Interview: The Fair Rain

The Fair Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabscallion
Rabscallion, featuring several members from The Fair Rain.

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

 

 

NEW RELEASES

A Quiet Passion (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Belko Experiment (18)

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

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

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

 

I Am Not Your Negro (12A)

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

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

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

 

 
Rules Don’t Apply (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The Sense of an Ending (15)

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

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

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

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

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

Their Finest (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

Unforgettable (15)

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

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

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

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

The Zookeeper’s Wife (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

NOW PLAYING

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Going In Style (12A)

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

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

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

 

 The Handmaiden (18)

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

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

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

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

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Life  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Power Rangers (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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

 

NEW RELEASES

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 The Handmaiden (18)

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

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

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

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

 

Mad To Be Normal (15)

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

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

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

 

The Salesman (12A)

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

 

The Sense of an Ending (15)

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

 

 

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Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best: All By Himself (12A)

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

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Going In Style (12A)

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

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

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

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Life  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Power Rangers (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

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

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

 

Table 19 (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

Trespass Against Us (15)

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

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

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

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

News: New Birmingham city centre music festival announces location and lineup

Editors are amongst acts confirmed to headline the first edition of new Birmingham city centre festival Beyond The Tracks in September 2017

Ocean Colour Scene, Editors, The Twang, Higher Intelligence Agency, Victories At Sea, Dorcha, Jaws, Superfood, Goodnight Lenin, Health and Efficiency, Table Scraps, Blackash, and The Americas are amongst Birmingham acts confirmed to play a brand new city centre music festival later this year.

Beyond The Tracks, set to take place in Eastside City Park between Friday 15 and Sunday 17 September 2017, will feature headline sets from internationally acclaimed electronic acts Orbital, Faithless and Leftfield – performing classic 1995 album Leftism in its entirety.

Event organisers also today announced performances from Jaguar Ma, Maximo Park, The Coral, Carl Barat and The Jackals, The Sandinistas, Jesus and Mary Chain, Wild Beasts, Slow Dive, Peter Hook and the Light, Nadine Shah, Josefin Orhn and The Liberation.

The first edition of the weekend festival will see artists performing in the shadow of the Grade I listed Curzon Street Station building close to the site of the proposed HS2 high-speed rail terminus. It is one of the first major live music events to take place within the boundaries of Birmingham city centre for a number of years.

The immediate area around Eastside City Park has seen considerable redevelopment in the past decade and is now home to Birmingham Ormiston Academy, Birmingham City University, and a number of reopened venues and pubs including The Eagle and Ball and The Eagle and Tun.

Beyond The Tracks is produced by the team behind Moseley Folk Festival, Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul and Lunar Festival.

Tickets for Beyond The Tracks, priced from £45.00 – £49.50, go on sale this Friday 14 April via See Tickets

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Apr 7-Thu Apr 13

 

 

NEW RELEASES

City Of Tiny Lights  (15)

 

It’s been a long time since the UK produced a film noir of any note, but, in his first feature since the underperforming Dredd, director Pete Travis goes a considerable way to remedying that with Patrick Neate’s adaptation of his own novel.

Set in a grimy West London, Riz Ahmed is Tommy Akhtar, a low rent private eye who, working out of shabby office,  deals in “the lies people tell and the truths they don’t” and who tends to see the world through a haze of cigarette smoke and bourbon fumes. He’s approached by Melody (Cush Jumbo), an African hooker, who wants him to find her Russian fellow prostitute flatmate, Natasha,  who never returned from an appointment with her last client. Tracking down the hotel she used, Tommy finds the client dead, his skull bashed in and no sign of the girl. The dead man, it turns out, was a prominent businessman involved in a scheme to redevelop the area, buying up property and driving out the drug dealers,  and, more pertinent to Tommy, the business partner of Hafiz aka Lovely (James Lloyd), one of his old schoolfriends who’s gone on to make a success of himself.

Meeting up again after all these years prompts flashbacks to their shared time together (the young Lovely played by Antonio Aakeel) along with best mate Stuart (George Sargeant) and Shelley (Hannah Rae), Stuart’s girlfriend, with whom the young Tommy (Reiss Kershi-Hussain) was also in love. The date of the murder also happens to coincide with the anniversary of Stuart’s death. In making his annual visit to the grave, Tommy’s surprised to find the now grown Shelley (Billy Piper), back for the first time since the tragedy that, unfolded in further flashbacks, saw her leave, bringing with her teenage daughter Emma (Rae again), with whom she was pregnant when Stuart died.

As was the case all those years ago, there’s clearly something between her and Tommy, while things are further complicated by the fact that Lovely apparently is linked to Al-Dabaran (Alexander Siddig), the head of an Islam Youth Centre (part of the Muslim community from which  Tommy’s sought to distance himself) who may both be involved in terrorism and linked to Natasha’s disappearance. To which end, Tommy recruits Avid (Mohammed Ali Amiri), the  teenage Moroccan  street punk of the local shopkeeper (Myriam Acharki) with whom Tommy’s friends, to infiltrate and dig up information. On top of this, he’s also forcefully warned off by an American agent (Vincent Regan) who, responsible for making the crime scene disappear, is also investigating Al-Dabaran and has sidelined local cop Donnely (Danny Webb) from the case.

As Tommy gradually pieces together the connections between the players, the murky plot unfolds an assorted patchwork of guilt, betrayal, conspiracy and political corruption, during all of which the relationship between him and Shelley takes another turn.

Shifting back and forth in time, it slowly builds  the narrative tension while also addressing such issues as integration, the threat of fundamentalism, and the shady aspects of the property market, it crafts a strong sense of suspense while also deepening the characterisation of the central players and their collective responsibilities. In addition to which, Roshan Seth provides for some humour as Tommy’s ailing father, a former army officer who believes everything in life can be learned from cricket.

The hugely charismatic Ahmed is terrific while Piper carries just the right touch of flintiness and pain, but the cast as a whole, in particular those playing the younger versions of the characters are all solid. There are flaws – not least Travis’s fondness for visual flourishes – and things are possibly more complicated than need be, especially the American involvement, but, making effective use – both physically and figuratively – of the shadowy city settings, shooting extensively at night with its neon glows, this is a compelling watch.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Broadway Plaza;  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 and attention of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), who lull him to sleep singing Blackbird. So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less so 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 (well, waddle), talk and that he’s actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because there’s not enough love to go round and babies are losing out 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 talking 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, by way of some Elvis impersonators, 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 snappy and sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and Madagascar director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while the bookended narration by the grown up Tim’s provided by Tobey Maguire and James McGrath offers some amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It could, perhaps, have been sharper and, inevitably, it ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Going In Style (12A)

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

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

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

 

Table 19 (12A)

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

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

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

An innocuous mess, it’s mildly amusing (save for Merchant who, pulling silly faces, is excruciatingly unfunny) and vaguely  touchy-feely, but does manage to pull some genuine poignancy out of the hat in the final stretch. However, were it not for Kendrick, whose gift for physical comedy, ability to deliver a smart one-liner and tap into emotions beyond the script’s pay grade, this would be feeble stuff, all too often relying on the wedding band’s 80s covers (Heart and Soul, Hold Me Now, All Through The Night, I Melt With You) to give the emotional cues. No one expected the guests on the table to actually turn up, the same might be said of the audience. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

 

 

Flatpack Festival Picks

Sat

The Giant (12A)

Flatpack regular  Johannes Nyholm makes his feature debut with a quirky but beguiling film about an autistic man with a facial deformity that limits his ability to communicate, but  longs to be both part of a community and independent. Despite his verbal communication problems in his mind he is a giant, able to overcome all obstacles as he searches for his birth mother and attempts to conquer the world at his chosen sport of boules. (Everyman)

Suntan (18)

Forty-something Dr Kostis is transferred to the small island of Antiparos, in recovery from some unspecified trauma. An encounter with a young woman at the surgery sparks his interest, and before long this becomes a full-blown obsession. A Greek ‘coming-of-middle-age drama’, played out against a backdrop of holiday hedonism..(Electric)

Sun

My Life as a Courgette (12A)

Oscar nominated animation about Courgette,  a young boy experiencing life in a foster home after the unexpected death of his alcoholic mother, – his only souvenir of her an empty beer can. His fellow residents are also suffering  from some kind of childhood trauma, but the film is ultimately life-affirming and very funny. (Electric)

The Other Side of Hope (12A)

It’s been far too long since an Aki Kaurismäki film played here, and this promises to be as quirky as his others, involving, as it does, a Syrian asylum seeker newly arrived in Helsinki on a coal freighter, and a poker-playing local who walks out on his alcoholic wife. Having escaped the violence of Aleppo and threatened with deportation by Finnish authorities, Khaled finds work at a ramshackle restaurant populated by others bumping along the bottom. (Electric)

 

NOW PLAYING

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dancer  (12A)

Documentary about Russian dancer Sergei Polunin who, aged 15 and at the peak of his famer,  walked away from his unprecedentedly successful ballet career, looking at how his talent went from gift to a burden driving him towards self-destruction. (Mon-Wed: MAC)

 

Free Fire (15)

Evoking both Peckinpah’s The Wild  Bunch and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Ben Wheatley’s follow up to  High-Rise is essentially one long shoot-out, one that takes place in a single setting. It’s Boston, 1978, and an arms deal is going down in an abandoned warehouse. There to buy the guns are a pair of IRA members, the sharp-witted Chris (Cillian Murphy) and his grizzled superior, Frank (Michael Smiley), with the rather less intelligent Stevo (Sam Riley) and his mate Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) along as hired hands. Also accompanying them is Justine (Brie Larson), the chilly businesswoman who’s arranged a meeting with cool and casual middle-man Ord (a bearded Armie Hammer) and the gun-runners, weaselly and somewhat crazy South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his crew, Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), and the volatile Harry (Jack Reynor).

