to keep them apart, her father and Ben’s parents do their best to bring them together, with inevitably catastrophic results. Featuring the Simon & Garfunkel title song and fondly remembered for the oft trotted out clip of Ben banging on the church glass as Elaine is being married to another, this well warrants its reissue for a new generation. (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. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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. (Vue Star City)

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, Sun, Tue, Thu: Electric)

 

The Mummy (15)

Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener,  holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Directed by Roger Michell, this is a handsome rework of the Daphne Du Maurier novel about obsession that originally saw big screen life back in B&W 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This time round, it’s Rachel Weisz  as Rachel, the Anglo-Italian widow of Philip (Sam Clafin), a young and frankly rather dull 19th century Englishman whose adult cousin Ambrose was both his guardian and her husband.

The film opens with him having received a letter from his late cousin describing how his wife was terrorising him and driving him to his death. Understandably then, he’s not ready to welcome her with open arms when he learns she’s coming to visit the farm that, since she wasn’t named in the will, he’s now inherited. He determined to give her the cold shoulder and, on the day of her arrival, takes off leaving instructions that she’s not to be fed until he returns. However, arriving home late at night, he learns she’s taken to her room, already charmed the servants, won over the dogs and politely  invited him to call on her after he’s eaten.

The moment he sets eyes on her, he’s a lost cause, initial fascination giving way to an obsessive love, falling totally under her spell, to the extent that he has his uncle Nick (Iain Glen), who’s managing the estate until he comes of age,  sign  the document he’s had drawn up assigning everything to her from the moment he turns 25.

The question is, of course, whether Rachel is truly the grieving widow who takes a shine to her cousin by marriage or a scheming and free-spending manipulator who, in cahoots with her Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), is conspiring to get her hands on the estate and  inheritance and poisoning him with her herbal teas, or whether Philip is just a jealous paranoid.

It’s all beautifully shot  and  the supporting cast features notable turns from Holliday Grainger as Louise, Nick’s daughter and Philip’s childhood friend with the secret crush, and Tim Barlow as his manservant Seecombe (who gets to deliver the film’s single expletive); however, while a subtly nuanced Weisz is as mesmerising as the role requires, there’s not enough of the enigma about her character to give it the edge of menace it needs,  nor (save for one of Philip’s feverish dreams in which she seems to be being rogered by the vicar) her  much talked about ‘limitless appetite’. With an unnecessary coda that might compound the tragedy, but blows the ambiguity, it’s well made and absorbing, but all a  little too chaste and a little too tame for its gothic nature.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

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 Norwegian directors 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, and 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 stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  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 explained 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 a  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 zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Shack (12A)

When his youngest daughter is abducted and murdered during a camping trip, church-going Oregon father of three  Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) sinks into depression and crisis of faith. Then he finds a mysterious note in the mailbox signed Papa (his dead daughter’s name for God), inviting him to the shack  in the mountains linked to her death, ‘borrows’ a friend’s van and takes off. About to shoot himself in the cabin in his anguished grief, he’s distracted and, venturing outside,  meets  a stranger who invites him to follow him, the woods inexplicably transforming from a snow covered landscape into a lush, sunny paradise. Entering a well-appointed Laura Ashley-like cottage, he finds himself in the company of no less than a multicultural Holy Trinity in the form of God aka Papa (Octavia Spencer), the dude-like  Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Japanese pop star Sumire Matsubara), the Holy Spirit, (who collects tears in bottles), who have tasked themselves with bringing him inner peace.

Narrated by Mack’s neighbour (Tim McGraw), much of the interminable two plus hours is spent in Phillips hanging out with them, sharing dinner, accusing God of not caring and being cruel to allow such suffering and God telling him how much he/she loves all his/her children, showing his various visions, leading him to a chat with Wisdom (Alice Braga) and eventually, now taking the form of an elderly Native American (Graham Greene), telling him that, while he may still have anger, he needs to forgive the killer. Oh, yeh, he also gets to meet his dead dad and find redemption for having poisoned him when he was a kid for being an abusive wife beater.

