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MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jul 26 – Thu Aug 1

 

NEW RELEASES

The Current War (12A)   

On the shelf for two years following the Weinstein collapse, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon offers up a loosely factual account of the ‘war’ between rival inventors, showman Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the more modest George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), who had hitherto traded in gas, to see whose brand of electricity, the former’s direct current (DC) or the latter’s alternating current (AC) with its wider application, will light up America, climaxing at the Chicago World Fair from which one emerges as the victor.  Both men of principle, these are compromised along the way, Edison flagging up that AC can prove lethal while DC is harmless, and Westinghouse employing dodgy means to reveal that his rival secretly advised the state of New York on how to use alternating current to create the first electric chair to ‘Westinghouse’ the condemned.

Woven into all this you get maverick genius Nikolai Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), initially employed by Edison before a fall out and eventually recruited by Westinghouse, Edison’s side-shifting entrepreneurial patron J.P. Morgan (Matthew Macfadyen), the two men’s supportive wives, Mary Edison (Tuppence Middleton) and early victim to brain tumour, and the savvy Marguerite Westinghouse (Katherine Waterston), with Tom Holland as Edison’s loyal assistant – and subsequent business magnate – Samuel Isull who stood by him despite Edison being blinded by stubborn pride.

There’s some striking touches, Edison demonstrating the electric light bulb in a dark field, the map of America marking the states with yellow bulbs for DC and red for AC and, almost by way of asides we also see Edison, frustrated over his electricity failures, coming up with the phonograph and the kinetograph, thereby giving birth to the record industry and Hollywood. But, even so, slow to start and heavily stylised, it takes far too long to gather pace and the intermittent Civil War flashbacks to a moment in Westinghouse’s life feel irrelevant while, despite slabs of exposition,  both men’s backgrounds, or indeed Tesla’s,  are never more than sketchily drawn. The two leads give charismatic performances, Cumberbatch the flashier of the two, and the subject matter itself is a fascinating tale, it just could have done with a little more voltage. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (PG)

Terry Deary’s hugely successful book series first translated into  television and then the stage, presenting an irreverent but educationally grounded approach to history, and now takes the inevitable next step (2016’s Bill was never an official spin-off) to the big screen. More Black Adder than Monty Python (though there a sly nod to Life of Brian), this is pitched at younger audiences while still slipping in amusing references for the grown-ups and, in the I’m Farticus scene managing to combine both

Opening with Derek Jacobi reprising his iconic role as the stuttering Emperor Claudius, before being poisoned by his wife Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) to enable her buffoon son Nero (Craig Roberts to take his place, albeit with her as the power behind, and indeed on, the throne, it has teenage Roman Atti (Sebastian Croft) finding himself consigned to join the legion in Britain – aka The Stain – as punishment for having passed off a vial of horse urine as gladiator sweat which the British envoy bought as a birthday present for the Emperor.

Over in Britain, where, despite constant references to rain, it seems permanently sunny, he’s taken prisoner by Orla (Emma Watson lookalike Emilia Jones), the feisty daughter of Celtic chieftain Arghus (Nick Frost) who, despite dad’s protestations, is desperate to prove herself a warrior, and winds up helping rescue her kleptomaniac gran (Joanna Bacon) from a rival tribe.

Meanwhile, Celtic warrior queen Boudicca (Kate Nash) is  leading a rebellion against the Romans which the incumbent governor, the pompous, prevaricating Paulinus (Rupert Graves), who always refers to himself in the third person, is ordered to crush.

Historical facts and observations are neatly enfolded into the amiable star-crossed lovers narrative that also amusingly involves the lyre-playing Nero’s attempts to kill his mother, his toadying adviser Sycophantus (Alex Macqueen), Legion Commander Decimus (Lee Mack) constantly pining for Rome, an over-stretched don’t shoot the messenger joke, a Roman Legion dubbed the IX Men  and, of course, various toilet-related gags. All interspersed with musical numbers, including a rap battle between Boudicca and the Romans. In all honesty, it’s probably a bit overstretched as a movie, but the fun is never diluted.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Intruder (15)

 A generic domestic stalker thriller, the twist here being that the stalker is the home’s previous owner, but even then, that was already done in 2003’s Cold Creek Manor in which Dennis Quad buys a sprawling new residence  only to discover Stephen Dorff hasn’t entirely vacated the property and the place harbours dark secrets. This time round, it’s Quaid who, as Charlie, is the one who’s still  creepily attached to the former Napa County home, Foxgloves,  he’s sold to urban San Francisco yuppies  Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) Howard following his wife’s death, two years earlier, from cancer.

Despite a first encounter in which he shoots a deer dead right in front of them, he seems a harmless enough hick and, having signed over the deeds, informs them he’s off to Florida to live with his daughter. Except, when Annie looks out the window a few days later, he’s  sat aside a lawnmower doing the grass. Early signs that he’s not all charm behind his rictus grin (Quaid turning his trademark smile into something altogether more creepy) comes when a cigarette burn appears in the seat of Scott’s best friend Mike’s (Joseph Sikora) high end car after he pisses over the roses and tosses  a cigarette butt into the grass. Later, at a Thanksgiving dinner, Charlie fantasises cracking a bottle across Mike’s head, a clear portent of what comes later.

Not unnaturally feeling tad uneasy about Charlie turning up unannounced, especially when’s not around, Scott warns him off, but Annie, feeling embarrassed and a touch sorry for Charlie maintains contact, something Charlie inevitably misreads as things head for the predictable finale as Scott learns more about Charlie’s past and his wife’s death and Annie finds where those nighttime noises have been coming from.

Featuring workmanlike direction and a flat, uneven and cliché-ridden script that fails to build any real sense of tension, Quaid gleefully chews the scenery but neither Good nor Neary register as anything but cardboard characters, the latter also revealing himself as a bit of dick, to make you give a toss as to whether they ever get the infestation cleared. (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

ALSO PLAYING

The Edge (15)

Arriving timely in the wake of the Cricket World Cup triumph, narrated by Toby Jones, Barney Douglas’s documentary follows the reinvention of English cricket under coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss, a tough love regime that could be brutal (the dropping of Kevin Pietersen) as wicket keeper Matt Prior acknowledges “Life as a professional sportsman doesn’t necessarily lend itself to you being a good person – because it’s about winning”  and Jonathan Trott, who self-harmed using a machine that spat out cricket balls,  breaks down in tears. At times extremely funny, at others soberingly unflinching, it includes revealing interview with, among others Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar (who resorted to comfort eating in reaction to his treatment), Stuart Broad and Flower, who describes his run-ins with Pietersen as “like someone continually punching me in the stomach.”  (Tue:MAC)

Never Look Away (15)

Sprawling over three hours, covering thirty years of modern German history from 1937 to the 60s in a struggle between art, history and politics, inspired by real events, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck tells the story of a young art student, Kurt (Tom Schilling) who falls in love with fellow student, Ellie (Paula Beer) whose celebrated gynaecologist father, Professor Seeband (Sebastian Koch), vows to destroy the relationship, the couple’s lives unknowingly connected to a dark moment of state-sanctioned murder in the latter’s past with the SS. (Tue-Thu:MAC)

 

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90-minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live  action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City; From Sun:MAC)

Annabelle Comes Home (15)

Following the wake of Chucky’s revival,  the current devil doll de jour makes a return appearance for a third outing in her bangs and red-bowed pigtails glory that, this time features (albeit in largely bookending appearances), loosely real-life based Conjuring characters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson,Vera Farmiga) for a haunted-house thriller that pretty much entirely unfolds in their suburban home, where the electricity seems to be somewhat intermittent.  Relieving the  latest unfortunate owners of the doll’s influence, the drive home, when come to a halt by a graveyard, conveniently allows Lorrianne to muse that it’s not evil in itself (though it doesn’t exactly look beneficent, it serves as a conduit for evil. Back home, it’s duly locked away inside a sacred glass cabinet, it and the artefact store room, duly given one of  regular holy blessing. At which point, the devil hunters take their leave, handing the film over for the night to their 10-year daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) who’s spending it with her high-school babysitters, blonde good girl Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and tellingly dark-haired Daniela (Katie Sarife). Fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation and having dead daddy issues, the latter naturally ignores signs like keep out or you’ll die and  don’t touch this or everyone’s fucked, and sneaks into the museum and, naturally, searches for the key to unlock that cabinet.

From which point on, the film works its way through the familiar checklist of  ghostly figures, devils, werewolves, inanimate objects moving, typewriters typing by themselves, lights going out, people doing obviously stupid things, although the scariest moments come with the anticipation rather than the event, before the girls finally manage to get the damned doll back where she belongs. It’s formulaic, but decently acted and delivers pretty much everything you pay your money to see, though you can’t help feeling this and and its associated franchise have been milked until they’re positively dehydrated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Now officially the most successful film ever, this breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos (Josh Brolin) can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. NB: Now with added deleted scene. (Showcase Walsall)

The Dead Don’t Die  (15)

Inevitably already tagged an undeadpan comedy, Jim Jarmusch’s latest takes on the zombie genre in self-consciously mannered but disarmingly likeable manner. Driving back after having dutifully broached a recent case of chicken stealing with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) who lives in the woods, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver), a pair of cops from smalltown Centerville remark on how it’s still daylight despite the lateness of the hour and the radio and their watches are on the frizz. Something odd’s going on which, as Ronnie’s prone to remarking, will “all end badly”. The something turns out to be the result of polar fracking which has tilted the Earth’s axis, affecting the climate and, more importantly, bringing the dead back to life, initially just two (including Iggy Pop) who  turn two women at the local diner as snacks, and eventually the entire graveyard’s worth.