Things don’t go well from the start, Vernon’s consignment not being the weapons Chris is expecting.  Negotiations on a compromise are tense, but eventually settled. But then, as the weapons are being transferred and the money handed over, things kick off when Harry recognises Stevo as the guy with whom had a run in the previous night, whips out his gun and shoots. The two sides take cover and the film becomes a lengthy exchange of both gunfire and insults as the assorted characters pop up to let off a round or two. Minor wounds are inflicted, but nothing fatal, a rather more realistic scenario than the average Hollywood fire-fight. And then two new sharpshooters enter the fray, both sides assuming they’ve been engaged by the other. Naturally, double-dealing is involved, though between and by whom is teasingly withheld until an unexpected turn of events just as everything seems to have settled down.

Co-written by Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, there’s huge swathes of black humour and wisecracking dialogue, giving  the now clichéd set up a very different, more playful almost Looney Tunes spin, however bloody it may get – and get bloody it definitely does.

Characterisation is pretty basic, Hammer the unflappable voice of reason, Copley the unpredictable lunatic, Larson the icy professional, Riley and Raynor the out of control stooges, and so on, but that simply adds to the shambolic but expertly choreographed fun with its bad fashions and an inspired soundtrack in which John Denver plays a crucial part. With even the characters admitting they’re confused about what’s going on, it’s best to not look for any deep allegorical meanings. but just go along with the ride, enjoying the tension and comedy until the final reveal and payoff. Bang on target. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza)

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Life  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LoveTrue (15)

A  genre-bending documentary following the real-life relationships of three people in vastly different American landscapes. Alaskans Blake and Joel pursue a promising romance, in spite of physical limitations and her stripping career. In Hawaii, free spirit Coconut Willie discovers another side of true love after discovering he’s not his son’s biological father and singer/songwriter Victory muses on faith and faithfulness as she, her siblings and her father perform in the streets of New York City. (Thu: MAC)

Personal Shopper (15)

Having played  personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s actress in  Olivier Assayas’s last film. The Clouds of Sils Maria, this time Kristen Stewart takes centre stage as Maureen, the introverted personal shopper to demanding  German supermodel/designer Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). She’s in charge of selecting and collecting the clothes, shoes and jewellery for her client’s appearances at assorted high profile events, but is under strict orders not to try anything on. She does, of course, both borrowing the items and staying in Kyra’s plush apartment whenever she’s out of town.

In addition, she’s also trying to make contact with her dead twin brother Lewis, who was also a  medium and with whom she shares the congenital heart defect that killed him. They vowed that whoever went first would try and make contact with the other, which she’s trying to do in the decaying  old Parisien house where he died, as well as seeking to rid it of any lingering spirits so his former girlfriend  (Sigrid Bouaziz)) can sell it and move on.

She senses a presence, although, as a subsequent scary scene reveals, it’s not that of her brother. But this isn’t the only tension at play. Midway in, Maureen starts getting texts from an unknown caller, who creepily seems to know her every move as well as her fears and desires, providing her access to a hotel room where they never meet. And then there’s a murder to add another level of intrigue, though this and the killer’s reveal seem almost like a shrug in the narrative.

Weaving between states of mind and shifting genres, psychological or supernatural horror one moment, Hitchcockian thriller the next, the film  is as enigmatic and hard to read as its central character, who may or may not be psychotic, consumed by guilt or riddled with a dark desire to be something or someone she is not. Stewart delivers a compellingly blank performance, one which makes the emotions all the  more powerful when they actually surface even when the film is frustratingly ambiguous, as for example, whether the mysterious texts are, as she messages at one point, from the living or the dead.

Even if does deliver the ectoplasmic  shock audiences expect, it is, as you might surmise, all rather arty and experimental, exploring notions of dislocation, physically and psychologically, as well as fetishism and auto-eroticism,  summoning an air of dread and foreboding, not least in a scene where doors open automatically to let through, well, apparently nobody . Its frequent fades to black and the open-ending won’t satisfy those who like things neatly tied up, but for those willing to succumb to its guile it has many rewards. (MAC)

 

Power Rangers (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

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

 

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

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Interview: Chris Tye

Singer-songwriter Chris Tye

Singer-songwriter Chris Tye has been playing across the West Midlands (and further afield) since the early ’00s. Releasing his first album, Somewhere Down The Line, in 2006, he belatedly followed it up in 2014 with The Paper Grenade. Now comes Stronger In Numbers.

Released on 21 April 2017, Stronger In Numbers is Tye’s most assured release to date. Produced by Michael Clarke (Ron Sexsmith, Dan Whitehouse, David Brent’s Forgone Conclusion) at his Kings Heath studio, the 11 tracks see Tye aim to mesh his love of classic songsters, such as Paul Simon and John Martyn, with the bigger sound created by the likes of The National and the Shins.

The album is launched on Saturday 22 April 2017 at Ort in Balsall Heath, Birmingham.

The title track, Stronger In Numbers, was inspired by a close friend who passed away, and how he felt lifted, stronger, with people around him …

This one, more than any other track on the album, directly tells the story … about losing my friend and everything I learnt from that. I had the chords and melody for a while and no lyrics. I remember the working title was ‘Just saying’ for no reason what so ever. My good friend, and brilliant songwriter, Dan Whitehouse says he always gives his demos titles, so that they are easier to revisit and you begin to take ownership of them. I’ve taken this on board ever since … just avoids a situation where you have endless numbers tracks.

The recording of the song was much more acoustic sounding until we had Paul Connop – an amazing guitarist – visit us in the studio. Paul plays with Scott Matthews and has such great taste for tones and atmospherics.  He sent to track in to outer space really – in a great way. We recorded so much material with him, layers and layers of this beautiful ethereal vibe. Then Michael and I immediately shot out into Kings Heath to celebrate a good days recording with four thousand and six beers. The following day was a challenging one – loads of editing for Michael and loads of moaning and groaning, and sore head complaining from me sat next to him!

As much as I love this track and loved the whole process of working with Paul Connop – there will always be part of my head that hurts when I remember the hangover from hell in Kings Heath.

Do you have any other favourite tracks on the album?

More Than A Dream – I think Michael added the piano part … and then we were then a bit stuck with the track. I remember driving over one evening, towards the end of the tracking process, and just throwing all the percussive layers at it – we had great fun recording all those parts. I remember reading an interview with Jamie Lidell, and he was saying something like – part of the magic of creating a good groove is in capturing different percussion parts, so say 16th notes on the ride cymbal, and 8th note handclaps on one mic at the same time as one performance … the old skool way I suppose – when producers didn’t have the option of 96 tracks of audio, just one mic in the middle of the room and have fun making sounds! The progress of the track was helped further when my friend and record producer did an early mix of this song (it actually comes with bonus tracks for the album); that mix and his perspective helped us nail the direction for the song!

Chris Tye's new album, Stronger In Numbers
Stronger In Numbers album cover with Chris Tye second from right .

You have a fair few guests on the album – Dan Whitehouse, Vijay, Michael King etc

Yes, given the theme of the album – togetherness/ stronger in numbers – I was keen to make the process as inclusive as possible. We had Michael and Anna from Boat To Row join us on the record. I’m a big fan of their work, especially the most recent album I Found You Here. I have been aware of their work for a while now, a little while back Michael and myself were doing some work at the same school, and found we had a lot of common ground, he sings some beautiful backing vocals of a few songs. Anna is a sublime string player she was kind enough to play some sting parts on a song called‘No Sin’ – the strings were arranged by Scott Matthews and Jo Hamilton producer Jon Cotton. It’s a beautiful arrangement and it really came to life once we had Anna’s playing on there.

Vijay Kishore and myself are great friends. We’ve gigged together loads over the years, I’m so pleased he was able to sing on my record. He’s currently working on new material, which as a fan I’m extremely happy about.

You’re launching the album at Ort with a stripped down trio, and have Hannah Brown opening …

We played a show together as part of the BBC Introducing showcase with Jo Whitley back in 2015. I’ve been hoping we could work together since then. She’s a huge talent, she writes such accessible songs and has a really cool sound.

  • Saturday 22 April 2017, Chris Tye plus support from Hannah Brown, Ort, 500 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham B12 9AH. Tickets £6. Show 8pm. Buy tickets: www.wegottickets.com

  • For more information, see: www.christye.co.uk

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Mar 31-Thu Apr 6

NEW RELEASES

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

Subject to some controversy in having cast a white actress in an iconic Manga role, director Rupert Sanders brings Mamoru Oshii’s cult cyberthriller creation to the big screen for its first live action adaptation. Those familiar with the Manga comic and animations will be more conversant with things, but for newbies this serves as an origin story, detailing how the unnamed Major (Scarlett Johansson) became a hybrid human-android cyberterrorism fighter, her brain – her ghost or soul – transplanted to an artificial body by Hanka Robotics. However, working for Section 9, the government’s cyberterrorist division, under Aramaki (Takeshi Takano) alongside fellow agent Batou (Pilou Asbaek), she’s experiencing glitches in her programming, flashbacks to memories that don’t gel with what she knows of her past.