Ponderously scripted and directed with a  warm self-help homespun Hallmark fuzziness that wanders from earnest spiritual crisis to Mack and Jesus playfully running  hand in hand on water, it’s shallow, bland and dreary. Worthington does what he can with the material but at one point understandably asks ‘why am I here?) in deadly serious mode, but Radha Mitchell is utterly wasted as his wife and, while Megan Charpentier does get a poignant moment as the couple’s equally grief and guilt-wracked other daughter, a warm and open Spencer is the film’s only redeeming grace. It’s heart is in the right place, but it’s brain is clearly absent. (Empire Great Park)

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. (Vue Star City)

Wonder Woman (12A)

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; 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 Jun 16-Thu Jun 22

 

 

Gifted (12A)

Basically a cross between Little Man Tate and Kramer versus Kramer, director Marc Webb delivers an unsentimental tearjerker involving a child mathematical prodigy and custody battle. When her unmarried mother, Diane Adler, a brilliant mathematician, committed suicide, leaving him with her baby daughter, her bachelor brother, Frank (Chris Evans), gave up his university professorship, moved to a  low rent neighbourhood and took up work as a self-employed Florida boat repairman to raise and home-school his niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), as an ordinary child away from a world that would stigmatise her talent as ‘special’, as it did her mother. However, now she’s six, he feels she should enter the official education system so she can mix with kids her own age and enrols her at the local elementary school, against the advice of  his neighbour, Roberta  (Octavia Spencer, warm but somewhat wasted) who warns nothing good will come of it.

She’s right of course. Understandably thinking that 1+1 is 2 is a bit below her intellectual capabilities, Mary quickly startles her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) with her mathematical prowess. Likewise the headmistress (Elizabeth Marvel) who, when she has to haul Frank in after Mary breaks the school bully’s nose for wrecking her classmate’s zoo model, now well aware of her background, offers to get a place and a scholarship at an academy where her gifts can be nurtured. Frank refuses, insisting he wants to let her grow up an ordinary child, free from the pressures that drove his sister to kill herself.

The next thing he knows, his domineering, estranged English mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), herself a former maths prodigy,  is in town, demanding Mary be given the education befitting her gifts and taking her son to court in order to gain custody of her granddaughter. It’s at the cross-examining that the real reasons why Frank is resisting his mother’s demands and the relationship between her and Diane are  powerfully laid bare.

All of which has the potential to wallow in syrup and schmaltz. Thankfully, a sharp, emotionally satisfying  script by Tom Flynn and assured direction by Webb, who, before webslinging with The Amazing Spider-Man films, made the affectingly poignant 500 Days of Summer,  keep it from movie of the week territory, ensuring the tears (and there will be several) are well earned,  even if more might have been made of the budding romance between Frank and Bonnie. Likewise, in terms of parenting issues, while the script inevitably has to come down on one side, more considered questioning as to whether Frank’s actions really are in Mary’s best interests might not have gone amiss. Such niggles aside, the film is also well served by a strong central cast, Evans showing an unexpected soulful side and, while, ostensibly the villain of the piece,  Duncan making the snobbish Evelyn a far from one-dimensional character, driven by demons of her own. However, it’s Grace, top front teeth missing, who truly elevates the film into the ranks of one of the year’s best, giving an unprecocious turn that spins between smartass, vulnerability, anger, joy, alienation and sadness with a naturalness and charm that is by far the best child actor performance since Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. The one-eyed cat’s just a bonus.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Churchill (PG)

Arriving a week late to mark the June 6 anniversary of D-Day, nonetheless Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky delivers a solid character story and meditation on the nature of leadership that goes behind the scenes of the preparations for Operation Overlord as, haunted by the slaughter at Gallipoli in WWI, for which he carries a sense of guilt, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) is having serious reservations about the plans to invade Normandy  drawn up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill reckons they are ill-advised and will cost the lives of thousands of young men, if not the war, and, in company with King George VI (James Purefoy, who gets a scene-stealing moment when he has to tell Churchill neither of them can be allowed to go with the troops) and, just a few days before the launch, announces to the allied commanders that he intends to draw up his own alternatives.

What follows is essentially a battle about who’s running the war, Eisenhower, Montgomery and even his close personal advisor, Boer War veteran Jan Smuts (Richard Durden), trying to persuade him that warfare has changed since he last saw action. Indeed, even his loyal wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson), their marriage sidelined by his single focus on the conflict, feels he may have lost his way and should step back and play the role of the country’s political leader rather than the warrior.