Variously involved in all this are obnoxious racist Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi, sporting a Keep America White Again baseball cap), gas station film/comic book nerd Bobby  (Caleb Landry Jones),  amiable diner regular Hank (Danny Glover), inept fellow cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny and the town’s enigmatic new Scottish accented, samurai sword-wielding mortician, Zelda (Tilda Swinton). There’s also three city hipsters (Selena Gomez among them) who make an unfortunate stop over at the town motel while Carol Kane cameos as the town’s lush who corpse revives in the police station cell. However, quite where the three kids in the juvenile correction facility fit into all this is anyone’s guess.

There’s no real plot as such, things just stumble along as the zombie situation just gets worse, the numbers occasionally thinned down by following the ‘kill the head’ mantra (also the name of the production company) while  throwing in a steady stream of references and in jokes. Bobby puts the hipsters right about the cabins in Bates Motel (Psycho having been written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote a short zombies story called The Dead Don’t Die),  George Romero naturally gets a mention, Adam Driver has a Star Wars key ring and makes frequent meta fiction comments, such as how the Sturgill Simpson country track is the theme song and that he’s knows it ends badly because he’s read the script.

Waits’ voice over narration at the end about zombies as a metaphor for consumerism (the teen zombies shuffle along mumbling wi-fi) and greed seems a tad redundant (genre fans know how these things work) and at one point it throws in a completely random and unexplained scene, but the  cast deliver their often witty lines as befits the film’s nature and clearly seem to be having as much fun as the audience. (Vue Star City)

In Fabric (15)

You don’t go to a Peter Strickland film expecting mainstream cinema and this is no exception, a subversive horror about a possessed artery-red dress with a murderous agenda of its own, that killed the model who first wore it and, causing a red rash,  works its way through a collection of connected characters en route to the climax. Initially, however, in the longest sequence, the first to own it  is Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), an emotionally vulnerable divorcee who lives with her self-centred teenage son (who’s installed his snide older girlfriend, Gwendoline Christie), who’s talked into buying the one-off dress at a  sale at a local department store staffed by the garment’s cult-like female disciples, notably the thickly accented Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) whose sale patter incudes lines like “Dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements”, their male overseer subsequently seen jerking off as he watches the women masturbate a mannequin until it bleeds. Sheila, who works as some sort of teller, micro-managed by her gay passive-aggressive bosses Steve Oram and Julian Barratt), wears it on a  couple of dates (one good, one a disaster), and is understandably puzzled when, ripped apart by a  dog, it turns up in perfect condition. It also tears her washing machine to pieces, which, when Strickland tired of her character, links into the next victims, dull meek repair engineer Reg (Leo Bill) who buys it for his blousy fiancee Babs (Hayley Squires), which, while having its own share of horrors, does feel as though it’s struggling to fill the running time.

Channelling the likes of Argento and Cronenberg, delving into sex, blood and death imagery, mining a consumerism critique  not to mention exploring the erotic potential of washing machine terminology, it’s equally scary and comic, frustrating and absorbing in its eclectic tone and stylistic diversions, and, while it might have been better served by a single strand narrative, it has an undeniably fascinating compulsion. (Until Mon:MAC)

 

The Lion King (PG)

Given that, there being no human characters unlike director Jon Favreau’s previous revamp of The Jungle Book, the fact this is all CGI  makes it a little disingenuous to call it a live action remake. However, such is the degree of photorealism as regards both the landscapes and animals, that it would be easy to believe this is actual flesh and fur, earth and water. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t familiar with the 1994 animated original, itself a riff on Hamlet,  so, again opening with the Circle of Life gathering at Pride Rock,  this virtual shot by shot, line by line update  won’t hold any narrative surprises surprises, indeed the main difference lies in ditching the annoying Morning Report song, rendered here as dialogue from Zazu, the red-billed hornbill factotum. The thrill comes, instead, from seeing the characters in such three-dimensional  form, the hyenas even more scary-looking while the CGI incarnations of warthog Puumba Seith Rogan) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) are a delight, especially in the way the former, all bristles and tusk, trots along like  dainty ballerina. They still sing Hakuna Matata and even get to make a filmic in joke about how, having fled the Pridelands believing himself responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones reprising his role), in stampede, the young Simba (JD McCrary) grows into the adult lion (Donald Glover) in the course of the song while they still look the same. They also sing a snatch of Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast.

There’s no new additions (though a couple of hyenas are renamed), but all the familiar characters are present and correct with an impressive array of appropriately African-American vocal talent that includes Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Simba’s mother, John Kani as mandrill shaman Rafiki, Beyoncé, in a slightly expanded role, as Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest who not only gets to duet on Can You Feel The Love Tonight but has her own all new song, Spirit, while Shahadi Wright Joseph from the original Broadway cast is the young cub and Chiwetol Ejiofor is superbly sly as Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar. Whether the revamp has any point beyond the technical accomplishments is open to debate, but it certainly deserves to be a  roaring success. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Midsommar (18)

Given it involves a troubled visitor to a reclusive, isolated community that practices ancient fertility and renewal rites, including a sacrificial offering, it’s hard not to think of this as a Swedish-set version of The Wicker Man. Except that was 88 minutes and this is almost an hour longer.

Written and directed by Ari Aster as his follow-up to Hereditary, it pivots on a terrific performance by Florence Pugh (increasily resembling a  young Kate Winslet) as the traumatised  Dani who, having experienced a family tragedy (a brilliant opening of panic and a wordless reveal that her unbalanced sister’s committed suicide and murdered their parents), is grudgingly invited by her less than committed boyfriend. Christian (Jack Reynor), to join him and his loosely sketched university friends, fellow PhD student Josh (William Jackson Harper),  ever horny Mark (Will Poulter), and the just graduated Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the latter’s Swedish commune. Indeed,  the latter’s especially keen for her to come.

On arrival, they link up with two English tourists, Connie and Simon, who are essentially redundant to the mix other than for body count purposes, and they’re all invited to take part in a nine-day celebration that’s only held once every 90 years. With everyone wearing white, forever waving their hands in the air, an unexplained caged bear and ritualistic group meals, it’s all a bit odd. Things take a rather more startling turn, however, when, following tradition, two elderly members of the community hurl themselves from a cliff to be dashed, in gruseome rubbery rootage, on the rock below.  Dani is understandably rattled, but her travelling companions seem less so, Christian and Josh seeing it as anthropologicaly fascinating and the culturally insensitive Mark, well, frankly not giving a toss since he only appears to have tagged along to get laid. Which will, of course, not turn out for the best.

From hereonin, things start to get creepier, what with all those disturbing paintings in to the communal sleeping quarters, the assorted ululations and hallucinogenic drinks, until the group’s been whittled down to just Dani and the increasingly bemused Christian, the former invited to take part in the dance to choose the May Queen and the other  reluctantly becoming a central player in an impregnation ritual. And, for those unaware of  Edward Woodward’s wicker man fate, we’ve still to find out why the bear’s there.

Making effective use of the constant daylight, Aster takes his time in building the gathering sense of dread, dropping in small suggestions and details, relying on imagery rather than carnage, while the narrative’s peppered with bursts of humour (some more intentional than others as it descends into giggle-inducing silliness) as it finally builds to a  genuinely disturbing finale that gives Pugh the last unsettling freeze frame.

It’s a muddled and mostly predictable journey in which much happens off camera and, as obligatory in such films, no one ever says let’s get the fuck out of here, but while it will try the patience, those last fifteen minutes are well worth the wait. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Queen’s Corgi (PG)

Given to the Queen (Julie Walters) by Prince Philip (Tom Courteney) as a present, Rex (Jack Whitellla) becomes her favourite corgi. But, when he disgraces himself during a  state visit by Donald and Melania Trump when they want him to mate with their dog, he’s persuaded by cunning rival Charlie (Matt Lucas), who wants to be topdog (spot the in-joke), to leave the palace and finds himself locked up in an animal shelter. Here he falls for slinky Saluki Wanda (Sheridan Smith), which sees him fall foul of shelter bully Tyson (Ray Winstone). Now he has to persuade the other dogs to help him survive a showdown, escape and get back to Buckingham Palace  before Charlie officially takes his place.

A competently made and functionally written Belgian animation revoiced with an all star English cast, this has its amusing moments (and, of course, pooh and widdle jokes) and the canine capers will entertain younger kids, though parents might have a tough time explaining the Fight Club references, pole dancing and corgi couplings. Not exactly Secret Life of Pets pedigree, but Trump taking a selfie with Liz and telling Melania to ‘grab some puppy’ offer some compensation. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former  scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Showcase Walsall)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes),  returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and  recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that  has Ned christening him Night Monkey.

Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.

Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a  poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a  drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.

Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless  boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Stuber (15)

You can almost imagine the conversation. “Hey what if an Uber driver was called Stu. He’d be Stuber.” “Yeh, and what if he was a sardonic, touchy wimp who found himself teamed up  with a hard-nosed humourless cop.” “And the cop had a vision problem, so he needed Stu to help him on his case!” What a funny  mismatched buddies action comedy that might that be!”

Well, no, actually.

His partner (Guardians co-star Karen Gillen) killed in the opening moments, although his boss (Mira Sorvino) tells him to take time out, hulking workaholic L.A. cop Vic (Dave Bautista) is determined to take out the heroin gang mastermind killer (Iko Uwais). He’s given a tip about where a big drugs deal is going down, but, recovering from laser-eye surgery,  he can’t see properly and ends up commandeering the newly leased Prius driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a put-upon store clerk who wants to open a woman’s gym with his one-time best friend with benefits Debbi (Betty Gilpin) who he’s never had the courage to tell how he feels. Vic, meanwhile, hasn’t had time for his artist daughter (Natalie Morales).

And so the film spends its time chasing around the city, Vic constantly bumping into things, Stu’s car getting increasingly battered while he’s frustrated that he can’t get over to Debby who called because she dumped her jerk boyfriend and wants a sympathy screw.  Lot of people get shot, Stu finds  himself reluctantly getting further and further involved in the violence(at one point he accidentally shoots someone) and it all ends up with Vic confronting his target only to learn he’s in cahoots with someone on the force.