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

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

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

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

“We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us,” intones Johannson, inevitably thoughts of Blade Runner, Scott’s film clearly offering template for the film’s look as well as its themes about identity and humanity. Undeniably glossily and sleekly thrilling and with a pulsing core part composed by Black Country boy  Clint Mansell, on the downside, it’s singularly lacking in humour and, with rather damning irony, despite the title, it’s a entirely soulless affair. (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 Fits (12A)

Having been doing the festival rounds since the start of 2016, writer-director Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature finally surfaces in the UK for a few limited appearances on the art house circuit. It’s certainly worth making the effort to seek out, not least for the compelling performance by first time young lead Royalty Hightower, only 11 at the time of filming. She’s Toni, an African-American tomboy who  does boxing training with her brother, Donte (Da’Sean Minor), down at the local Cincinnati community centre, helping clean up at the end of the day. Her attention and interest is caught by the  The Lionesses, a trophy-winning dance troupe who practise and rehearse their aggressive, confrontational moves (a mirror of what goes on in the boxing ring) in the same building and she’s encouraged to give it a go. Her dancing initially awkward (Hightower’s actually an accomplished dancer) and promoting sniggering, she works hard to improve, including on a neighbourhood overpass, but, just as she’s the only girl among the boxers, her poor skills here make her feel like an outsider in both communities. She’s befriended by one of the younger girls, Beezy (Alexis Neblett) with whom she hangs out, but then, first the team captain, (Makyla Burnam),  then other others of crew, beginning with Karisma (Inayah Rodgers), start having convulsive fits and fainting spells.

Although audience are invited to assume these may be linked to Toni, the film never spells out the cause, further intensifying the sense of mystery and otherworldliness that pervades, the film climaxing in a bravura hallucinatory dance montage that deepens things even more.

With very few adults and even these filmed out of focus, Holmer’s essentially exploring a theme of adolescent psychological isolation, and a desire to belong, all of which (complemented by the droning sound design) hinges on Hightower’s performance, mostly silent and fixing the audience with the close ups of her blank, intense gaze straight into to the camera lens. Indeed, the film is full of images of looking, notably peering through windows or into mirrors. It offers no answers, the fits themselves quite possibly a meaningless distraction, but the questions it raises are compelling. (Sat, Mon/Tue:MAC)

Free Fire (15)

Evoking both Peckinpah’s The Wild  Bunch and, though he’d disagree, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, director Ben Wheatley’s follow up to  High-Rise is essentially one long shoot-out, one that takes place,  claustrophobically, in a single setting. It’s Boston, 1978, and an arms deal is going down in an abandoned warehouse. There to buy the guns are a pair of IRA members, the sharp-witted Chris (Cillian Murphy) and his grizzled superior, Frank (Michael Smiley), with the rather less intelligent obnoxious Stevo (Sam Riley) and his mate Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) along as hired hands. Also accompanying them is Justine (Brie Larson), the chilly businesswoman who’s arranged a meeting with cool and casual stoner middle-man Ord (a bearded Armie Hammer) and the gun-runners, weaselly and somewhat crazy South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his crew, Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), and  the volatile Harry (Jack Reynor).

Things don’t go well from the start, Vernon’s consignment not being the weapons Chris is expecting.  Negotiations on a compromise are tense, but eventually settled. But then, as the weapons are being transferred and the money handed over, things kick off when Harry recognises Stevo as the guy he beat up the night before for coming on to his younger sister, whips out his gun and shoots. The two sides take cover and the film becomes a lengthy exchange of both gunfire and insults as the assorted characters pop up out of their hiding places to let off a round or two. Minor wounds are inflicted, but nothing fatal (Vernon’s more annoyed at a bullet ripping his polyester jacket), a rather more realistic scenario than the average Hollywood fire-fight. And then two new sharpshooters enter the fray, both sides assuming they’ve been engaged by the other. Naturally, double-dealing is involved, though between and by whom is teasingly withheld until an unexpected turn of events just as everything seems to have settled down.

Co-written by Wheatley and his wife and editor, Amy Jump, there’s huge swathes of black humour and wisecracking dialogue, giving  the now clichéd set up a very different, more playful almost Looney Tunes spin, however bloody it may get – and get bloody (and burned) it definitely does.

Characterisation is pretty basic, Hammer the unflappable voice of reason, Copley the unpredictable lunatic, Larson the icy professional, Riley and Raynor the out of control stooges, and so on, but that simply adds to the shambolic but expertly choreographed fun with its bad fashions and an inspired soundtrack in which John Denver plays a crucial part. With even the characters admitting they’re confused about what’s going on, it’s best to not look for any deep allegorical meanings but just go along with the ride, enjoying the tension and comedy until the final reveal and payoff. Bang on target. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

 

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

Unfortunately, Gargamel, accompanied by his cat Azrael and dim, deranged vulture Cornelius, is also on Smurfette’s trail looking to finally get his hands on the Smurfs so he can drain their essence and become a sorcerer supreme. The new Smurfs are an unexpected bonus.

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

 

 

NOW PLAYING

Another Mother’s Son (12A)

During WWII, Jersey, in the Channel Islands, was the only part of Britain to be occupied by the Germans. As in other territories under Nazi rule, there were both collaborators and resistance, ordinary people trying to help fugitives elude the enemy and neighbours all too willing to inform anonymously, often out of petty spite rather than as Nazi sympathizers. Directed by Christopher Menaul, this worthy but rather middling offering tells the story of Louisa Gould (Jenny Seagrove), the great aunt of the film’s screenwriter, Jenny Lecoat, who, proprietor of the local grocery store from where she sold the food rations, sheltered Fyodr Burriy (Julian Kostov),  a young Russian airman, who, brought to the island along with other PoWs, had escaped from the hard labour gang.

In so doing, she risked arrest and deportation to a camp in Germany, along with her family and anyone else who was involved. This would include her teacher brother Harold (Ronan Keating in his first dramatic role), sister Ivy (Amanda Abbington) and close friends  Arthur (John Hannah), who worked at the local post office, intercepting ‘snitch’ letters to the Germans, and the more elderly Elena (Susan Hampshire).

Louisa, who learns one of her two sons has been killed in action, develops a sort of maternal bond with her guest, whom she nicknames Bill, teaching him to speak English and setting him up with a room in her house. Although concerned about the danger this presents, friends and family rally round to help keep his presence a secret. Which makes it seem odd that, as Gould did in real life, she should take him out for bicycle rides or walks round the town, even, at one point, visiting an out of town bookshop, precipitating one of several nail-biting close calls where their discovery by the Germans seems likely.

However, eventually, one of the letters gets past Arthur (thanks to Nicholas Farrell’s postmaster who insists its their job to deliver the mail not stop it) and the Germans come calling and, as history, relates, Gould’s activities were exposed. By whom remains unknown.

Very much an old-fashioned sort of British movie, it’s all rather stiff,  predictable and somewhat calculated in its seesawing with the emotions. The  Germans, who are never subtitled, are naturally cruel and despicable almost to a man, although there is a fleeting scene with one token young lad who, dating one of the locals, protests he’s not a Nazi, while the locals are mostly salt of the earth types pulling together under adversity. Seagrove is terrific, delivering  a performance that captures both Gould’s stoicism and warmth and a brooding Kostov does a good job of capturing both Bill’s happiness at his new family and his palpable fear of being discovered, but the rest of the cast aren’t really called on for anything of a stretch. As a celebration of an unsung hero, it warrants plaudits, but as a cinema experience it belongs on a  Sunday afternoon on BBC.  (Showcase Walsall)

 

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 accened Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating.  And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.

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

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

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

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

 

CHIPS: Law and Disorder  (15)

Starring Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as mixmatched partners with  the California Highway Patrol, CHiPs ran for a mammoth 139 episodes between 1977 and 1983. Now, like so many other bad but cult shows from the era, it’s been revived for the big screen, still with the same central characters but remodeled as a crass mix of crude humour and violence.

Michael Pena is Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, except he isn’t because that’s an alias given him by the FBI to go undercover in the CHP and ferret out a bunch of crooked cops who’ve stolen $14million. Writer-director Dax Shepard is his rookie partner, Jon Baker, a former motocross rider who’s now a walking catalogue of injuries and, unable to shoot straight, only got the job because the personnel officer (Maya Rudolph) identified with his last ditch attempt to save his marriage to swim instructor Karen (Kristen Bell). It goes without saying that Frank’s the macho, rule-breaker with an eye for booty, regularlytaking  toilet breaks for some self-stroking while Jon’s the over-enthusiastic, straitlaced type who babbles on about therapy and closure.

It quickly becomes clear that the leader of the dirty cops is Lt Vic Brown (Vincent D’Onofrio, who seems to think he’s in a  serious drama) who wants  money to get his son, also a former bike rider, off heroin, and that there’s been some sort of fall out with two other members of the gang (one of whom chooses to take a nose dive from a  helicopter). There’s also a couple of female cops (Jessica McNamee and Rosa Salazar) who have a thing for the pair, though, naturally, one of them’s not what she seems.