Condensing months into just a few days, it’s loosely based on historical fact (though one suspects the admiring new secretary –  Ella Purnell – who gets to deliver  a wake-up call and whom Churchill personally reassures her that her fiancé, who was in the first wave, is alive and well – may be dramatic licence), but  paints a somewhat different picture of the man often referred to as the greatest ever Briton; an irascible, cantankerous figure, prone to depression and doubt, overly fond of the whisky,  plagued by uncertainty, fearful of his post-war position and realising he has less power and control than he likes to imagine. As such, Cox delivers a bravura performance, not just physically resembling Churchill but perfectly capturing his voice and delivery, while Richardson is excellent as the exasperated but redoubtable long-suffering Clemmie. The supporting cast are essentially just that, but all serve well, just as Teplitzky does a commendably serviceable job on a limited budget and, while ultimately very much a  drama  about people talking in rooms, it’s engagingly watchable.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Hippopotamus (15)

Adapted from Stephen Fry’s country house comedy of manners, Roger Allam stars as the foul-mouthed Ted Wallace, a once well respected poet who now slums as a journo for whom the free booze is far more important than the stories he covers. When his outburst at a homoerotic production of Titus Andronicus gets him sacked, rescue comes in the form of an offer of £100,000 from an old friend (Emily Berrington) who wants him to  go to Swafford Hole, the home of is former best friend, Lord Michael Logan (Matthew Modine), to investigate  a spate of alleged spiritual healings at the hands of his the sex-obsessed son and aspirant poet,Ted’s godson, David (Tommy Knight), hers included. Co-starring Tim McInnerny as an over-the-top theatre director and Fiona Shaw as David’s mother, it’s had decent reviews, but virtually no release to speak of and the distributors failed to respond to requests for a review screening, which pretty much sums up the prospects for small British independent films these days. (Mon-Thu: MAC)

 

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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.  (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; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

Already beached at the  box office, Seth Gordon’s  big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the  fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly  soap opera  cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.

Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.

It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable  12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a  lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; 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. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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;  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.  (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 Solihull;  Empire Great Park; 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. (Mockingbird)

 
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. (Empire Great Park;  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. (Mockingbird)

The Mummy (15)

Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener,  holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Directed by Roger Michell, this is a handsome rework of the Daphne Du Maurier novel about obsession that originally saw big screen life back in B&W 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This time round, it’s Rachel Weisz  as Rachel, the Anglo-Italian widow of Philip (Sam Clafin), a young and frankly rather dull 19th century Englishman whose adult cousin Ambrose was both his guardian and her husband.

The film opens with him having received a letter from his late cousin describing how his wife was terrorising him and driving him to his death. Understandably then, he’s not ready to welcome her with open arms when he learns she’s coming to visit the farm that, since she wasn’t named in the will, he’s now inherited. He determined to give her the cold shoulder and, on the day of her arrival, takes off leaving instructions that she’s not to be fed until he returns. However, arriving home late at night, he learns she’s taken to her room, already charmed the servants, won over the dogs and politely  invited him to call on her after he’s eaten.

The moment he sets eyes on her, he’s a lost cause, initial fascination giving way to an obsessive love, falling totally under her spell, to the extent that he has his uncle Nick (Iain Glen), who’s managing the estate until he comes of age,  sign  the document he’s had drawn up assigning everything to her from the moment he turns 25.

The question is, of course, whether Rachel is truly the grieving widow who takes a shine to her cousin by marriage or a scheming and free-spending manipulator who, in cahoots with her Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), is conspiring to get her hands on the estate and  inheritance and poisoning him with her herbal teas, or whether Philip is just a jealous paranoid.