There’s some mildly amusing banter between about men expressing their emotions, Stu winds up giving counselling to a male stripper and the shoot out at a vets involving cans of dog food is pretty good, but the script short changes its stars, both of whom have proven their comedic skills, by piling on the genre clichés (though the riff on Jaws is amusing) and giving them no character shading at all. Don’t keep the meter running.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play  some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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

 

NEW RELEASES

The Lion King (PG)

Given that, there being no human characters unlike director Jon Favreau’s previous revamp of The Jungle Book, the fact this is all CGI  makes it a little disingenuous to call it a live action remake. However, such is the degree of photorealism as regards both the landscapes and animals, that it would be easy to believe this is actual flesh and fur, earth and water. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t familiar with the 1994 animated original, itself a riff on Hamlet,  so, again opening with the Circle of Life gathering at Pride Rock,  this virtual shot by shot, line by line update  won’t hold any narrative surprises, indeed the main difference lies in ditching the annoying Morning Report song, rendered here as dialogue from Zazu, the red-billed hornbill factotum. The thrill comes, instead, from seeing the characters in such three-dimensional  form, the hyenas even more scary-looking while the CGI incarnations of warthog Puumba (Seth Rogan) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) are a delight, especially in the way the former, all bristles and tusk, trots along like  dainty ballerina. They still sing Hakuna Matata and even get to make a filmic in joke about how, having fled the Pridelands believing himself responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones reprising his role), in a stampede, the young Simba (JD McCrary) grows into the adult lion (Donald Glover) in the course of the song while they still look the same. They also sing a snatch of Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast.

There’s no new additions (though a couple of hyenas are renamed), but all the familiar characters are present and correct with an impressive array of appropriately African-American vocal talent that includes Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Simba’s mother, John Kani as mandrill shaman Rafiki, Beyoncé, in a slightly expanded role, as Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest who not only gets to duet on Can You Feel The Love Tonight but has her own all new song, Spirit, while Shahadi Wright Joseph from the original Broadway cast is the young cub and Chiwetol Ejiofor is superbly sly as Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar. Whether the revamp has any point beyond the technical accomplishments is open to debate, but it certainly deserves to be a  roaring success. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Vita & Virginia (12A)

Though little read today, back in the 20s and 30s, Vita Sackville-West was one of the most successful and feted of English novelists, though it wasn’t just her books that attracted public- and especially society – attention. Though married to British diplomat Sir Hgh Nicholson, theirs’ was an open marriage with both having same-sex affairs. Vita first caused waves when she took up with socialite Violet Keppell, often dressing as a man and posing as her husband, but her most famous lesbian relationship was with bohemian Bloomsbury Set doyenne Virginia Woolf, at the time a critically admired but decidedly less commercially successful author (Sackville-West had one of her books printed by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press to help them out), one which spanned the decade between 1925 and 1935, though they remained friends long after the stopped being lovers. The relationship would provide the fuel for Orlando, Woolf’s bestselling centuries-spanning novel  with its sex-changing protagonist a thinly disguised  Vita.

It’s the heady three years between 1925 and 1928, that provide the basis for Chanya Button’s biopic, adapted from the original 1993 stage play by  Eileen Atkins based on the couple’s love letters. Its origins are all too often evident with mannered dialogue and stilted scenes,but  there are many other choices that make this often turgid going, not least the constant to camera close ups (often of just lips) of Vita (Gemma Arterton) and Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) delivering love letter monologues, while, along with the wardrobe, make-up and Woolf’s chill-out trance dance,  an attempt to give things a contemporary edge by using electronic beats and hip hop spectacularly backfire and simply crash you out of the period setting.

Despite being saddled with often impossible to deliver dialogue, Arterton and Debicki do their best, the former alternating between flirtatious and manipulative, the latter all clipped and otherworldly (shorthand for her often mentioned mental health issues). However,  confronted with wedges of exposition and surrounded by one-dimensional characters, such as Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones) Woolf’s husband Leonard (Peter Ferdinado), sister Vanessa (Emerald Fennell) and her art critic husband Clive (Gethin Anthony), most of whom are only there to get the two women to tell each other how they feel, it’s a losing battle. Even the affair, when it finally gets physical, feels somehow tepid. At least Isabella Rosselli gets to add some spark as Vita’s imperiously disdainful, mother, Lady Sackville, threatening to have the children removed if her daughter doesn’t scrap her next novel, inspired by the Keppell scandal.

Style tramping over substance, devoid of narrative or psychological depth, as with the recent The Happy Prince, it’s an ambitious  attempt to do tackle the BritLit biography genre without being swamped in Merchant Ivory swaddling, but, given the potency of the subject matter, the passionless end result is something of damp squib. (Electric; MAC)

ALSO PLAYING

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things (12A)

Documentary following the life and career of the famed jazz singer from 1934, when, just 15, she won a talent contest in 1934 at the Apollo theatre in Harlem, across the following six decades  as she transformed her personal tragedies  and the racism of the times into inspirational music. (Thu:MAC)

 

 

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90-minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live  action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City; From Sun:MAC)

Anna (15)

Even if this had not been beaten to the box office by both Atomic Blonde with its Cold War double and triple crosses and Red Sparrow, in which Jennifer Lawrence’s Russian ballerina is recruited to become an assassin using her sex appeal while scheming to outwit her handlers, not to mention Jodie Corner’s inspired turn as Soviet sociopath Villanelle in Killing Eve, Luc Besson’s thriller would still not be worth the ticket.

Wasting an impressive debut by Russian model turned actress, it offers up Anna as a Russian market street vendor, who,in 1990, is scouted  for a Paris modelling agency and soon becomes a high fashion star in a  lesbian relationship with a fellow model (Lera Abova). The first twist comes when she returns from the bathroom to the wealthy sleazeball looking to seduce her and puts a bullet in his head. At which point comes the first of any number of flashbacks and flashforwards to detail how, a former junkie and prostitute, she was recruited (after initially turning down the job by slitting her wrist) by the KGB (because she’s good at chess) in the form of  hunky romantic interest  Alex (Luke Evans) and his handler Olga (Helen Mirren in gleeful accent mangling form)  only to find the only retirement option is being shot. Subsequently, in an increasingly convoluted timeframe, she’s busted and recruited by the CIA, here in the form of smooth romantic interest Lenny (Cillian Murphy), naturally finding that playing both sides can be a dangerous game, leading to one final reshuffling of the deck and turning of the tables.

Clearly Besson was looking to revisit past hits such as La Femme Nikita, Leon and Lucy, but, while this has some great action sequences (most especially as Anna takes out a restaurant teeming with goons to meet Olga’s five minute deadline) it never really clicks as the story of a woman carving her own  identity and strength in the face of male (and Mirren) puppet masters. And let’s not get into its anachronistic technology. While passably entertaining, the fact that it’s been virtually disowned by the distributor in the wake of unproven accusations of Besson’s sexual misconduct, the only killing this is going to make in cinemas  is that delivered by Anna. (Vue Star City)

Annabelle Comes Home (15)

Following the wake of Chucky’s revival,  the current devil doll de jour makes a return appearance for a third outing in her bangs and red-bowed pigtails glory that, this time features (albeit in largely bookending appearances), loosely real-life based Conjuring characters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson,Vera Farmiga) for a haunted-house thriller that pretty much entirely unfolds in their suburban home, where the electricity seems to be somewhat intermittent.  Relieving the  latest unfortunate owners of the doll’s influence, the drive home, when come to a halt by a graveyard, conveniently allows Lorrianne to muse that it’s not evil in itself (though it doesn’t exactly look beneficent, it serves as a conduit for evil. Back home, it’s duly locked away inside a sacred glass cabinet, it and the artefact store room, duly given one of  regular holy blessing. At which point, the devil hunters take their leave, handing the film over for the night to their 10-year daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) who’s spending it with her high-school babysitters, blonde good girl Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and tellingly dark-haired Daniela (Katie Sarife). Fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation and having dead daddy issues, the latter naturally ignores signs like keep out or you’ll die and  don’t touch this or everyone’s fucked, and sneaks into the museum and, naturally, searches for the key to unlock that cabinet.

From which point on, the film works its way through the familiar checklist of  ghostly figures, devils, werewolves, inanimate objects moving, typewriters typing by themselves, lights going out, people doing obviously stupid things, although the scariest moments come with the anticipation rather than the event, before the girls finally manage to get the damned doll back where she belongs. It’s formulaic, but decently acted and delivers pretty much everything you pay your money to see, though you can’t help feeling this and and its associated franchise have been milked until they’re positively dehydrated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Apollo 11 (U)

We’ve already had First Man, but now, marking the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon, Todd Douglas Miller’s   documentary pulls together previously unseen NASA 70mm footage and some 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio that that had been gathering dust in the archives to take audiences through the mission, going behind the scenes at Cape Canaveral, into Apollo 11 and the lunar module with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and out into the crowd that gathered to watch lift-off and follow the rocket into the skies and on the television screens  over its nine day mission. Relying totally on the archive footage and eschewing any narration or recreations, while the facts are familiar, the film brings them alive as if seeing it for the first time, that one giant leap still stopping your breath while in today’s troubled Trump times, recalling how this was the last time not only America but the entire world was united as one.  See it on the biggest screen you can. (Electric; Mockingbird; Until Wed: MAC)

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Close to becoming the most succesful film ever, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. NB: Now with added deleted scene. (Showcase Walsall)

The Dead Don’t Die  (15)

Inevitably already tagged an undeadpan comedy, Jim Jarmusch’s latest takes on the zombie genre in self-consciously mannered but disarmingly likeable manner. Driving back after having dutifully broached a recent case of chicken stealing with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) who lives in the woods, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver), a pair of cops from smalltown Centerville remark on how it’s still daylight despite the lateness of the hour and the radio and their watches are on the frizz. Something odd’s going on which, as Ronnie’s prone to remarking, will “all end badly”. The something turns out to be the result of polar fracking which has tilted the Earth’s axis, affecting the climate and, more importantly, bringing the dead back to life, initially just two (including Iggy Pop) who  turn two women at the local diner as snacks, and eventually the entire graveyard’s worth.