The plot is about as generic as it gets, so while that’s going through the motions, Shepard’s screenplay trowels on the inevitable dick and homoerotic panic jokes, including a nuts in face moment and several conversations about how oral anal is now all the rage, plus, of course, the gratuitous bare boobs  shots.

Pretty much none of this is remotely funny, certainly not the running joke about how the CHP uniform makes them look like UPS delivery men, but at least the offers some marginal relief from the tedium, the violence including a decapitation and someone having their fingers blasted off.

Nowhere near the same league as the revival of that other 80s cop buddy series, 21 Jump Street, Estrada puts in a cameo in the final moments. Has the man no dignity?  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Showcase Walsall)

 

Elle (18)

Earning star Isabelle Huppert a Best Actress Golden Globe and several other gongs, the latest controversial offering by director Paul Verhoeven underlines her status as one of the best actresses of her generation.

Decidedly French, as such contains an inevitable  couple of awkward dinner table scenes, one involving a Christmas part that sees Michele Leblanc (Huppert) running her foot up the crotch of Patrick (Laurent Latiffe), the hunky neighbour married to devoted Catholic Rebecca (Virginie Efira),  who we’ve already seen her masturbating over while watching him through binoculars.

The other is a small get together with her ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), best friend Anne (Anne Consigny), with whom she runs a company specialising in sexually charged violent video games, and her husband, Robert (Christian Berkel), who she just happens to be screwing. It’s here that she drops the bombshell about a masked intruder breaking into her apartment and violently raping her. They’re understandably shocked, all the more so that she hasn’t reported it. However, given she’s the daughter of a mass murderer who butchered 27 people on their street and, as a child, was seen as guilty by association, she’s keen not to attract either police or media interest. Especially as dad’s mounting his latest appeal.

There’s also the fact that Michele’s a decidedly psychologically complex, emotionally damaged  character who’s drawn to risky relationships and  may or may not actually have gotten off on the assault, which both opens the film and is revisited in increasingly savage – and ultimately fictionalised – flashbacks. After the attack, she simply sweeps up the mess and has a bath. The next day she has the locks changed, buys some self defence gear and carries on as normal. Is that trauma or something else entirely?

When she realises the rapist is stalking her, the waters are further muddied by  a list of possible suspects, among them a  game designer she suspects might have created the simulation of her being violated by a monster. Indeed, Michele’s life seems to involve many different kinds of monsters, she as much of one as any.

She’s also having to deal  with her feckless son Valentine  (Jonas Bloquet) and his bullying pregnant girlfriend (Alice Isaaz), the baby, when born, clearly having nothing to do with him, as well as the prickly relationship with her mother who’s shacked up with a much younger man.

The actual identity of the rapist is revealed relatively early one, but subsequent events and relationships only further serve to compound the film’s problematic amoral and ambiguous nature. At times, it is also darkly funny.

Addressing themes of the connections between sex, violence and  power, it unfolds as a revenge thriller unlike most, never looking to underplay the effect of the rape, but also not defining the controlling Michele as powerless victim. It’s no easy watch and, arguably, it does falter in the schematic last act as Michele seeks, if not redemption, then at least to cleanse herself of the demons and guilt that have shaped her. Nevertheless, fuelled by Huppert’s mesmerising performance, this is raw and potent stuff.  (MAC)

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Life  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

Well-served by solid and effective performances, Espinosa ratchets up some nail-biting suspense, compounded by the confined spaces and the creatures ability to squeeze through small gaps, leaving audiences with a twist ending which, while it may be a touch obvious, lays the ground for a possible sequel.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Lion (PG)

One night in 1986, Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year-old Indian boy from an impoverished village near Khandwa, where his illiterate mother (Priyanka Bose) works as a manual labourer, accompanies his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to a railway station. While Guddu goes to look for work, Saroo is left to sleep on a bench. Awaking, with Guddu not returned, he tries to look for him, climbs aboard a decommissioned train and falls asleep. When he wakes, he’s miles away and, unable to disembark, remains on the deserted train until it stops in Calcutta, 930 miles from his home, two days later.  Wandering the streets, he’s eventually taken to an orphanage for street kids and, when attempts to find his village and family prove fruitless, it’s arranged for him to be adopted by  a kindly Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham, Nicole Kidman), who live in Tasmania.

Some 20 years later, now with another adoptive brother, the troubled  Mantosh,  studying for hotel management and memories of his previous life having faded along with his ability to speak Hindi, a plate of jalebis prompts  sensory memories of  his childhood and, plagued by thoughts of his lost brother, mother and sister Shekila, Saroo (BAFTA winner Dev Patel) begins an intensive  Google Earth search  to track down his birthplace,  Ganestelay, of which no one had ever heard, a quest that drives him to the edge of breakdown.

Making a few inevitable dramatic changes (fictional American girlfriend, Lucy, played by Rooney Mara, is based on his actual then girlfriend Lisa), director Garth Davis works directly from Brierley’s acclaimed memoir, A Long Way Home, to provide a first person perspective, though, thankfully, without any annoying voice over exposition.

A career best performance by Patel is well matched by an understated, but powerful Oscar- nominated turn from a deglamourised  Kidman with Pawal especially endearing and vulnerable as young Saroo. However,  while it never goes for manipulative sentimentality as it addresses themes of isolation, identity, family and brotherhood, the second half of Saroo’s story is never quite as engaging as the first with its images of life for India’s homeless and lost children. That said, as it reaches the eventual reunion, audiences will be reaching for their tissues. And the title?  Like Saroo’s village, that’s a lexical misunderstanding you’ll have to wait until the final scenes to uncover.  (Cineworld Solihull)

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lost City of Z (15)

Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) was a fascinating character, an army officer and, like his father, a member of the Royal Geographical Society and a surveyor, While serving in the war office in Cork, in 1906, he was dispatched to South America, as an uninterested party, to map the border between Brazil and Bolivia in an attempt to prevent war and its impact on the price of rubber.

On one of his several expeditions,  he came upon what he took to be remnants of a lost city, which he termed Z and, after serving in the army again during WWI, in 1920 he returned to Brazil on a solo expedition to find it. This failed, but, in 1925, now funded by a group of London financiers, he went back, this time with eldest son Jack (Tom Holland), neither of whom were ever heard of again.

Condensing this to just three trips, writer-director James Gray delivers an engaging slow burn, if somewhat emotionally detached account of Fawcett’s obsession, as well as its impact on those caught up in its wake. These include wife Nina (Sienna Miller), a spirited intellectual, who, while supportive, rather resents  being left at home to bring up the kids for years at a time,  Henry Costin (a nigh unrecognisable heavily bearded Robert Pattinson) who accompanies Fawcett on his first forays, but cannot be persuaded to return in the search for Z, and explorer James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), who becomes patron and fellow traveller for  the narrative’s second voyage in 1911, much to his regret.

Gray’s script affords some backstory to explain why Fawcett’s so driven, such as smarting at never getting a medal because “he’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors”, a reference to his father’s drink and gambling. Keen to restore the family name, earn  respect and do his bit for mankind, he duly sets off into the South American jungle where he comes across some pottery, prompting his belief in Z, as he terms it.  Back home, now acclaimed as “England’s bravest explorer”, this sets up his presentation to the RGS where, in what may or may not be factual, but undeniably plays well, he rebukes those scoffing at the idea of half-naked primitive savages having an advanced civilisation.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji brings the Amazon to vivid life and, in a sort of narrative interlude, also does sterling work creating a brief sequence at the Battle of the Somme, while Gray’s screenplay balances the intellectual and psychological heft with striking unexpected moments such as a hail of arrows from natives hidden in the foliage showering the men as they journey up the river on their raft.

Miller is excellent in a limited role and Hunnam does a solid job as a not always likeable character and, while the film may, ultimately, fall somewhat short of its potential,  it does serve as a fine example of what Fawcett tells Jack, that “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Everyman; Reel)

 

Power Rangers (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

News: Historic South Birmingham pub to relaunch as live music venue

Birmingham band The Atlantic Players will perform at the Castle & Falcon's launch night

An historic South Birmingham pub is to relaunch as a live music venue and late night bar this weekend. 

The Castle & Falcon on Moseley Road in Balsall Heath, formerly known as The Ceol Castle, officially reopens on Friday, March 31st with performances from The Atlantic Players, and Harry and the Howlers, along with DJ sets from Sam Redmore.

Weekly club nights, craft beers, cocktails and a live music programme are amongst the venue’s new offerings.

Owner Dominic Molloy said, ”Birmingham has a great choice of live music venues and offers loads of gigs showcasing local and international talent – we can’t wait to be a part of it again. The venue has been completely stripped back and features a new sound and lighting system. We hope to draw live music fans from Birmingham and further afield.”

Events planned for the revamped pub include an evening featuring Polish hip hop acts Małach, Rufuz, and DJ Grubaz (Saturday April 29th), live performances from Urban Voodoo Machine (Saturday April 1st) and Föllakzoid (Saturday May 20th) and a celebration of The Streets’ classic album Original Pirate Material with a line-up of local DJs (Saturday May 27th).

Surprise You’re Dead Music, Plus44 Events, Sonic Gun Concerts and Birmingham Promoters are amongst those due to present performances at the Castle and Falcon.