It’s all beautifully shot  and  the supporting cast features notable turns from Holliday Grainger as Louise, Nick’s daughter and Philip’s childhood friend with the secret crush, and Tim Barlow as his manservant Seecombe (who gets to deliver the film’s single expletive); however, while a subtly nuanced Weisz is as mesmerising as the role requires, there’s not enough of the enigma about her character to give it the edge of menace it needs,  nor (save for one of Philip’s feverish dreams in which she seems to be being rogered by the vicar) her  much talked about ‘limitless appetite’. With an unnecessary coda that might compound the tragedy, but blows the ambiguity, it’s well made and absorbing, but all a  little too chaste and a little too tame for its gothic nature.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Other Side of Hope (15)

It’s been six years since Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, and he returns with the second in a proposed trilogy, another droll serio-comic English language narrative built around a refugee  who escapes the authorities and is befriended by a friendly local. Here it’s Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who fled Syria with his sister, from whom he was separated along the way, and accidentally ends up in Helsinki after seeking shelter from some thugs aboard  freighter. He dutifully applies for asylum, but despite news reports of increasing fighting and atrocities in Aleppo he’s refused. On the day of his deportation, he’s helped to escape and winds up encountering Waldemar Wikstrom (Kaurismaki regular Sakari Kuosmanen), a grumpy, grizzled middle-aged travelling shirts saleseman who’s just left his alcoholic wife, sold business and, after increasing his pot playing poker,  bought a run down restaurant. The Golden Pint. He’s also inherited the three oddball staff  lugubrious doorman  Calaminius (Ilkka Koivula),  unenthusiastic waitress Mirja (Nuppu Koivu) and Nyrhinen (Janne Hyytiainen), a chef whose repertoire doesn’t extend beyond meatballs, herring and sardines, the latter served in the tin. Despite initial fisticuffs, Wikstrom takes Khaled in, makes him one of the staff and gets him fake papers.  There’s a doomed attempt to give the place a makeover serving sushi and, with the help of Mazdak (Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon), a fellow refugee, from Iraq, Khaled continues his search for his sister while encountering the less welcoming side of Finland in the shape of a bunch of far-right racists who, inexplicably (but typically Kaurismaki) call him Jewboy.

And that’s pretty much it. There is, naturally, a trademark dog and heavy use of twangsome rockabilly (performed, both solo and with band, by actor-composer Tuomari Nurmio) to complement the narrative,  the film deftly mixing serious social comment on the refugee crisis (asked how he made it to Finlandf Khaled replies, “Easily. No one wants to see me.”)  and melancholia with both poignant emotion and dry humour on route to its ambiguous open-ended conclusion. A Kaurismaki film, then. (MAC)

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 Norwegian directors 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, and 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 stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  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 explained 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 a  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 zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Shack (12A)

When his youngest daughter is abducted and murdered during a camping trip, church-going Orgeon father of three  Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) sinks into depression and crisis of faith. Then he finds a mysterious note in the mailbox signed Papa (his dead daughter’s name for God), inviting him to the shack  in the mountains linked to her death, ‘borrows’ a friend’s van and takes off. About to shoot himself in the cabin in his anguished grief, he’s distracted and, venturing outside,  meets  a stranger who invites him to follow him, the woods inexplicably transforming from a snow covered landscape into a lush, sunny paradise. Entering a well-appointed Laura Ashley-like cottage, he finds himself in the company of no less than a multicultural Holy Trinity in the form of God aka Papa (Octavia Spencer), the dude-like  Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Japanese pop star Sumire Matsubara), the Holy Spirit, (who collects tears in bottles), who have tasked themselves with bringing him inner peace.

Narrated by Mack’s neighbour (Tim McGraw), much of the interminable two plus hours is spent in Phillips hanging out with them, sharing dinner, accusing God of not caring and being cruel to allow such suffering and God telling him how much he/she loves all his/her children, showing his various visions, leading him to a chat with Wisdom (Alice Braga) and eventually, now taking the form of an elderly Native American (Graham Greene), telling him that, while he may still have anger, he needs to forgive the killer. Oh, yeh, he also gets to meet his dead dad and find redemption for having poisoned him when he was a kid for being an abusive wife beater.

Ponderously scripted and directed with a  warm self-help homespun Hallmark fuzziness that wanders from earnest spiritual crisis to Mack and Jesus playfully running  hand in hand on water, it’s shallow, bland and dreary. Worthington does what he can with the material but at one point understandably asks ‘why am I here?) in deadly serious mode, but Radha Mitchell is utterly wasted as his wife and, while Megan Charpentier does get a poignant moment as the couple’s equally grief and guilt-wracked other daughter, a warm and open Spencer is the film’s only redeeming grace. It’s heart is in the right place, but it’s brain is clearly absent. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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. (Vue Star City)

Wonder Woman (12A)

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; 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 Jun 9-Thu Jun 15

NEW RELEASES

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Directed by Roger Michell, this is a handsome rework of the Daphne Du Maruier novel about obsession that originally saw big screen life back in B&W 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This time round, it’s Rachel Weisz (who, as synchronicity would have it appear in the Mummy films with Brendan Fraser) who is Rachel, the Anglo-Italian widow of Philip (Sam Clafin), a young and frankly rather dull 19th century Englishman whose adult cousin Ambrose was both his guardian and her husband.