Variously involved in all this are obnoxious racist Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi, sporting a Keep America White Again baseball cap), gas station film/comic book nerd Bobby  (Caleb Landry Jones),  amiable diner regular Hank (Danny Glover), inept fellow cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny and the town’s enigmatic new Scottish accented, samurai sword-wielding mortician, Zelda (Tilda Swinton). There’s also three city hipsters (Selena Gomez among them) who make an unfortunate stop over at the town motel while Carol Kane cameos as the town’s lush who corpse revives in the police station cell. However, quite where the three kids in the juvenile correction facility fit into all this is anyone’s guess.

There’s no real plot as such, things just stumble along as the zombie situation just gets worse, the numbers occasionally thinned down by following the ‘kill the head’ mantra (also the name of the production company) while  throwing in a steady stream of references and in jokes. Bobby puts the hipsters right about the cabins in Bates Motel (Psycho having been written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote a short zombies story called The Dead Don’t Die),  George Romero naturally gets a mention, Adam Driver has a Star Wars key ring and makes frequent meta fiction comments, such as how the Sturgill Simpson country track is the theme song and that he’s knows it ends badly because he’s read the script.

Waits’ voice over narration at the end about zombies as a metaphor for consumerism (the teen zombies shuffle along mumbling wi-fi) and greed seems a tad redundant (genre fans know how these things work) and at one point it throws in a completely random and unexplained scene, but the  cast deliver their often witty lines as befits the film’s nature and clearly seem to be having as much fun as the audience. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Midsommar (18)

Given it involves a troubled visitor to a reclusive, isolated community that practices ancient fertility and renewal rites, including a sacrificial offering, it’s hard not to think of this as a Swedish-set version of The Wicker Man. Except that was 88 minutes and this is almost an hour longer.

Written and directed by Ari Aster as his follow-up to Hereditary, it pivots on a terrific performance by Florence Pugh (increasily resembling a  young Kate Winslet) as the traumatised  Dani who, having experienced a family tragedy (a brilliant opening of panic and a wordless reveal that her unbalanced sister’s committed suicide and murdered their parents), is grudgingly invited by her less than committed boyfriend. Christian (Jack Reynor), to join him and his loosely sketched university friends, fellow PhD student Josh (William Jackson Harper),  ever horny Mark (Will Poulter), and the just graduated Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the latter’s Swedish commune. Indeed,  the latter’s especially keen for her to come.

On arrival, they link up with two English tourists, Connie and Simon, who are essentially redundant to the mix other than for body count purposes, and they’re all invited to take part in a nine-day celebration that’s only held once every 90 years. With everyone wearing white, forever waving their hands in the air, an unexplained caged bear and ritualistic group meals, it’s all a bit odd. Things take a rather more startling turn, however, when, following tradition, two elderly members of the community hurl themselves from a cliff to be dashed, in gruseome rubbery rootage, on the rock below.  Dani is understandably rattled, but her travelling companions seem less so, Christian and Josh seeing it as anthropologicaly fascinating and the culturally insensitive Mark, well, frankly not giving a toss since he only appears to have tagged along to get laid. Which will, of course, not turn out for the best.

From hereonin, things start to get creepier, what with all those disturbing paintings in to the communal sleeping quarters, the assorted ululations and hallucinogenic drinks, until the group’s been whittled down to just Dani and the increasingly bemused Christian, the former invited to take part in the dance to choose the May Queen and the other  reluctantly becoming a central player in an impregnation ritual. And, for those unaware of  Edward Woodward’s wicker man fate, we’ve still to find out why the bear’s there.

Making effective use of the constant daylight, Aster takes his time in building the gathering sense of dread, dropping in small suggestions and details, relying on imagery rather than carnage, while the narrative’s peppered with bursts of humour (some more intentional than others as it descends into giggle-inducing silliness) as it finally builds to a  genuinely disturbing finale that gives Pugh the last unsettling freeze frame.

It’s a muddled and mostly predictable journey in which much happens off camera and, as obligatory in such films, no one ever says let’s get the fuck out of here,., but while it will try the patience, those last fifteen minutes are well worth the wait. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Queen’s Corgi (PG)

Given to the Queen (Julie Walters) by Prince Philip (Tom Courteney) as a present, Rex (Jack Whitellla) becomes her favourite corgi. But, when he disgraces himself during a  state visit by Donald and Melania Trump when they want him to mate with their dog, he’s persuaded by cunning rival Charlie (Matt Lucas), who wants to be topdog (spot the in-joke), to leave the palace and finds himself locked up in an animal shelter. Here he falls for slinky Saluki Wanda (Sheridan Smith), which sees him fall foul of shelter bully Tyson (Ray Winstone). Now he has to persuade the other dogs to help him survive a showdown, escape and get back to Buckingham Palace  before Charlie officially takes his place.

A competently made and functionally written Belgian animation revoiced with an all star English cast, this has its amusing moments (and, of course, pooh and widdle jokes) and the canine capers will entertain younger kids, though parents might have a tough time explaining the Fight Club references, pole dancing and corgi couplings. Not exactly Secret Life of Pets pedigree, but Trump taking a selfie with Liz and telling Melania to ‘grab some puppy’ offer some compensation. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former  scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes),  returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and  recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that  has Ned christening him Night Monkey.

Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.

Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a  poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a  drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.

Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless  boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Stuber (15)

You can almost imagine the conversation. “Hey what if an Uber driver was called Stu. He’d be Stuber.” “Yeh, and what if he was a sardonic, touchy wimp who found himself teamed up  with a hard-nosed humourless cop.” “And the cop had a vision problem, so he needed Stu to help him on his case!” What a funny  mismatched buddies action comedy that might that be!”

Well, no, actually.

His partner (Guardians co-star Karen Gillen) killed in the opening moments, although his boss (Mira Sorvino) tells him to take time out, hulking workaholic L.A. cop Vic (Dave Bautista) is determined to take out the heroin gang mastermind killer (Iko Uwais). He’s given a tip about where a big drugs deal is going down, but, recovering from laser-eye surgery,  he can’t see properly and ends up commandeering the newly leased Prius driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a put-upon store clerk who wants to open a woman’s gym with his one-time best friend with benefits Debbi (Betty Gilpin) who he’s never had the courage to tell how he feels. Vic, meanwhile, hasn’t had time for his artist daughter (Natalie Morales).

And so the film spends its time chasing around the city, Vic constantly bumping into things, Stu’s car getting increasingly battered while he’s frustrated that he can’t get over to Debby who called because she dumped her jerk boyfriend and wants a sympathy screw.  Lot of people get shot, Stu finds  himself reluctantly getting further and further involved in the violence(at one point he accidentally shoots someone) and it all ends up with Vic confronting his target only to learn he’s in cahoots with someone on the force.

There’s some mildly amusing banter between about men expressing their emotions, Stu winds up giving counselling to a male stripper and the shoot out at a vets involving cans of dog food is pretty good, but the script short changes its stars, both of whom have proven their comedic skills, by piling on the genre clichés (though the riff on Jaws is amusing) and giving them no character shading at all. Don’t keep the meter running.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play  some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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

 

NEW RELEASES

The Dead Don’t Die  (15)

Inevitably already tagged an undeadpan comedy, Jim Jarmusch’s latest takes on the zombie genre in self-consciously mannered but disarmingly likeable manner. Driving back after having dutifully broached a recent case of chicken stealing with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) who lives in the woods, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver), a pair of cops from smalltown Centerville remark on how it’s still daylight despite the lateness of the hour and the radio and their watches are on the frizz. Something odd’s going on which, as Ronnie’s prone to remarking, will “all end badly”. The something turns out to be the result of polar fracking which has tilted the Earth’s axis, affecting the climate and, more importantly, bringing the dead back to life, initially just two (including Iggy Pop) who  turn two women at the local diner as snacks, and eventually the entire graveyard’s worth.

Variously involved in all this are obnoxious racist Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi, sporting a Keep America White Again baseball cap), gas station film/comic book nerd Bobby  (Caleb Landry Jones),  amiable diner regular Hank (Danny Glover), inept fellow cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny and the town’s enigmatic new Scottish accented, samurai sword-wielding mortician, Zelda (Tilda Swinton). There’s also three city hipsters (Selena Gomez among them) who make an unfortunate stop over at the town motel while Carol Kane cameos as the town’s lush who corpse revives in the police station cell. However, quite where the three kids in the juvenile correction facility fit into all this is anyone’s guess.

There’s no real plot as such, things just stumble along as the zombie situation just gets worse, the numbers occasionally thinned down by following the ‘kill the head’ mantra (also the name of the production company) while  throwing in a steady stream of references and in jokes. Bobby puts the hipsters right about the cabins in Bates Motel (Psycho having been written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote a short zombies story called The Dead Don’t Die),  George Romero naturally gets a mention, Adam Driver has a Star Wars key ring and makes frequent meta fiction comments, such as how the Sturgill Simpson country track is the theme song and that he’s knows it ends badly because he’s read the script.