Carlo Solazzo of Birmingham Promoters, said, “We are very happy to be working alongside The Castle & Falcon team to help regenerate the 300 capacity venue and bring it up to UK industry standards.”

“The building now has a fully equipped top of the range PA system and spec which can cater for any artists, along with backstage facilities which include a fully serviced kitchen plus washrooms. Bands even have the option to stay over, avoiding the need to hit the road straight after a show.”

“An important part of the team’s work is building relations with local scenes that at one point in time played a key part in the venue’s calendar. The Birmingham punk family has really adopted the venue as their own with the Punx Alive collective promoting some amazing shows in the coming weeks and months including Discharge (Saturday April 22nd), Subhumans (Friday April 28th) and Crass’ Steve Ignorant and Friends (Friday May 19th).”

For more information on the venue’s opening weekend and live programme, visit the official Castle & Falcon Facebook page.

Interview – Van Gogh’s Good Ear

As the frontman of tie dye trad rockers Nonsuch – along with a history of psychedelic segues in various Birmingham bands – Harry Jesse Charles is a prominent figure in the Birmingham music scene. Thus, it makes perfect sense that he has began to blend his performing with putting on gigs of his own.

Van Gogh’s Good Ear have already began housing well-received concerts at Birmingham’s 6/8 Kafe, and on the April 28 weekend they will be housing the Into the Void festival, collating some of the Midlands’ freshest, and most diverse, talent. We spoke to Van Gogh creators Charles and Anna Brophy regarding promoting, playing and more.

What inspired you to set up Van Gogh’s Good Ear? Was it something you’d been intending to establish for a while?

HC: I started working at 6/8 Kafe, and in my first shift I noticed that they had this concrete-floored basement, where apparently they held various events. However, they hadn’t yet put on any bands – I think they were sceptical about putting on rock music, but the opportunity was there, so why not try it? Personally, I thought it’d be a great idea to put on some intimate shows, so I began thinking up what I needed to do to make it happen.

My girlfriend Anna studies music business, my mate Hershey is studying to become a sound engineer and then 6/8 agreed to let me use their basement, so we managed to make it happen. We don’t want to take things too seriously, but we want to showcase the great music Birmingham has and allow them to have a good intimate show.

You’ve been in a number of bands. Becoming a promoter, has that first-hand experience helped you get Van Gogh… off the ground?

HC: I’ve always enjoyed being in a band and I’ve always been productive when it comes to music. There’s no better way to spend your days. I wouldn’t say I’m a promoter – I’m just a dude wanting to put on good nights, good bands have a good time doing it. I want bands, people, students, anyone to get involved.

Being in various bands has helped me start Van Gogh…I know a lot about setting up gear, the struggles of lugging around 60W amps, getting paid with cans of Red Stripe. I’ve had some great times doing it and I think being a musician has helped me a lot when it comes to putting on these nights. It’s weird as us musicians all think alike…we’re in a bubble all floating ready to pop. It feels good. I can feel the burst.

Do you feel with the Birmingham music scene’s diversity and togetherness, Van Gogh… will be able to bring these bands together?

AB: Van Gogh… has always been about celebrating the diversity of Birmingham’s music scene, and we’re always looking for new and exciting bands to create the most unique of nights. It’s exciting to have a city full of bands creating different genres of music. It mixes it up a bit.

HC: We’ve already had a strong set of bands playing for us already, including You Dirty Blue, Guyana and Dead Summers. We have more bands booked for the next few months – it’s going to be one hell of a wave. We have helped do promotion for Ian Curtis Rides a Rollercoaster and allowed them to use the basement, where they’ve also put on some great bands. I think we’ll be working with those dudes more.

What are your plans for the future with Van Gogh…? Do you see it becoming a bigger concern?

AB: We’ve been in talks with a venue so an upcoming event is in the works. We want to continue putting on music at 6/8 Kafe – the venue’s got a really nice feel to it, but we want to expand our name to other venues in the city as best as we can. At the moment, the size isn’t much of a concern as we like the intimacy and rawness of the venue – everyone’s up close and personal with the bands, so there’s more interaction with the crowd.

You’ve got a festival coming up in April entitled Into the Void, with a raft of excellent bands already confirmed. Are you excited for the challenge?

HC: It’s a collaborative thing – Ian Curtis… are running the Saturday night, while we’ll be running the Friday. We have some bands that have joined us before, as well as some new bands playing. We have a later license so we can have a bit more of a party. I just want bands to have a blast, not a bust. I have high hopes it’ll be a great night.

If someone new to Birmingham came to the city on that weekend, and happened to come across Into the Void, what would they expect?

AB: They should expect some of Birmingham’s most exciting music. Every band will have their own thing going on. It’s gonna be loud.

HC: I hope we do get some outsiders! They should expect some madness – smoke machines, lasers, loud music. There’s a lot of diversity in the music scene and that’ll make it exciting.

 

 

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Releases, Fri Mar 24-Thu Mar 30

 

 

NEW RELEASES

Life  (15)

The plot can be pretty much summed up as ‘omigod, we found life on Mars. Omigod, it’s trying to kill us’, a set-up that’s served several movies well enough and, directed by Daniel Espinosa, does serviceable duty here too, at least in as much as it’s better than Passengers. It’s set on a manned NASA space station where, in the opening sequences, the six-strong international crew (no Russkies or Chinese though) of the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission have to snag a specimen-collecting capsule as it shoots past.

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

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

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

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

Well-served by solid and effective performances, Espinosa ratchets up some nail-biting suspense, compounded by the confined spaces and the creatures ability to squeeze through small gaps, leaving audiences with a twist ending which, while it may be a touch obvious, lays the ground for a possible sequel – Death.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Another Mother’s Son (12A)

During WWII, Jersey, in the Channel Islands, was the only part of Britain to be occupied by the Germans. As in other territories under Nazi rule, there were both collaborators and resistance, ordinary people trying to help fugitives elude the enemy and neighbours all too willing to inform anonymously, often out of petty spite rather than as Nazy sympathizers. Directed by Christopher Menaul, this worthy but rather middling offering tells the story of Louisa Gould (Jenny Seagrove), the great aunt of the film’s screenwriter, Jenny Lecoat, who, proprietor of the local grocery store from where she sold the food rations, sheltered Fyodr Burriy (Julian Kostov),  a young Russian airman, who, brought to the island along with other PoWs, had escaped from the hard labour gang.

In so doing, she risked arrest and deportation to a camp in Germany, along with her family and anyone else who was involved. This would include her teacher brother Harold (Ronan Keating in his first dramatic role), sister Ivy (Amanda Abbington) and close friends  Arthur (John Hannah), who worked at the local post office, intercepting ‘snitch’ letters to the Germans, and the more elderly Elena (Susan Hampshire).

Louisa, who learns one of her two sons has been killed in action, develops a sort of maternal bond with her guest, whom she nicknames Bill, teaching him to speak English and setting him up with a room in her house. Although concerned about the danger this presents, friends and family rally round to help keep his presence a secret. Which makes it seem odd that, as Gould did in real life, she should take him out for bicycle rides or walks round the town, even, at one point, visiting an out of town bookshop, precipitating one of several nail-biting close calls where their discovery by the Germans seems likely.

However, eventually, one of the letters gets past Arthur (thanks to Nicholas Farrell’s postmaster who insists its their job to deliver the mail not stop it) and the Germans come calling and, as history, relates, Gould’s activities were exposed. By whom remains unknown.

Very much an old-fashioned sort of British movie, it’s all rather stiff,  predictable and somewhat calculated in its seesawing with the emotions. The  Germans, who are never subtitled, are naturally cruel and despicable almost to a man, although there is a fleeting scene with one token young lad who, dating one of the locals, protests he’s not a Nazi, while the locals are mostly salt of the earth types pulling together under adversity. Seagrove is terrific, delivering  a performance that captures both Gould’s stoicism and warmth and a brooding Kostov does a good job of capturing both Bill’s happiness at his new family and his palpable fear of being discovered, but the rest of the cast aren’t really called on for anything of a stretch. As a celebration of an unsung hero, it warrants plaudits, but as a cinema experience it belongs on a  Sunday afternoon on BBC.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Certain Women (12A)

Following on from eco-thriller Night Moves, writer-director  Kelly Reichardt returns to her more familiar understated melancholic drama territory of  Meek’s Cutoff   and  Wendy and Lucy for this adaptation of short stories by Maile Meloy that also marks her third collaboration with Michelle Williams.

Set in winter and structured as narratives interwoven around the lives of four small town Montana women, it opens with Laura Wells (Laura Dern), a lawyer trying to make it in a man’s world who sneaks out of the office for lunchtime sex with her married lover (James LeGros) and finds herself in a hostage situation when who, after refusing to listen to her advice that he has no case for compensation, her client (Jared Lewis), suffering  mental breakdown, takes things into his own hands.

The second woman is Gina (Williams), whose husband just happens to be the man Laura’s sleeping with. Unaware that the marriage is in  jeopardy and trying to deal with a moody teenage daughter, she’s looking to build a weekend retreat  in the country and wants an elderly family friend (Rene Auberjonois) to sell her some vintage sandstone (from an old schoolhouse) for which he no longer has use. Then there’s Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a Native American whose life revolves around the horses she looks after on a remote local ranch until she meets Beth (Kirsten Stewart), an out of towner who teaches a night class on education law at the local school, and mistakes their connection for more than it is.