The film opens with him having received a letter rom his late cousin describing how his wife was terrorising him and driving him to his death. Understandably then, he’s not ready to welcome her with open arms when he learns she coming to visit the farm that, since she wasn’t named in the will, he’s now inherited. He determined to give her the cold shoulder and, on the day of her arrival, takes off leaving instructions that she’s not to be bed until he returns. However, arriving home late at night, he learns she’s taken to her room, already charmed the servants, won over the dogs and politely  invited him to call on her after he’s eaten.

The moment he sets eyes on her, he’s a lost cause, initial fascination giving way to an obsessive love, falling totally under her spell, to the extent that he has his uncle Nick (Iain Glen), who’s managing the estate until he comes of age, to sign  the document he’s had drawn up assigning everything to her from the moment he turns 25.

The question is, of course, whether Rachel is truly the grieving widow who takes a shine to her cousin marriage or a scheming and free-spending manipulator who, in cahoots with her Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), is conspiring to get her hands on the estate and  inheritance and poisoning him with her herbal teas, or whether Philip is just a jealous paranoid.

It’s all beautifully shot  and  the supporting cast features notable turns from Holliday Grainger as Louise, Nick’s daughter and Philip’s childhood friend with the secret crush and Tim Barlow as his manservant Seecombe (who gets to deliver the film’s single expletive); however, while a subtly nuanced Weisz is as mesmerising as the role requires, there’s not enough of the enigma about her character to give it the edge of menace it needs,  nor (save for one of Philip’s feverish dreams in which she seems to be being rogered by the vicar) her  much talked about ‘limitless appetite’. With an unnecessary coda that might compound the tragedy, but blows the ambiguity, it’s well made and absorbing, but all a  little too chaste and a little too tame for its gothic nature.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Levelling (15)

The feature debut of writer-director Hope Dickenson Leach, and the second film this week to feature  Game of Thrones star Ellie Kendrick, this bleak, depressing drama is set in Somerset following the floods of 2014 as veterinary student Clover (Kendrick) returns to the family fairy farm after her younger brother Harry (Joe Blakemore in flashbacks) apparently accidentally killed himself after putting a shotgun in his mouth. There’s clearly history between her and her gruff widowed ex-army father (David Troughton), who didn’t invite her to the party to celebrate Harry taking over the farm and where the shooting too place, and, with the insurers unwilling to pay out after the floods, the mood isn’t exactly light. As the film unfolds, it explores why Clover, who’s as stubborn as her father,  who she only ever refers to by his first name, has distanced herself from a family almost literally struggling to keep its head above water, and the truths she comes to uncover about what led to Harry’s death. Although well reviewed and despite picking up an awards at last year’s LFF, it has had a very limited release with almost no profile. (Mon/Tue: MAC)

The Mummy (15)

Universal launches its Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc) in inauspicious  form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.

This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.

This, it turns out is the ancient prison in which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener. holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an  Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.

Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board.  Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all.  Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.

While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up  a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could me mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.

All of this unfolds in a series of huge over designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the hood man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.

Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (15)

It may well have been hailed as one of Richard Gere’s finest performances, but this somewhat cumbersomely-titled drama addressing themes of anti-Semitism and stereotypes  is getting a very limited and low key release. Gere plays Norrman Oppenheimer, the president of a New York consultancy agency mostly dealing with American-Israeli business and politics. It’s not as swish as it sounds, his office basically being his cell phone and his satchel and the connections he claims to have are usually non-existent Basically, he’s a liar, manipulator and bit of a con artist who relies on someone buying into his story so he can built the network he supposedly already has. When Eshel, an Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi), is elected Prime Minister, Norman finds his star elevated and moving in the same circle as others looking to also make the most of the opportunity, among them Eshel’s ambitious nephew (Michael Sheen), a rabbi (Steve Buscemi), a tycoon (Harris Yulin) and his assistant (Dan Stevens) and an embassy official (Charlotte Gainsbourg), not to mention Hank Azaria as another fixer. However, when a political scandal blows up, Norman’s career seems set to implode. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park)