Waits’ voice over narration at the end about zombies as a metaphor for consumerism (the teen zombies shuffle along mumbling wi-fi) and greed seems a tad redundant (genre fans know how these things work) and at one point it throws in a completely random and unexplained scene, but the  cast deliver their often witty lines as befits the film’s nature and clearly seem to be having as much fun as the audience. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Annabelle Comes Home (15)

Following the wake of Chucky’s revival,  the current devil doll de jour makes a return appearance for a third outing in her bangs and red-bowed pigtails glory that, this time features (albeit in largely bookending appearances), loosely real-life based Conjuring characters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson,Vera Farmiga) for a haunted-house thriller that pretty much entirely unfolds in their suburban home, where the electricity seems to be somewhat intermittent.  Relieving the  latest unfortunate owners of the doll’s influence, the drive home, when come to a halt by a graveyard, conveniently allows Lorrianne to muse that it’s not evil in itself (though it doesn’t exactly look beneficent, it serves as a conduit for evil. Back home, it’s duly locked away inside a sacred glass cabinet, it and the artefact store room, duly given one of  regular holy blessing. At which point, the devil hunters take their leave, handing the film over for the night to their 10-year daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) who’s spending it with her high-school babysitters, blonde good girl Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and tellingly dark-haired Daniela (Katie Sarife). Fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation and having dead daddy issues, the latter naturally ignores signs like keep out or you’ll die and  don’t touch this or everyone’s fucked, and sneaks into the museum and, naturally, searches for the key to unlock that cabinet.

From which point on, the film works its way through the familiar checklist of  ghostly figures, devils, werewolves, inanimate objects moving, typewriters typing by themselves, lights going out, people doing obviously stupid things, although the scariest moments come with the anticipation rather than the event, before the girl’s finally manage to get the damned doll back where she belongs. It’s formulaic, but decently acted and delivers pretty much everything you pay your money to see, though you can’t help feeling this and and its associated franchise have been milked until they’re positively dehydrated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

In Fabric (15)

You don’t go to a Peter Strickland film expecting mainstream cinema and this is no exception, a subversive horror about a possessed artery-red dress with a murderous agenda of its own, that killed the model who first wore it and, causing a red rash,  works its way through a collection of connected characters en route to the climax. Initially, however, in the longest sequence, the first to own it  is Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), an emotionally vulnerable divorcee who lives with her self-centred teenage son (who’s installed his snide older girlfriend, Gwendoline Christie), who’s talked into buying the one-off dress at a  sale at a local department store staffed by the garment’s cult-like female disciples, notably the thickly accented Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) whose sale patter incudes lines like “Dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements”, their male overseer subsequently seen jerking off as he watches the women masturbate a mannequin until it bleeds. Sheila, who works as some sort of teller, micro-managed by her gay passive-aggressive bosses Steve Oram and Julian Barratt), wears it on a  couple of dates (one good, one a disaster), and is understandably puzzled when, ripped apart by a  dog, it turns up in perfect condition. It also tears her washing machine to pieces, which, when Strickland tired of her character, links into the next victims, dull meek repair engineer Reg (Leo Bill) who buys it for his blousy fiancee Babs (Hayley Squires), which, while having its own share of horrors, does feel as though it’s struggling to fill the running time.

Channelling the likes of Argento and Cronenberg, delving into sex, blood and death imagery, mining a consumerism critique  not to mention exploring the erotic potential of washing machine terminology, it’s equally scary and comic, frustrating and absorbing in its eclectic tone and stylistic diversions, and, while it might have been better served by a single strand narrative, it has an undeniably fascinating compulsion. (Electric)

Kursk (12A)

Director Thomas Vinterberg takes on the submarine disaster genre with this account of the  Soviet North Atlantic Fleett  vessel, the Kursk, which, in  2000 during a navy exercise, was crippled when a fire exploded the torpedoes killed many of the crew, flooding the compartments, sending the ship to the bottom of the  Barents Sea and leaving the survivors struggling to find a way to escape. Given everyone died, primarily down to the refusal of the Russain Navy commanders (headed by the late Michael Nyqvist) to accept Western help for reasons of security and national pride, everything aboard the sub is clearly conjecture as fictional protagonist Mikhail Kalekov (Matthias Schoenaerts) tries to marshall the spirits and efforts of what’s left of his crew, while, back home, his pregnant wife (Léa Seydoux) and three-year-old son, along with his shipmates’ families, seek to confront the  military authorities who continually dodge the question of what’s happening.

Meanwhile, back on the ocean, having detected the tragedy, Colin Firth as real-life British commander David Russell becomes increasingly frustrated when his attempts to help the rescue mission with their far superior equipment, are rejected. Strongly acted and fuelled with righteous anger at the Soviet callousness (though it avoids any mention of Putin who absented himself from the entire incident) and the scenes inside the doomed Kursk suffocatingly claustrophobic, while not a great deal happens in physical terms, the film’s emotional tension is watertight. (Reel)

 

Stuber (15)

You can almost imagine the conversation. “Hey what if an Uber driver was called Stu. He’d be Stuber.” “Yeh, and what if he was a sardonic, touchy wimp who found himself teamed up  with a hard-nosed humourless cop.” “And the cop had a vision problem, so he needed Stu to help him on his case!” What a funny  mismatched buddies action comedy that might that be!”

Well, no, actually.

His partner (Guardians co-star Karen Gillen) killed in the opening moments, although his boss (Mira Sorvino) tells him to take time out, hulking workaholic L.A. cop Vic (Dave Bautista) is determined to take out the heroin gang mastermind killer (Iko Uwais). He’s given a tip about where a big drugs deal is going down, but, recovering from laser-eye surgery,  he can’t see properly and ends up commandeering the newly leased Prius driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a put-upon store clerk who wants to open a woman’s gym with his one-time best friend with benefits Debbi (Betty Gilpin) who he’s never had the courage to tell how he feels. Vic, meanwhile, hasn’t had time for his artist daughter (Natalie Morales).

And so the film spends its time chasing around the city, Vic constantly bumping into things, Stu’s car getting increasingly battered while he’s frustrated that he can’t get over to Debby who called because she dumped her jerk boyfriend and wants a sympathy screw.  Lot of people get shot, Stu finds  himself reluctantly getting further and further involved in the violence(at one point he accidentally shoots someone) and it all ends up with Vic confronting his target only to learn he’s in cahoots with someone on the force.

There’s some mildly amusing banter between about men expressing their emotions, Stu winds up giving counselling to a male stripper and the shoot out at a vets involving cans of dog food is pretty good, but the script short changes its stars, both of whom have proven their comedic skills, by piling on the genre clichés (though the riff on Jaws is amusing) and giving them no character shading at all. Don’t keep the meter running.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Shock & Gore Festival @ The Electric

Fri

The Golem (15)

A horror story rooted in Jewish folklore, Hani Furstenberg plays  mystical woman who conjures a mythic entity, who looks like her dead son, to save her 17th century Lithuanian community from the Russian Christians invaders, but unleashes a far greater evil.

Sat

Charlie Says (15)

Showing as a UK Premiere, American Psycho director Mary Harron takes her stab at the 1969 Manson murders, focusing on three of the female cult members Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) as they reflect on the killings in a prison discussion group and presenting their relationship with Charles Manson (Matt Smith) as a form of abuse.

 

Sun

Hold Your Breath (15)

Another UK premiere, Romain Duris and Olga Kurylenko star  as an estranged husbandand wife in an atmospheric survivalist thriller as they seek to rescue their daughter, who’s  in a medical bubble in their apartment, when a deadly toxic mist descends on Paris.

 

 

South African Spook Hunter (18)

A regional premiere for a mockumentary in which the titular spook hunter, Matty Vans hires a film crew to document his paranormal ghost hunting business. Just as they tire of following him around with no evidence of the paranormal, he receives a phone call from a woman claiming her family is being hounded by a spirit. After agreeing to spend the week with the family, it quickly becomes clear to everyone but Matty that their haunting is an elaborate hoax. However, the Damon-Murray family do have a dark secret.

Sun/Wed

Night Hunter (15)

European premiere of a psychological thriller with Henry Cavill as a brooding Minnesota  cop on the hunt for a serial kidnapper-rapist-murderer (Brendan Fletcher). Ben Kinsgley co-stars as a rough juice retired judge while Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion put in pay cheque cameos.

 

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90-minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live  action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece, though it may also leave audiences hoping remake things take a turn for the better with the upcoming The Lion King. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Anna (15)

Even if this had not been beaten to the box office by both Atomic Blonde with its Cold War double and triple crosses and Red Sparrow, in which Jennifer Lawrence’s Russian ballerina is recruited to become an assassin using her sex appeal while scheming to outwit her handlers, not to mention Jodie Corner’s inspired turn as Soviet sociopath Villanelle in Killing Eve, Luc Besson’s thriller would still not be worth the ticket.

Wasting an impressive debut by Russian model turned actress, it offers up Anna as a Russian market street vendor, who,in 1990, is scouted  for a Paris modelling agency and soon becomes a high fashion star in a  lesbian relationship with a fellow model (Lera Abova). The first twist comes when she returns from the bathroom to the wealthy sleazeball looking to seduce her and puts a bullet in his head. At which point comes the first of any number of flashbacks and flashforwards to detail how, a former junkie and prostitute, she was recruited (after initially turning down the job by slitting her wrist) by the KGB (because she’s good at chess) in the form of  hunky romantic interest  Alex (Luke Evans) and his handler Olga (Helen Mirren in gleeful accent mangling form)  only to find the only retirement option is being shot. Subsequently, in an increasingly convoluted timeframe, she’s busted and recruited by the CIA, here in the form of smooth romantic interest Lenny (Cillian Murphy), naturally finding that playing both sides can be a dangerous game, leading to one final reshuffling of the deck and turning of the tables.