Essentially a story of alienation, dislocation and small lives trying to find their place in a  big world, confronted with sexism, disillusion, disappointment and betrayals, it takes its time, never forcing the connections between the women. However, the core performances, the authenticity of  the women’s experiences and emotions, and the strong sense of place it evokes in the process reward the patience. (MAC)

CHIPS: Law and Disorder  (15)

Set around two highway patrol cops, played by Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as mixmatched partners with  the California Highway Patrol, a light and often cheesy, crime drama, CHiPs ran for a mammoth 139 episodes between 1977 and 1983. Now, like so many other bad but cult shows from the era, it’s been revived for the big screen, still with the same central characters but remodeled as a crass mix of crude humour and violence.

Michael Pena is Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, except he isn’t because that’s an alias given him by the FBI to go undercover in the CHP and ferret out a bunch of crooked cops who’ve stolen $14million. Writer-director Dax Shepard, an actor best known for his TV work, is assigned as his rookie partner, Jon Baker, a former motocross rider who’s now just a walking (sometimes barely) catalogue of injuries and, unable to shoot straight, only got the job because the personnel officer (Maya Rudolph) identified with his last ditch attempt to save his marriage to swim instructor Karen (Kristen Bell). It goes without saying that Frank’s the macho, rule-breaking  loose cannon with an eye for booty and who regularly has to take toilet breaks for some self-stroking while Jon’s the over-enthusiastic, straitlaced type who babbles on about therapy and closure.

It quickly becomes clear that the leader of the dirty cops is Lt Vic Brown (D’Onofrio, who seems to think he’s in a  serious drama) who wants to money to get his son, also a former bike rider, off heroin, and that there’s been some sort of fall out with two other members of the gang (one of whom chooses to take a nose dive from a  helicopter). There’s also a couple of female cops (Jessica McNamee and Rosa Salazar) who have a thing for the pair, though, naturally, one of them’s not what she seems.

The plot is about as generic as it gets, so while that’s going through the motions, Shepard’s screenplay trowels on the inevitable dick and homoerotic panic jokes, including some scrotum bumping, a nuts in face moment and several conversations about how oral anal is now all the rage, plus, of course, the gratuitous bare boobs  shots.

Pretty much none of this is remotely funny, certainly not the running joke about how the CGP uniform makes them look like UPS delivery men, but at least the action (Shepard did most of his own stunt bike work) offers some marginal relief from the tedium, the violence including a decapitation and someone having their fingers blasted off.

Nowhere near the same league as the revival of that other 80s cop buddy series, 21 Jump Street, Estrada puts in a cameo in the final moments. Has the man no dignity?  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Lost City of Z (15)

Another name lost to history, Percy Fawcett (played here by Charlie Hunnam) was a fascinating character, an army officer,  briefly part of the British Secret Service, he was also, like his father, a member of the Royal Geographical Society and a surveyor, While serving in the war office in Cork, in 1906 he was made a major and dispatched to South America by the RGS, as an uninterested party, to map the border between Brazil and Bolivia in an attempt to prevent war and its impact on the price of rubber. His accounts of his Amazonian exploits would form the basis for his friend Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Lost World.

On one of his several expeditions,  he came upon what he took to be remnants of a lost city, which he termed Z and, after serving in the army again during WWI, in 1920 he returned to Brazil on a solo expedition to find it. This failed, but, in 1925, this time funded by a group of London financiers, he went back, this time with eldest son Jack (Tom Holland), neither of whom were ever heard of again.

Condensing this somewhat to just three trips (as well as ignoring the third person on the final expedition, Jack’s best friend Raleigh Rimell), writer-director James Gray (best known for Littler Odessa and The Yards) delivers an engaging slow burn, if somewhat emotionally detached account of Fawcett’s obsession, as well as its impact on those caught up in its wake. These include supportive wife Nina (Sienna Miller), a spirited intellectual, who, while supportive, rather resents  being left at home to bring up the kids for years at a time,  Henry Costin (a nigh unrecognisable heavily bearded Robert Pattinson) who accompanies Fawcett on his first forays, but cannot be persuaded to return in the search for Z, and explorer James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), who becomes patron and fellow traveller for  the narrative’s second voyage in 1911, much to his regret.

Gray’s script affords some backstory to explain why Fawcett’s so driven, such as smarting at never getting a medal because, as one upper class snob puts it, “he’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors”, a reference to his father’s drink and gambling. Keen to restore the family name,  earn  respect and do his bit for mankind, he duly sets off into the South American jungle where he comes across some pottery, prompting his belief in Z, as he terms it.  Back home, now acclaimed as “England’s bravest explorer”, this sets up his presentation to the RGS where, in what may or may not be factual, but undeniably plays well, he rebukes those scoffing at the idea of half-naked primitive savages having an advanced civilization.

Shooting on celluloid, not to mention a modest budget, cinematographer Darius Khondji brings the Amazon to vivid life and, in a sort of narrative interlude, also does sterling work creating a brief sequence at the Battle of the Somme, while Gray’s screenplay balances the intellectual and psychological heft with striking unexpected moments such as a hail of arrows from natives hidden in the foliage showering the men as they journey up the river on their raft.

Miller is excellent in a limited role and Hunnam does a solid job as a not always likeable character and, while the film may, ultimately, fall somewhat short of its potential,  it does serve as a fine example of what Fawcett tells Jack, that “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Power Rangers (12A)

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Found Footage Festival

The  one day showcase of  videos found in garage sales,  charity shops, warehouses and rubbish skips  throughout North America returns with curators  and live commentators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher serving up another feast of oddities and the bizarre. This year’s collection includes a collection of satanic panic videos from the 80s, such as The Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults, a  little-seen Welcome Home Desert Storm parade featuring Roseanne Barr, bloopers from a decade’s worth of North Dakota local news and choice picks from David Letterman’s very own VHS Collection. (Mon: Electric)

 

 

 

 

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Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elle (18)

Earning Isabelle Huppert a Best Actress Golden Globe and several other gongs, the latest controversial offering by director Paul Verhoeven underlines her status as one of the best actresses of her generation.

Decidedly French, as such contains an inevitable  couple of awkward dinner table scenes, one involving a Christmas part that sees Michele Leblanc (Huppert) running her foot up the crotch of Patrick (Laurent Latiffe), the hunky neighbour married to devoted Catholic Rebecca (Virginie Efira),  who we’ve already seen her masturbating over while watching him through binoculars.

The other is a small get together with her ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), best friend Anne (Anne Consigny), with whom she runs a company specialising in sexually charged violent video games, and her husband, Robert (Christian Berkel), who she just happens to be screwing. It’s here that she drops the bombshell about a masked intruder breaking into her apartment and violently raping her. They’re understandably shocked, all the more so that she hasn’t reported it. However, given she’s the daughter of a mass murderer who butchered 27 people on their street and, as a child, was seen as guilty by association, she’s keen not to attract either police or media interest. Especially as dad’s mounting his latest appeal.

There’s also the fact that Michele’s a decidedly psychologically complex, emotionally damaged  character who’s drawn to risky relationships and  may or may not actually have gotten off on the assault, which both opens the film and is revisited in increasingly savage – and ultimately fictionalised – flashbacks. After the attack, she simply sweeps up the mess and has a bath. The next day she has the locks changed, buys some self defence gear and carries on as normal. Is that trauma or something else entirely?

When she realises the rapist is stalking her, the waters are further muddied by  a list of possible suspects, among them a  game designer she suspects might have created the simulation of her being violated by a monster. Indeed, Michele’s life seems to involve many different kinds of monsters, she as much of one as any.

She’s also having to deal  with her feckless son Valentine  (Jonas Bloquet) and his bullying pregnant girlfriend (Alice Isaaz), the baby, when born, clearly having nothing to do with him, as well as the prickly relationship with her mother who’s shacked up with a much younger man.

The actual identity of the rapist is revealed relatively early one, but subsequent events and relationships only further serve to compound the film’s problematic amoral and ambiguous nature. At times, it is also darkly funny.

Addressing themes of the connections between sex, violence and  power, it unfolds as a revenge thriller unlike most, never looking to underplay the effect of the rape, but also not defining the controlling Michele as powerless victim. It’s no easy watch and, arguably, it does falter in the schematic last act as Michele seeks, if not redemption, then at least to cleanse herself of the demons and guilt that have shaped her. Nevertheless, fuelled by Huppert’s mesmerising performance, this is raw and potent stuff.  (Tue-Thu, Electric)

 

Hidden Figures (PG)

There’s a reasonable chance that you might know that, in 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. It is, however, extremely unlikely you’ll have ever heard of Katherine Johnson. And yet, without her input, the Mercury program might have taken a lot longer to achieve its goal or, had the launch gone ahead on schedule, Glenn could have died on re-entry. It was Johnson who did the calculations necessary to ensure the safe point of re-entry, but only now is her contribution, and that of many other African-American women who worked for the NASA space program, being recognised.

Directed by Theodore Melfi, this aptly titled true story puts the spotlight on Johnson (Taraji P Henson) and her co-workers, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and their vital roles in the program. A child maths prodigy, Johnson became one of the three black students to integrate into West Virginia’s graduate schools. In 1952 she got a job at Langley, working as one of the ‘computers’ in the segregated “West Area Computing” division   (not machines, but an all black female unit of mathematicians) overseen  by Vaughan and was eventually assigned to work on the equations necessary to compute the Mercury program flights, despite being given documents of redacted figures on account of not having security clearance. The same unit also included Jackson,  a former maths teacher who became both the first black student to take an after-work course at the segregated Hampton High School, and, in 1958,  NASA’s first black female engineer.