The Shack (12A)

When his youngest daughter is abducted and murdered during a camping trip, church-going Orgeon father of three  Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) sinks into depression and crisis of faith. Then he finds a mysterious note in the mailbox signed Papa (his dead daughter’s name for God), inviting him to the shack  in the mountains linked to her death, ‘borrows’ a friend’s van and takes off. About to shoot himself in the cabin in his anguished grief, he’s distracted and, venturing outside,  meets  a stranger who invites him to follow him, the woods inexplicably transforming from a snow covered landscape into a lush, sunny paradise. Entering a well-appointed Laura Ashley-like cottage, he finds himself in the company of no less than a multicultural Holy Trinity in the form of God aka Papa (Octavia Spencer), the dude-like  Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Japanese pop star Sumire Matsubara), the Holy Spirit, (who collects tears in bottles), who have tasked themselves with bringing him inner peace.

Narrated by Mack’s neighbour (Tim McGraw), much of the interminable two plus hours is spent in Phillips hanging out with them, sharing dinner, accusing God of not caring and being cruel to allow such suffering and God telling him how much he/she loves all his/her children, showing his various visions, leading him to a chat with Wisdom (Alice Braga) and eventually, now taking the form of an elderly Native American (Graham Greene), telling him that, while he may still have anger, he needs to forgive the killer. Oh, yeh, he also gets to meet his dead dad and find redemption for having poisoned him when he was a kid for being an abusive wife beater.

Ponderously scripted and directed with a  warm self-help homespun Hallmark fuzziness that wanders from earnest spiritual crisis to Mack and Jesus playfully running  hand in hand on water, it’s shallow, bland and dreary. Worthington does what he can with the material but at one point understandably asks ‘why am I here?) in deadly serious mode, but Radha Mitchell is utterly wasted as his wife and, while Megan Charpentier does get a poignant moment as the couple’s equally grief and guilt-wracked other daughter, a warm and open Spencer is the film’s only redeeming grace. It’s heart is in the right place, but it’s brain is clearly absent. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Whisky Galore (PG)

Starring James Robertson Justice, Joan Greenwood and Gordon Jackson, the comedic tale of a bunch  of Scottish islands who salvage a cargo of whisky froma  shipwreck under the noses of the customs officers during WWII,  Alexander Mackendrick’s 1949 film is one of the enduring Ealing classics. A rather twee story and very much of its time, remaking it seems something of a pointless exercise, but, even so, Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon has delivered a very enjoyable, amiably amusing piece of family fluff that’s a whole lot more fun than last year’s Dad’s Army.

When their rationed whisky supplies run out, the inhabitants of the remote Scottish isle of Todday are bereft, having to resort to drinking tea. Macroon (Gregor Fisher), the local Presbyterian widower postmaster has his hands full trying to deal with his two daughters, Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) and Peggy (Naomi Battrick) and their respective engagements to nervous school teacher George Campbell (Kevin Guthrie), much to the disapproval of his dour Calvinistic mother (Annie Louise Ross mother), and recently returned soldier Sgt. Odd (Sean Biggerstaff). The crux of the plot, however, centres around a ship running aground on the rocks, carring with a huge cargo of whisky meant for export to America and, as such, forbidden to be sold or consumed on UK shores. Not that that is going to deter the islanders who resolve to salvage the crates and hid them around the island before the ship sinks. The only problems they have to face is the fact that the minister (James Cosmo) is very strict about nobody labouring on the Sabbath and that Captain Waggett (Eddie Izzard),  the pompous leader of the home guard is, in tandem with the customs and excise,  determined to ensure the whisky remains out of the islanders’ hands.