Clearly Besson was looking to revisit past hits such as La Femme Nikita, Leon and Lucy, but, while this has some great action sequences (most especially as Anna takes out a restaurant teeming with goons to meet Olga’s five minute deadline) it never really clicks as the story of a woman carving her own  identity and strength in the face of male (and Mirren) puppet masters. And let’s not get into its anachronistic technology. While passably entertaining, the fact that it’s been virtually disowned by the distributor in the wake of unproven accusations of Besson’s sexual misconduct, the only killing this is going to make in cinemas  is that delivered by Anna. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)

Apollo 11 (U)

We’ve already had First Man, but now, marking the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon, Todd Douglas Miller’s   documentary pulls together previously unseen NASA 70mm footage and some 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio that that had been gathering dust in the archives to take audiences through the mission, going behind the scenes at Cape Canaveral, into Apollo 11 and the lunar module with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and out into the crowd that gathered to watch lift-off and follow the rocket into the skies and on the television screens  over its nine day mission. Relying totally on the archive footage and eschewing any narration or recreations, while the facts are familiar, the film brings them alive as if seeing it for the first time, that one giant leap still stopping your breath while in today’s troubled Trump times, recalling how this was the last time not only America but the entire world was united as one.  See it on the biggest screen you can. (Empire Sutton Coldfield)

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Unquestionably the year’s biggest film, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. NB: Now with added deleted scene. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

Brightburn  (15)

An interesting idea that starts off well but has nowhere to go, this sort of blends together the origin of Superman with a dash of The Omen as Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), a childless farming couple from Brightburn in rural Kansas get their prayers for a miracle answered when a spacecraft crashes to earth containing a baby boy. They take him in, name him Brandon (a suitably creepy Jackson A. Dunn), hide the evidence and raise him as their own, but, come puberty, the kid starts zoning out, hearing voices and is drawn to the barn (naturally glowing red) where his folks have hidden his cosmic cradle. An encounter with the lawnmower reveals to Brandon he’s superstrong and impervious to harm, while his latent maliciousness manifests itself when he breaks the hand of a girl classmate (Emmie Hunter) after he’s been bullied. Clearly getting a taste for it, he proceeds to use his powers (superspeed, flight, laser beam eyes) to slaughter the family chickens before building up to dispatching anyone who crosses him, starting with the girl’s unpleasant waitress mother and moving on to the husband (Matt Jones) of his school counsellor aunt (Meredith Hagner) and two of the local cops before turning his attention to mom and dad who, by now, have discovered the drawings under his bed. Wearing a sack with peepholes over his head and a scrappy red cape, he also leaves a trademark symbol (his initials) at the scene of his crimes. Mom, meanwhile, remains determined to protect him despite everything.

Directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, respectively brother and cousin of producer James Gunn, the super-hero horror concept is promising, but once Brandon embarks on his murder spree, it’s clear none of them have much idea of where to take it other than throwing in more gore and some confused planetary domination babble as he keeps repeating ‘Take the world’.

Niceties such as character development, satirical wit and depth of narrative don’t get a look in, but you do get to see a sliver a glass in someone’s eyeball and a rather grisly severed jaw and admire how the cast can keep a straight face while delivering lines like “He’s not our son! He’s something we found in the woods!” While agreeably unpleasant in a B-movie manner, without even attempting to offer any explanation or motivation to Brandon’s actions (he protests to mom, “I want to be good” but shows no evidence of any inner struggle), this is ultimately more silly than scary, a sort of Drab Phoenix. (Vue Star City)

 

Child’s Play (15)

A different kind of toy story, this reboots the Chucky franchise, a sort of older male cousin to Annabelle. In the original, it was Good Guy doll which became possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer seeking a human body to inhabit, here it’s a Buddi doll who, voiced by Mark Hamill, becomes a murder machine after its AI is sabotaged in the production plant. The remake follows the same basic set up  in that the doll’s bought by busy single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) as a companion for her adolescent (and, here, deaf) son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and subsequently takes on a life if its own, getting a taste for butchery after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, and murdering the babysitter, for which Andy gets the blame and put in a psychiatric hospital. Variations this time around include a bunch of neighbourhood kids straight out of Stranger Things who team up to defeat the doll, mom’s  jerk boyfriend and  a creepy handyman with Mike Norris (Bryan Tyree Henry), the detective on the case, being the son of a neighbour. There are, naturally, plenty of grisly deaths (including by lawnmower), stupid decisions and some woolly cautionary messages about technology out of control and the toxic influence of mankind, but nothing to warrant resurrecting a franchise that had worn out its invention and welcome long before it got the axe.  (Mockingbird; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Diego Maradona (12A)

“A bit of cheating and a lot of genius”, someone says in summing up Argentinian football megastar Diego Maradona whose ‘Hand of God’ moment in the quarter final against England sealed the 1986 World Cup as Argentina went on to defeat West Germany 3-2. Directed by Asif Kapadia, but largely using existing TV footage alongside some modern day reminiscences from its subject, the two-hour plus documentary traces Maradona’s life and career from the slums of Buenos Aires through a less than glorious 80s stint at Barcelona to Naples and subsequent superstar status, the disastrous fall out of the Argentina vs. Italy clash in the 1990 World Cup  and a crash back down through  assorted extramarital affairs, pregnancy controversies, cocaine habit, mobster associations, weight gain, media ostracisation, drugs bust and despair.

Very much one for soccer enthusiasts, but even less than casual viewers are likely to be impressed by footage of the man in action; however, it’s the story away from the pitch, one fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fierce determination to win and rampant hubris that makes this, as one historian puts it, “tremendous and terrible” story worth going well into extra time.  (Electric)

 

The Dish (12A)

You’d probably never have found any of the NASA team playing baseball on the surface of the satellite dish tracking Apollo XI on its way to the first moon landing. But Australians are a whole different breed. Of course, the team staffing the massive radio antenna dish situated in a field full of sheep in small town Parkes, New South Wales,  might not actually have ever played cricket on it, but watching this wonderful feelgood movie  makes you feel they should have.

Although there’s some dispute Down Under as to the precise historical accuracy of Parkes role in events, as Rob Sitch’s film tells it, when a last minute flight change meant Apollo XI would be out of contact with the prime receiver in California then the responsibility for transmitting live images of that one giant leap for mankind fell to the back up dish in Australia. Seconded NASA rep Al Patrick Warburton) is a little anxious that the team aren’t up to the job.  Understandable really. I mean this is a long way from the hyper-intensity of Mission Control. Shy Glenn (Tom Long) seems more worried about plucking up courage to ask out the girl who brings them lunch. Resentful engineer Mitch (Kevin Harrington) is a bit on the over-excitable side and Cliff (Sam Neil), the man in charge,  puffs a pipe, wears a cardie and never seems to let anything bother him. So, you can imagine Al’s panic when he discovers that, due to a small oversight, they’ve actually managed to lose track of Apollo and aren’t too sure how to find it again. Oh, and NASA’s on the radio and the US Ambassador’s paying a visit.

Cosily acted and very much in the manner of Ealing or the gentle comedies of Bill Forsythe, there’s nothing likely to crack ribs with uncontrollable laughter (though a cricket ball gag comes very close) but whether  it’s the guys faking a transmission from Neil Armstrong or, back in town, Mayor Bob (Roy Billing) looking to put Parkes on the map only to have the welcoming band launch into the Hawaii Five-O theme rather than the Star Spangled Banner it never fails to engage or amuse. And, while those immortal images and words from the lunar surface still bring a tingle, showing as part of Moonfest to mark the Apollo landing’s 50th anniversary, this is a welcome reminder that smaller human triumphs over adversity are equally a part of history. (Thu: MAC)

John Wick: Chapter 3 (15)

Save for Constantine, after the end of the Matrix series Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much in the commercial doldrums, then, five years ago, along came John Wick and, while he can still be found in low budget indie fare like Replicas and Destination Wedding, his formerly retired soulful loner, one-man-army assassin has put him back in the A list.

Its title coming from the Latin phrase meaning ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’, this picks up immediately after the end of John Wick 2, with an hour to go before he’s declared ex-communicado after breaking the Masonic-like High Table’s rules by killing someone inside the Continental Hotel, after which, with a $14million bounty on his head,  he’s fair game for every assassin going. The first of the bone-crunching fights, in the New York Public Library, giving a new meaning to doing things by the book, what follows is pretty much two hours of constant bloody shootings and stabbings, including a knife through an eye, with occasional breathers to move the narrative to the next level as, calling on his Belarus heritage and bearing a talisman, Wick first calls in a debt and asks for passage to Casablanca from Anjelica Huston’s Russian crime boss The Director (who trained the orphaned young Wick in ballet moves and wrestling), then seeks out the local Continental’s manager, Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a backstory (and another marker) that doesn’t occur in either of the first two chapters, to secure a meeting with her Italian boss (Jerome Flynn) and from there out into the Sahara desert to strike a deal with a High Table Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), albeit at the cost of a finger.

Meanwhile, back in New York the script introduces a new character in the Adjudicator (a superbly frosty Asia Kate Dillon) who’s there to bring to account the Continental’s Manager, Winston (Ian McShane, as cooly imperious as ever), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick after the hotel killing and who recruits top Japanese assassin and Wick fan Zero (Mark Dacasos) and his goons (including Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid) as muscle.

Again directed by Chad Stahelski and saturated with colour, it not only looks amazing but delivers one breathtaking and often close-up action set piece after another (notably a frenetic melee in a weapons museum lined with glass knife display cases) as Wick variously takes on his assailants with fists, guns, knives, swords, motorbikes and even the hind legs of a horse while, in the Casablanca shoot-out, teamed up with Sofia, they also have the help of her two German Shepherd attack dogs (echoing the canine theme running through the series) who know just where to bite a man, all climaxing in a showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass maze.