The film plays a little loose with the chronology of events (in the film, Vaughan – who teaches herself how to work the new IBM computer that baffles her male colleagues – is seen battling with the racist white department head – Kirsten Dunst – to secure the position of supervisor) while both the program manager, Al Harrison (an excellent Kevin Costner), and  chauvinistic chief  engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), who refuses to share either credit or coffee pot with Johnson, are composite figures, but the essentials are all true.

As well as charting the women’s fight to be taken seriously and achieve recognition and equality alongside their male and white counterparts, the film also finds space for a tender love story between the widowed Johnson and  National Guard colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali).

Adopting a sophisticated approach to detailing the racism of the era and in the workplace without shouting from a soapbox, it quietly observes the conditions under which the ‘computers’ worked, as for example Johnson having to walk across the site to use the blacks only toilets in the West Compound, something that gives rise to a potent scene as Harrison literally tackles prejudice with a  sledgehammer.

The dialogue and performances, especially those of the three female leads, are top notch, while Melfi deftly balances scenes like Johnson scrawling out calculations on the blackboard with archive footage from the era and recreations of meetings with the NASA team and its astronauts, delivering a film that is as entertaining as it’s  inspiring, uplifting and illuminating. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (15)

Keanu Reeves may not be the world’s greatest actor but he has a huge fan base. With John Wick having proven something of a surprise box office hit in 2014, a sequel was inevitable and this gets underway with what is, essentially, a coda to the original, tying up loose ends as taciturn assassin Wick (Reeves), nicknamed The Boogeyman, takes on the  Russian crime organisation led by Abram (Peter Stormare) to recover his stolen classic Mustang. Having killed pretty much everyone else, and wrecked the car in the process, he and Abram, himself in awe of Wick’s skills (especially the legend of his killing three men with a pencil),  agree a truce and Wicks goes home to memories of his dead wife, buries his weapons and looks forward to retirement from the life of a professional hitman.

That doesn’t last long, however, as Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), an Italian criminal playboy to whom Wick owes a debt of honour, turns up to cash in his marker. Wick demurs, thereby prompting D’Antonio to blow up his house. Checking into the Continental, a  luxury hotel for assassins run by Winston (Ian McShane), where rules demand no ‘business’ is enacted on its grounds, he’s reminded that he’s bound to honour the marker, D’Antonio’s request turning out to be the murder of his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), so he can  take her seat at the High Table council of the world’s top criminals.  Off to Italy and job grudgingly done, Gianna herself going a long way to relieving him of the burden, rather than being free to resume his life, Wick now finds himself  the target of the city’s apparently countless undercover assassins when D’Antonio, cynically seeking to avenge his sister, puts out a $7m contract.

Having parked his new dog at the hotel, the rest of the film pretty much just involves Wick battling Gianna’s former bodyguard (Common), D’Antonio’s henchmen, led by mute Ares (Ruby Rose) and assorted assassins looking to cash in, delivering both kinetic, balletic action sequences and an incredibly high bodycount, Wick always ensuring to pop one final bullet into every body, just to be sure.

Chad Stahelski returns to the directing seat and delivers the bloody mayhem with stylish panache and visual flair, including a terrific climax in a hall of mirrors. Amid all the action and firefights, there’s a nice sense of humour at work too, underlining that things shouldn’t be taken too seriously, whether in the strict protocol governing assassin rules, the extensive network that takes in specialist tailors and Orthodox Jewish bankers, or a marvellous scene with Peter Serafinowicz as the Continental’s sommelier, advising Wick on choice of weapons as if they were fine wines. There’s also an appearance by Laurence Fishburne as inner-city assassin the Bowery King, while, dressed in his trademark cool three-piece black suit, Reeves makes hugely effective use of his expressionless style.  It ends with Wick declared excommunicado for breaking hotel rules, setting up Chapter 3 in which the contract is extended worldwide. Can’t wait.  (Vue Star City)

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essentially a prequel to Godzilla, given the thrills assembled here, those who hang around for the post credits scene will be pleased to note  references to such  other celebrated Japanese movie monsters as Mothra and Rodan, suggesting this monkey business is far from over yet.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Lego Batman Movie (U)

The follow-up to 2014’s The Lego Movie is an irreverent send-up of Batman and the world of DC superheroes in general, but balances the comedy with a strong no man is an island message about not shutting yourself off from friends and family. Or, indeed, your enemies as, hurt that the humourless, narcissistic Batman (Will Arnett) won’t recognise they have a mutual hate relationship and refuses to accept he’s his greatest foe, the secretly sensitive Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hatches a plot to get sent to the Phantom Zone so he can free all the bad guys there to help him destroy Gotham. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Batman has to contend with eager new sidekick, Robin (Michael Cera), alias Dick Grayson, the orphan he accidentally adopted while dazzled  as the Major (Mariah Carey) introduced the new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who wants him and the law to work together, and the attempts by tough-love butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to get him to face his greatest fear – family.

Opening with a Batman  voiceover saying how every important movie starts with a  black screen, the film is playfully self-referencing (there’s even a clip from the Adam West TV series) and  plunges right into the action as Batman takes on and defeats a whole army of super-villains, is hailed as Gotham’s saviour once again and then goes home to the emptiness of Wayne Manor. Still scarred by his parents’ murder, Wayne has shut himself off from any emotional feelings or relationships, that way he can’t get hurt. He even watches the Tom Cruise romance Jerry Maguire as if it’s a comedy.

While the Dark Knight probed Batman’s dark side, it never went as deep into what makes him tick as this one does. And yet, for all its serious psychoanalytical observations, it remains a huge explosion of fun, which, let’s face it, is what the audience have gone for.

Goaded by The Joker, Batman plans to steal the weapon needed to banish him to the Phantom Zone (leading to an amusing scene as he visits Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to find the Man of Steel (Channing Tatum) hanging out with the other Justice League superheroes at a party to which he’s not been invited). Ignoring Commissioner Gordon’s warnings, Batman falls victim to Joker’s manipulations, leading to the escape from the Zone of  the worst of the worst villains, among them Sauron, the Gremlins, Voldemort (Eddy Izzard), Godzilla, King Kong, Oz’s flying monkeys and even the Daleks.

To defeat them, he has to realise that it’s okay to accept help, just as it’s okay to accept family (and finally let Dick call him dad) as he joins forces with not only Alfred (wearing a retro Batman costume), Barbara and Robin (the origin of the costume another cute joke), but also pretty much every DC super hero and villain you can think of, including Harlequin, Bane, Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and, er, The Condiment King.  Although there are moments of quite melancholy, for the most part this is a dizzying hyperkinetic whirlwind of nonstop entertainment. Top that Ben Affleck!  (Cineworld Solihull; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza;Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Lion (PG)

One night in 1986, Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year-old Indian boy from an impoverished village near Khandwa, where his illiterate mother (Priyanka Bose) works as a manual labourer, accompanies his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to a railway station. While Guddu goes to look for work, Saroo is left to sleep on a bench. Awaking, with Guddu not returned, he tries to look for him, climbs aboard a decommissioned train and falls asleep. When he wakes, he’s miles away and, unable to disembark, remains on the deserted train until it stops in Calcutta, 930 miles from his home, two days later.  Wandering the streets, he’s eventually taken to an orphanage for street kids and, when attempts to find his village and family prove fruitless, it’s arranged for him to be adopted by  a kindly Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham, Nicole Kidman), who live in Tasmania.

Some 20 years later, now with another adoptive brother, the troubled  Mantosh,  studying for hotel management and memories of his previous life having faded along with his ability to speak Hindi, a plate of jalebis prompts  sensory memories of  his childhood and, plagued by thoughts of his lost brother, mother and sister Shekila, Saroo (BAFTA winner Dev Patel) begins an intensive  Google Earth search  to track down his birthplace,  Ganestelay, of which no one had ever heard, a quest that drives him to the edge of breakdown.

Making a few inevitable dramatic changes (fictional American girlfriend, Lucy, played by Rooney Mara, is based on his actual then girlfriend Lisa), director Garth Davis works directly from Brierley’s acclaimed memoir, A Long Way Home, to provide a first person perspective, though, thankfully, without any annoying voice over exposition.

A career best performance by Patel is well matched by an understated, but powerful Oscar- nominated turn from a deglamourised  Kidman with Pawal especially endearing and vulnerable as young Saroo. However,  while it never goes for manipulative sentimentality as it addresses themes of isolation, identity, family and brotherhood, the second half of Saroo’s story is never quite as engaging as the first with its images of life for India’s homeless and lost children. That said, as it reaches the eventual reunion, audiences will be reaching for their tissues. And the title?  Like Saroo’s village, that’s a lexical misunderstanding you’ll have to wait until the final scenes to uncover.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Moonlight (15)

Winner of the Best Film Oscar, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, this is an arty but emotional look at life for gay black men in America, one that, other than one brief  moment, discreetly shot from behind, deliberately avoids any sexual elements.