A subplot involving a stash of government papers relating to the King’s romantic entanglements and which a Home Office agent is keen to recover never really goes anywhere, but otherwise this ambles along cosily enough, Izzard is dryly excellent form as a sort of variation on Captain Mainwaring as his Fenella Woolgar as his long suffering wife whose sympathies are more clearly with the locals. Undemanding stuff perhaps, but, played with tongues in cheeks, it’s a gentle, good-natured farce that makes a refreshing change from the  vulgar, hyperactive comedies currently foisted on audiences by the Hollyood machine, one that slips down nicely like a 12-year-old malt.  (Sun-Tue: MAC)

 

 

 

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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.  (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, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

Already beached at the  box office, Seth Gordon’s  big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the  fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly  soap opera  cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.

Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.

It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable  12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a  lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; 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.   (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. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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)

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.  (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; 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 Solihull; Empire Great Park;  Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

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.  (Mon: Electric)

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 Norwegian directors 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, and 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 stealing  a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence)  and hauling the entire building through the town  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 explained 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 a  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 zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. 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 Davey 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)

A Quiet Passion (12A)
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, when Emily Dickinson died, 56 years later, she left behind almost 1800 poems, only around 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 its 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-minded art house audience, but it’s also on the year’s very best. (Wed/Thu: MAC)
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)

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. (Empire Great Park; 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.   (Showcase Walsall)

 

Wonder Woman (12A)

Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with  super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and  four men standing in a  Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power  will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus  in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.

Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a  facially disfigured chemist working for   Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a  German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.

Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from  what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming  he’s actually Ludendorff.

Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet,  their mission to destroy the gas  is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.

Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.

It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous  Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League.  (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)

 

 

 

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

Brum folk big band announce new album and Power Folk 4

Conservatoire Folk Ensemble

Birmingham’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble release their first full studio album on Sunday 11 June 2017.

Entitled Painted the album sees the 50-plus members mash traditional folk music with more global and eclectic influences, and will be officially launched at Power Folk 4 – the ensemble’s annual all-dayer, which takes place at The Spotted Dog, Digbeth on the same day.

Conservatoire Folk Ensemble: Painted - out 11 June 2017

Painted: Track-By-Track

Here’s ensemble founder and leader Joe Broughton’s run down of Painted.

  1. Banish Misfortune / Poll Ha’penny

“Banish Misfortune is one of my absolute favourite folk tunes. I’ve always loved it but it’s so good that it took me a long time to think of some riffs, to think of an approach that did the tune justice and didn’t ruin what’s good about the tune. There’s a big percussion break joining the two tunes together. When you have five percussionists in the band it is great to give them chance to let loose, you can imagine how this is developed live! Poll Ha’penny was never supposed to be on this album but when working on the live show the electric guitar section wrote a new section for it which I love, so it just had to be included.”

  1. The Graduate

“This is a piece written by guitarist and bass player Sal Broughton (yes he’s my little brother). It has very fast become a favourite of the ensemble. Sal is like me, very much into a good riff, and I think the one he’s put to his tune here is awesome, as well as the melody being a really inventive reel.”

  1. Cant de Batre (Threshing Song)

“Dani is a Spanish (Valencian) trumpet player who joined the band last year and he brought this song and tune, partly traditional and partly composed by him on the theme of the song, to the band. It’s a brand new one that I know is going to be a hit with audiences. The exploration of changing time signatures and feels in this one will keep you guessing, it does me! The song is sung by Samantha Oxborough who I have to say is an exceptional musician. Sam plays Euphonium on the instrumentals, is a first study opera singer, and is here doing a mighty job of singing a Catalan folk song…”

  1. Pimentons Torrats amb Oli i Sal

“This piece was written by our brilliant Valencian trumpet player Dani Blance Albert, it includes a frightening number of time signature changes and is influenced by the Threshing Song that comes before it. The song and this tune feel like you are out in the heat and make us all very thirsty… Dani is also an exceptional cook so no wonder he named this after food!”

  1. Fairy Dance / The Day That Changed Everything

Conservatoire Folk Ensemble“After 20 years of finding great folk music to do arrangements of for the band I thought I’d have a stab at Fairy Dance, just to see what happened. Fairy Dance is a tune I have always hated so it was really just an experiment! Before I knew it I was going down all kinds of crazy avenues looking for the right harmonies and in the end I like it, which probably means that if you liked the tune to start with you’re not going to like this. You get a more traditional version to start with then you get my version, which is a bit more ‘Birmingham’ than perhaps it should be. The second tune in the set is one that I wrote, and is as the title would suggest, about a specific day that changed everything. Perhaps you can think of a moment in your life after which nothing was ever the same again? That’s exactly what this one is about.”