Reeves again delivers droll line delivery perfection alongside incredible physicality while those around him rise to the glorious absurdity and excess of the occasion as the film ends ready to launch into a revenge/payback themed John Wick Chapter 4. Bring it on. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Men In Black International (12A)

Seven years on from the third and final instalment starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (who get a tip of the hat in a painting, and almost 22 since the MiB started protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe, director F Gary Gray reboots the franchise, reuniting Thor and Valkyrie, okay Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, for a more globe-spanning outing that takes in Paris, London, Naples and Marrakesh.

It opens with Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent High T (Liam Neeson), the boss of the London bureau atop the Eiffel Tower, saving the world from The Hive, an alien race bent on galactic-scale destruction, “with nothing but their wits and series-70 atomizers.” Flashback twenty years with Molly witnessing her parents being neurolised by two MiB and helping a fluffball alien to escape, an incident that sparks a deep obsession that will, in the present, lead to her tracking down the MiB New York HQ and convincing station boss Agent O (Emma Thompson) to take her on as a probationer as Agent M complete with trademark Paul Smith suit, white shirt and skinny black tie.

To which end, she’s despatched to London and assigned to work with Agent H, who, as everyone observes, hasn’t been the same since Paris, generally assumed to be the result of breaking up with arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson). Given the job of babysitting visiting royalty, Vungus the Ugly, an old alien friend of H, things go pear-shaped when he’s murdered by two lookalike alien trackers (Larry Bouregois) who can absorb the appearance of those they have killed, but not before he passes on a purple crystal device to M, the only one he can trust.

This, it turns out, is some sort of superweapon involving a compressed star that could potentially obliterate the planet and needleless to say, the two aliens aren’t the only ones who want to get their hands on it, plus there’s suggestions that the London office has been compromised, while priggish Agent C (Rafe Spall) seeks to put his oar into the mission and it all winds up back in Paris with a not too hard to see coming twist, albeit with a twist inside itself.

Visually, it sometimes falls short and Gray never quite manages to successfully integrate the live action with the action-heavy effects. But this is more than compensated by the hugely enjoyable screwball comedy interplay and banter between Hemsworth, in typical laconic mode, and Thompson as the eager to impress Agent M, boosted in the latter half by the amusing addition of Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a sort of living green alien chess piece in a red uniform that resembles an acorn pod, who adopts M as his new Queen.  Ultimately, it’s not all it might have been, but there’s more than enough fun and chemistry (as well as some unresolved plot lines) here to make you hope they’re back in black again in the not too distant future.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Midsommar (18)

Given it involves a troubled visitor to a reclusive, isolated community that practices ancient fertility and renewal rites, including a sacrificial offering, it’s hard not to think of this as a Swedish-set version of The Wicker Man. Except that was 88 minutes and this is almost an hour longer.

Written and directed by Ari Aster as his follow-up to Hereditary, it pivots on a terrific performance by Florence Pugh (increasily resembling a  young Kate Winslet) as the traumatised  Dani who, having experienced a family tragedy (a brilliant opening of panic and a wordless reveal that her unbalanced sister’s committed suicide and murdered their parents), is grudgingly invited by her less than committed boyfriend. Christian (Jack Reynor), to join him and his loosely sketched university friends, fellow PhD student Josh (William Jackson Harper),  ever horny Mark (Will Poulter), and the just graduated Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the latter’s Swedish commune. Indeed,  the latter’s especially keen for her to come.

On arrival, they link up with two English tourists, Connie and Simon, who are essentially redundant to the mix other than for body count purposes, and they’re all invited to take part in a nine-day celebration that’s only held once every 90 years. With everyone wearing white, forever waving their hands in the air, an unexplained caged bear and ritualistic group meals, it’s all a bit odd. Things take a rather more startling turn, however, when, following tradition, two elderly members of the community hurl themselves from a cliff to be dashed, in gruseome rubbery rootage, on the rock below.  Dani is understandably rattled, but her travelling companions seem less so, Christian and Josh seeing it as anthropologicaly fascinating and the culturally insensitive Mark, well, frankly not giving a toss since he only appears to have tagged along to get laid. Which will, of course, not turn out for the best.

From hereonin, things start to get creepier, what with all those disturbing paintings in to the communal sleeping quarters, the assorted ululations and hallucinogenic drinks, until the group’s been whittled down to just Dani and the increasingly bemused Christian, the former invited to take part in the dance to choose the May Queen and the other  reluctantly becoming a central player in an impregnation ritual. And, for those unaware of  Edward Woodward’s wicker man fate, we’ve still to find out why the bear’s there.

Making effective use of the constant daylight, Aster takes his time in building the gathering sense of dread, dropping in small suggestions and details, relying on imagery rather than carnage, while the narrative’s peppered with bursts of humour (some more intentional than others as it descends into giggle-inducing silliness) as it finally builds to a  genuinely disturbing finale that gives Pugh the last unsettling freeze frame.

It’s a muddled and mostly predictable journey in which much happens off camera and, as obligatory in such films, no one ever says let’s get the fuck out of here,., but while it will try the patience, those last fifteen minutes are well worth the wait. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)

Not even the most ardent Pokemon fan would have thought another animated feature would be a good idea, so relief all round that, directed by  Rob Letterman, who made Goosebumps, this is a live action/CGI reboot of the franchise, a sort of family friendly answer to  The Happytime Murders. Following his detective father Harry’s apparent death in a car accident, estranged son Tim Goodman  (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City, a sprawling metropolis created by tech-visionary Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as a place where humans and their Pokemons can live together in peace and Pokemon battles are illegal (though they still happen). Here, Tim (a loner who has no Pokémon of his own) runs into his dad’s amnesiac, electricity-discharging furry yellow Pokémon partner, Pikechu (voiced in Deadpool sardonic manner by Ryan Reynolds), and discovers that, after inhaling the purple gas from a capsule in dad’s apartment, that, unlike other humans and Pokémons, they can understand one another. Unfortunately, the gas has a different effect on Pokémons, turning their ultra-violent. All of which, it seems, is part of a plan by Clifford’s resentful son Roger (Chris Geere) to destroy his father’s vision by unleashing mayhem during the upcoming celebratory parade, something in which a genetically created Mewtwo (seen sending Harry’s car off the bridge in the opening) would seem to be instrumental.

Naturally, as Tim and Pikechu join forces with Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an aspirant TV news reporter with a Nancy Drew streak and a  Psyduck Pokémon (basically a passive-aggressive walking bomb), not everything is as it seems.

A film noir for kids that echoes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? it possesses a knowing sense of humour, the wisecracking Pikechu sporting  a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and a coffee addiction, to complement the often dizzying action sequences. An encounter with a jester-like Pokémon mime is particularly funny, but there’s many amusing throwaways to keep youngsters and grown-ups happy as the plot wanders through some inevitable bonding, friendship, father-son issues and keep them distracted from a somewhat obvious twist. Smith immerses himself in the whole Pokémon world to natural effect while Reynolds tosses off his snarky asides and one-liners with precision timing while Rita Ora puts in a brief flashback cameo as a Pokémon neurologist. For once, the prospect of a sequel is actually something to look forward to rather than dread. (MAC)

 

The Queen’s Corgi (PG)

Given to the Queen (Julie Walters) by Prince Philip (Tom Courteney) as a present, Rex (Jack Whitellla) becomes her favourite corgi. But, when he disgraces himself during a  state visit by Donald and Melania Trump when they want him to mate with their dog, he’s persuaded by cunning rival Charlie (Matt Lucas), who wants to be topdog (spot the in-joke), to leave the palace and finds himself locked up in an animal shelter. Here he falls for slinky Saluki Wanda (Sheridan Smith), which sees him fall foul of shelter bully Tyson (Ray Winstone). Now he has to persuade the other dogs to help him survive a showdown, escape and get back to Buckingham Palace  before Charlie officially takes his place.

A competently made and functionally written Belgian animation revoiced with an all star English cast, this has its amusing moments (and, of course, pooh and widdle jokes) and the canine capers will entertain younger kids, though parents might have a tough time explaining the Fight Club references, pole dancing and corgi couplings. Not exactly Secret Life of Pets pedigree, but Trump taking a selfie with Liz and telling Melania to ‘grab some puppy’ offer some compensation. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former  scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)

A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax.  His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.

Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.

Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots  and weeing up trees with more anarchic and  subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes),  returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and  recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that  has Ned christening him Night Monkey.

Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.

Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a  poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a  drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.

Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless  boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)

Set in 1992, ten years after the events of Apocalypse (and serving as a prequel to 2006’s The Last Stand), the X-Men are now national heroes, called on by the President in times of need. Such as when something goes wrong with a space shuttle mission and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), already disillusioned with the direction things are going, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are despatched by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to save them. Arriving at the shuttle, they find it in the grip of a powerful cosmic energy force that’s tearing it apart and, using their teleporting and super speed powers, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver rescue the astronauts, only to find one’s still onboard. Nightcrawler returns, this time with Jean who uses her mental powers to keep the craft together. However, before she can return to the X-craft, the force engulfs the ship, flooding her with its energy. It should have killed her, but she somehow survives and is returned to Earth where a medical shows her to be perfectly fine. In fact, rather more than fine.

It would seem that the force she’s absorbed has interacted with her own powers, enhancing them to the extent that she’s now the most powerful being on the planet, her skin glowing with cracks revealing the pulsating inner light. Unfortunately, she’s not in control of them and the psychic walls Xavier put in place to protect her when he took her in after she was orphaned in a car crash as a child are starting to collapse, flooding her with suppressed memories. Worse, she likes the feeling she gets when she exercises the power. On top of which a shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari and led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain channelling Tilda Swinton) are on Earth to drain the power inside Jean so they can take Earth for themselves.

Turning her back on the X-Men after learning what a well-intentioned but misguided Xavier did to her as a child and in the wake of a tragedy caused by the inner Phoenix taking her over, a traumatised and increasingly out of control Jean initially seeks help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), culminating in him joining forces with the Beast, who feels betrayed by Xavier (who seems to be on a  bit of PR ego trip),  in a revenge-driven attempt to kill her while the other X-Men seek to reach out to the inner Jean and the Vuk marshal their forces for first a tumultuous New York-set show down followed by the climax aboard a speeding train.