Divided into three chapters, it opens with Little, detailing the life of the titular black schoolboy Chiron (Alex Hibbert),  growing up in 80s inner city Miami, struggling with his confused sexuality, school bullying and a junkie nurse mother, Paula (ferociously played by Oscar nominee Naomie Harris), and taken under the wing of Juan (Oscar winner  Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who becomes his surrogate father and who, in one painfully poignant moment, is asked to explain what a faggot is. At school, Chiron strikes up a tentative friendship with classmate Kevin (Jaden Piner), developing feelings that play out across the following two chapters.

Juan having passed away, part two, Chiron, finds the boy now a teenager (Ashton Sanders), still harassed by school bullies (here Terrel, played by Patrick Decile), still befriended by Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who calls him Black,  and still calling on Juan’s girlfriend Teresea (Janelle Monae) when things get bad at home. He’s learned to hide his sexuality and developed a tough attitude,  but is still haunted by his uncertain identity, something that reinforces his position as an outcast. As the chapter moves to its conclusion, it shifts from the tender beach scene of the  first sexual contact  to Chiron exploding in anger at Terrel, who goaded Kevin into beating him up as part of a ‘game’, and being taken away by the cops.

The final chapter, Black, fast forwards ten years,  a bulked up Chiron (Trevante Rhodes)  now living in Atlanta and has followed Juan into pushing drugs. One night, he gets an out of the blue call from Kevin (Andre Holland), apologising for what happened and inviting  him to visit. Briefly stopping over to see his mother, now a burned out woman in a  rest home, wracked with guilt over the way she treated her son, he drives to Miami for a reunion, not quite knowing what he expects to happen, especially on finding Kevin a  married father, full of regret that life didn’t turn out as he anticipated.

The classroom incident aside, there’s no major dramas,  but rather a small scale, slow burn examination  of  identity, both as black and gay, of the effects of poverty and of masculinity and how it can become toxic in the face of destructive external influences and cultural pressures. Making effective use of soundtrack and imagery, Jenkins avoids both cliché and sentimentality, but never softens the blows in showing how the stigma of being gay in a macho black culture can lead to both devastating alienation and self-destructive violence. (Cineworld 5 Ways. Solihull;  Tue/Wed Electric )

 

 

Personal Shopper (15)

Having played  personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s actress in  Olivier Assayas’s previous film, The Clouds of Sils Maria, this time Kristen Stewart takes centre stage as Maureen, the introverted personal shopper to demanding  German supermodel/designer Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). She’s in charge of selecting and collecting the clothes, shoes and jewellery for her client’s appearances at assorted high profile events, but is under strict orders not to try anything on. She does, of course, both borrowing the items and staying in Kyra’s plush apartment whenever she’s out of town.

In addition, she’s also trying to make contact with her dead twin brother Lewis, who was also a  medium and with whom she shares the congenital heart defect that killed him. They vowed that whoever went first would try and make contact with the other, which she’s trying to do in the decaying  old Parisien house where he died, as well as seeking to rid it of any lingering spirits so his former girlfriend  (Sigrid Bouaziz)) can sell it and move on.

She senses a presence, although, as a subsequent cary scene reveals, it’s not that of her brother. But this isn’t the only tension at play. Midway in, Maureen starts getting texts from an unknown caller, who creepily seems to know her every move as well as her fears and desires, providing her access to a hotel room where they never meet. And then there’s a murder to add another level of intrigue, though this and the killer’s reveal seem almost like a shrug in the narrative.

Weaving between states of mind and shifting genres, psychological or supernatural horror one moment, Hitchockian thriller the next, the film  is as enigmatic and hard to read as its central character, who may or may not be psychotic, consumed by guilt or riddled with a dark desire to be something or someone she is not. Stewart delivers a compellingly blank performance, one which makes the emotions all the  more powerful when they actually surface even when the film is frustratingly ambiguous, as for example, whether the mysterious texts are, as she messages at one point, from the living or the dead.

Even if does deliver the ectoplasmic  shock audiences expect, it is, as you might surmise, all rather arty and experimental, exploring notions of dislocation, physically and psychologically, as well as fetishism and auto-eroticism,  summoning an air of dread and foreboding, not least in a scene where doors open automatically to let through, well, apparently nobody . Its frequent fades to black and the open-ending won’t satisfy those who like things neatly tied up, but for those willing to succumb to its guile it has many rewards. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

Sing (U)

Essentially an animal version of The X-Factor, Brit director Garth Jennings charts the well worn plot (last served in The Muppet Movie) of putting on a show to save the theatre. Here, the strapped impresario is a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who’s  inherited his love of theatre, and the theatre itself, from his father,. However, times have changed and his productions have all been flops. He’s broke, the place has seen better days and his llama bank manager is looking to repossess the building.

So, he tells his wooly childhood chum Eddie (John C, Reilly) he’s going to mount a singing contest to pull in the crowds, pooling the last of his cash to offer a $1000 prize. Unfortunately, a slight mishap on the part of his doddery chameleon assistant Miss Crawly sees the posters printed up as $100,000 and spread all over town, inevitably attracting a whole host of hopeful contestants.

The auditions include a snail singing Ride like The Wind and three butt shaking bunnies, but the final selection comes down to Johnny (Taron Egerton), the soulful-voiced gorilla son of a local criminal, Ash (Scarlett Johannson), the talented half of a porcupine punk duo, Mike (Seth MacFarlane), an arrogant egotistical sax-playing  mouse with a thing for Sinatra swing, the pairing of Teutonic hog Gunter (Nick Kroll) with Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), the  beleaguered mother of 25 piglets and Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with serious stage fright issues.

Things play out pretty much as you’d expect with the backstage and homelife stories, things all falling apart (quite literally when Buster introduces a squid light show complete with a water tank to impress Eddie’s retired diva granny, Nana, into bankrolling him), the revelation that the prize money’s non-existent and, of course, everyone coming together to put on the show anyway.

It’s not hugely original, but it is colourful and energetic, packed with a bundle of familiar pop hits, plenty of laughs, some emotional touches and two knockout scenes, one involving Rosalita dancing in a supermarket’s aisles to The Gipsy Kings’ Bamboleo and Meena’s showstopping rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah while, as the young Nana, Jennifer Hudson also gets to deliver a stunning operatic version of Lennon and McCartney’s Carry That Weight.  It’s never climbs Zootopia or Secret Life of Pets heights, but it’s infinitely more fun than anything Simon Cowell’s put his name to in recent years.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

T2 Trainspotting (18)

For many Trainspotting was the defining film about 90s Britain. Now, 21 years later, the original team, minus Kevin McKidd (but to whom homage is paid) return for the sequel, adapted from Irvine Welsh’s Porno. Returning from Amsterdam, where he’s been living for the 20 years since running off with the money he and his mates stole, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) first hooks up with Spud (Ewan Bremner), who’s back on heroin after his life and marriage fell apart, just in time to save him from suicide.  Next on the reunion list is Simon, Sick Boy, who’s running a sex tape blackmail scam with his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). He’s rather less pleased to see Mark, but decides to pretend to be friends so he can stitch him up like he did to them. This entails enlisiting him to raise the money to transform the run down pub he’s inherited into a brothel, with Veronika as the madam. Meanwhile, Begbie (Robert Carlyle), as much as a hard man psycho has ever, engineers an escape from prison and sets about resuming his life of crime, roping son Frank in as reluctant accomplice. Although Simon keeps Mark’s return from him, the pair eventually bump into one another (in a very funny scene involving adjacent toilet cubicles), fuelling Begbie’s determination to get kill him.

With none of the four’s lives having amounted to anything in the past two decades, basing the narrative on  the mantra ‘first comes opportunity, then comes betrayal’, that’s pretty much it for the plot.  Mark and Sick Boy enlist Spud’s help in redesigning and refurbishing the pub while he himself comes off the scank and, encouraged by Veronika (with whom, naturally, Mark has sex) starts writing down stories about their past misadventures (essentially an excuse to revisit the original, both verbally and in flashbacks).

A run in with the law facilitates a contrived cameo from Kelly Macdonald as Diane Coulston, now a lawyer, as well as fleeting moments from James Cosmo as Mark’s dad and Shirley Henderson as Gail, now Spud’s estranged wife, but otherwise,  as before it’s the dynamic between the four central characters that drives things along.

At one point Sick Boy accuses Mark of wallowing in nostalgia rather than moving on, and, to an extent, the same could be leveled at the film which looks to recreate the feel of the original with its hyperkinetic camerawork, trippy sequences and constant throbbing soundtrack. Some things work, others don’t. The plot isn’t especially inspired, so the film relies on the characters and the themes of friendship, self-interest and betrayal, but, while more melancholic this time around, it doesn’t have anything new to add to the original, history repeating itself in the final turn of events.

There’s a very funny vein of often dark humour and, rather like playing out the greatest hits, an updated revisiting of Renton’s Choose Life monologue where the film identifies mobile phones and social networking as the new heroin. As indeed is nostalgia, effectively using it to illustrate the danger of  how, in trying to relive the past, we end up running to stand still. Which, to some extent, rather sums up the film itself.  (Sun/Tue: Electric)

 

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, impressively mounted with some striking images and good use of original Movietone news footage, it holds the attention and casts light on a now rather overlooked period of British history, the end credits revelation of Chadha’s personal family investment in the telling bringing powerful resonance.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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