  1. Rain and Snow

“Rosie Tunley arranged the really imaginative parts for this traditional song. The band is stripped down on this one but it’s still ‘power folk.’ It’s a great advantage to the band that amongst the 50-plus members we always have some great singers, and the lead vocals on this one are done by Rosie Tunley and Rosemary Wilkes. The feeling they bring to it combined with the harp motif and emotive strings makes for what could be one of the best cuts of the album.”

  1. The Butterfly / Kodo

“The Butterfly is another classic tune that I love when it’s done traditionally, but here we give it the full Folk Ensemble treatment with a monstrously unsubtle blues riff jammed in the middle – it shouldn’t work but somehow it does. Kodo is a Japanese tune brought to the band by Josh Wunderlich. Perhaps one of the hardest pieces to play, we have spent many, many hours rehearsing this as there are a lot of notes in it!”

  1. Tek bir güneşin altında yürüyoruz (We March Under One Sun)

“I composed this piece very recently to simply say that if you’re marching in protest or marching in celebration, if you’re marching to war or marching back from the pub, you’re all doing it in the same place, you are the same people, under one sun.”

  1. William Taylor / Shots Reel

“For me the greatest acoustic band in recent history is Whippersnapper. The great force of Dave Swarbrick, Kevin Dempsey, Martin Jenkins and Chris Leslie was really something that you had to hear in person to believe it. They gigged extensively in the 80s and 90s and I never missed an opportunity to see them. On their last studio album was this gem written by Kevin Dempsey (although the words are adapted from a traditional song). Kevin Dempesy is one of the most underrated musicians in the UK and so I take great delight in bringing out one of his songs to be heard again. I wrote the tune Shots Reel to add a bit of my own twist and the song is sung by Julie Claire, who perhaps sways slightly more towards a Beyonce than a Carthy in everyday life, but I think her version of this song is incredibly refined and beautiful.”

  1. Ruchenitsas / Lattinmore

“This pair of Ruchenitsas predates even my involvement with the ensemble. Back when the ensemble was just a college elective rather than a gigging band my very good friend Frank Moon taught this one to the group. We’ve recently revisited the tunes, and I’ve written a couple of riffs to go with them, so it’s nice to include them as a hark back over the 20 year history of the band. At a rehearsal a few years back the then bass player, Mike Lattimore, quipped that I should write him a tune to go on the end called Lattinmore – so that’s what I did. This does mean that we end up with a kind of South American section to the Bulgarian track but hey … let’s call it globalisation!”

LISTINGS

Sunday 11 June 2017
Power Folk 4
The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble’s annual all day power folk party. With special guests inc John McCusker, and Gilmore and Roberts.
Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B12 0NH
Doors 3pm, music from 4pm ‘til late
Folk Ensemble on at 6.30pm. Tickets £9 / £6 (conc) / £12 (inc album, if purchased in advance, before 9 Jun).
More details: www.folkensemble.co.uk

The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble feature musicians from Birmingham City University’s prestigious Conservatoire. Previous members have included Jim Morary and members of The Fair Rain/ Old Dance School.

Previous articles: Power Folk 3 (2016)

Supersonic 2017

Richard Dawson, Anna Von Hausswolff, Arbrouretum, Jenny Hval, The Space Lady and Zonal are just some of the acts set to appear at 2017’s Supersonic festival.

Dawson arrives on the back of his new album, Peasant, a song cycle created with several guests including harpist Rhodri Davies.

Dawson says his objective with his new album was to create “a panorama of a society which is at odds with itself and has great sickness in it, and perhaps doesn’t take responsibility – blame going in all the wrong directions”.

“I feel like shouting”, he continues. “I really believe in this album. It feels somehow different than before … that this can be something important, something of use.”

Supersonic – which took a year off in 2016 – runs from Friday 16 to Sunday 18 June 2017. Venues include Birmingham Town Hall and Boxxed, in Digbeth.

Day tickets from £20; three days £90; key events £5-£23. For more details, including tickets, see: supersonicfestival.com

Richard Dawson’s Peasant is out now on Domino.  He appears at Supersonic on Saturday 17 June 2017. For more information see: richarddawson.net