The culmination of the franchise, it’s dark affair that sees the death of two major characters and a change in the X-Men leadership but, it never quite has the same emotional punch as Wolverine’s send-off in Logan, Writer and first time director  Simon Kinberg (who also co-wrote The Last Stand), handles things well enough, welding the somewhat functional  narrative and dazzling effects together and lacing things with a vein of gender politics about powerful women, but somehow the film never really soars as it should. It may be the end, but it’s no Endgame.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play  some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Wild Rose (15)

Named one of the BAFTA Breakthrough Brits in 2017 and a nominee for BAFTA’s 2019 Rising Star award on the back of her performance in Beast, Jessie Buckley consolidates her growing reputation with a knockout performance as a Glaswegian single mother dreaming of making it in country music.  Unfortunately, Tom Cooper’s film never matches the fire of its star.

Just out of prison for supplying heroin to the inmates, ankle-tag under her white cowboy boots, bolshie Rose-Lynn Harlan returns home to her two young kids and tough-love mother Marion (Julie Walters), looking to reclaim her job singing at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry and still nurturing an ambition to seek fame and fortune in Nashville, despite her mother forever pouring cold water on such ambitions. She gets a cleaning job in an upmarket part of Glasgow, singing as she hoovers away for the wealthy Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who, having been introduced by Rose to the joys of Dolly Parton and the like improbably becomes her fairy godmother, seeking to further her dreams.  This includes sending a demo off to Bob Harris and facilitating meeting at the BBC with him and his producer, Mark Hagen, in quite possibly the most excruciatingly embarrassing five minutes you’ll see on screen this year.  In another cloud of wish-fulfilment, a lawyer also manages to convince a judge to have her ankle tag removed so she can further he singing career and provide for her kids.

Despite blowing a fundraising opportunity thrown by Susannah, Rose, thanks to mom, gets to go to Nashville after all (cue a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Kasey Musgraves) and even sing on the Opry stage before she has yet another epiphany about her parental responsibilities. But, even then, the film still gets to sprinkle fairy dust over things as, Whispering Bob in the audience, she gets to have her cake and eat it by playing one of Scotland’s biggest Americana-based music festivals.

Uncynical and unabashedly feelgood to the point of parody, it almost drowns in clichés about discovering who you are and what truly matters, Walters (clearly there were no actual Scottish actresses available) lays on the Glasgow accent so thickly she’s often impossible to understand and Okenado, a gifted actress, is forced to be so gushy as to make Mary Poppins seem like Nurse Ratched.  The saving grace in all this is Buckley, fiercely playing a character who can be blinkered and self-deluded in the selfish single-minded pursuit of her dream but still has you rooting for her. On top of which, doing her own vocal work (a theatrical background, she first came to notice in the TV auditions for Oliver!), while no Lady GaGa, she also turns out to be a pretty good country singer too, the film’s soundtrack album serving as her own musical debut, including the excellent Cigarette Street (Five O’Clock Freedom) written and sung in the film by The Southern Companion. A star is indeed born.  (Tue:MAC)

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

 

The Jacksons: From Motown to Mostly

The Jacksons

They went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world, spending over 170 weeks in the UK Top 40 singles chart. But like many legends, The Jacksons started out from humble beginnings.

“Jackie, Jermaine and I used to sing some country and western around the house, as my mum was washing dishes or cooking,” recalls Jacksons’ guitarist Tito today of the band’s origin in the early/ mid-1960s.

“She used to like country songs, and we used to sing along with them. That’s pretty well where we learnt how to [sing] harmony, and we used to watch this TV show called The Three Stooges, and they’d sing [ascending] ‘Hello, hello, hello!’, in harmony. We used to love that, and that gave us a major chord.

“We didn’t know what we were doing, but it sounded good, you know? We were just amused by all the entertainers like The Four Tops, The Temptations, all the Motown groups, as well as people like Sam Cook, James Brown, Otis Redding, and just the whole genre of R&B soul music – that’s how we started out, as far as a band, a lot of R&B.”

The son of foundry and construction worker who used to also play in a local blues act, Tito soon picked up his dad’s guitar and began to teach himself riffs, licks and tunes. With younger brothers Michael and Marlon soon members of the fledgling Jackson 5, music offered the boys an escape from the realities of life in Gary, Indiana.

“It was rough, it was rough out on the streets,” recalls Tito. “My father didn’t allow us to hang out on the streets. We could be around the house, and go out and play in the area, but if we go out for a walk around the block, or whatever, we’d have to let them know. ‘I’m going over my friends’ house.’ You don’t just get up and go. He was very adamant about that. It was a rough area … a lot of gang activity. At that time I think it was one of the Top 10 crime cities in America! And before long it became the number one crime city in America for its size of population.”

Entering local talent contests and opening for visiting stars, the brothers eventually came to the attention of Motown boss, Berry Gordy. The invite, however, clashed with another opportunity …

“We got called in for an audition, we also got an offer from The David Frost Show, one of those [TV shows] which is a national show, an international show! I was thinking, if we go on an international show, we’re going to have all the [record] companies seeing us, we’re not going to get one company. What if Motown don’t like us? Then we’ve blown that [TV] opportunity.

“But the brothers always wanted to be on Motown, so it was an easy decision.

“So we went to Detroit to see Berry and he liked what he saw, and he walked over to us and said, ‘we’re going to make your first four songs number one!’ We heard him, and we were excited about that, but we could not imagine that … no way, being a kid, always admiring Motown and The Temptations and all these other big name groups, like The Beatles included, and so on …”

Berry’s prediction came true as their first four singles for Motown – I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There – all topped the US charts.

Bolder hits followed, including the disco groove of Blame It On The Boogie, rock/pop State Of Shock (with Mick Jagger) and epic multi-layered Can You Feel It.

Discussing the musicianship, arrangements and production of some of their hits, Tito says: “I was just thinking of the old days, it was all musicians; today’s music is so different, so different, you know?

“I like the old school, there’s skill, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, you know? All those elements is what makes the sound. Today? It’s all computers, numbers, and you can hear it – a real musician can really hear it. You don’t get the dynamics with computers as much as you would with a live performance.”

The Jacksons headline opening night of the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival, Birmingham, on Friday 12 July 2019, as part of the festival’s 10th anniversary.

Other artists appearing over the weekend include Ibibio Sound Machine, Fullee Love, Young Pilgrims (Friday); Acid Jazz heroes Brand New Heavies, Craig Charles and Rosie Tee (Saturday 13 July 2019), Khruangbin and legendary American songwriter Burt Bacharach (Sunday 14 July 2019).

For tickets and more information, see: mostlyjazz.co.uk

MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Reviews, Fri Jul 5 – Thu Jul 11

 

NEW RELEASES

Spiderman: Far From Home (12A)

Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes),  returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and  recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that  has Ned christening him Night Monkey.

Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.

Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a  poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a  drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.

Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless  boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Anna (15)

Even if this had not been beaten to the box office by both Atomic Blonde with its Cold War double and triple crosses and Red Sparrow, in which Jennifer Lawrence’s Russian ballerina is recruited to become an assassin using her sex appeal while scheming to outwit her handlers, not to mention Jodie Corner’s inspired turn as Soviet sociopath Villanelle in Killing Eve, Luc Besson’s thriller would still not be worth the ticket.

Wasting an impressive debut by Russian model turned actress, it offers up Anna as a Russian market street vendor, who,in 1990, is scouted  for a Paris modelling agency and soon becomes a high fashion star in a  lesbian relationship with a fellow model (Lera Abova). The first twist comes when she returns from the bathroom to the wealthy sleazeball looking to seduce her and puts a bullet in his head. At which point comes the first of any number of flashbacks and flashforwards to detail how, a former junkie and prostitute, she was recruited (after initially turning down the job by slitting her wrist) by the KGB (because she’s good at chess) in the form of  hunky romantic interest  Alex (Luke Evans) and his handler Olga (Helen Mirren in gleeful accent mangling form)  only to find the only retirement option is being shot. Subsequently, in an increasingly convoluted timeframe, she’s busted and recruited by the CIA, here in the form of smooth romantic interest Lenny (Cillian Murphy), naturally finding that playing both sides can be a dangerous game, leading to one final reshuffling of the deck and turning of the tables.

Clearly Besson was looking to revisit past hits such as La Femme Nikita, Leon and Lucy, but, while this has some great action sequences (most especially as Anna takes out a restaurant teeming with goons to meet Olga’s five minute deadline) it never really clicks as the story of a woman carving her own  identity and strength in the face of male (and Mirren) puppet masters. And let’s not get into its anachronistic technology. While passably entertaining, the fact that it’s been virtually disowned by the distributor in the wake of unproven accusations of Besson’s sexual misconduct, the only killing this is going to make in cinemas  is that delivered by Anna. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Dirty God (15)

Starring real-life burns survivor Vicky Knight in her debut role as Jade, her face and upper body badly scarred in a seemingly random acid attack for an ex-boyfriend, Dutch director and co-writer Sacha Polak plunges into the sort of gritty British social realism previously mined by the likes of  Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay and, of course, Ken Loach.

Unfolding on the margins of East London society, when Jade leaves hospital she has to learn to cope with a new life, living back with her mother (Katherine Kelly) and an infant daughter who, understandably, burst into screams at the sight of mom’s face. However, best friend Shami (Rebecca Stone) is on hand to treat her as if nothing’s changed, the pair going out drinking and clubbing, and Jade engaging in awkward flirtations with Shami’s boyfriend, Naz (Bluey Robinson.

There are several missteps, notably a trip to Morrocco in search of cheap plastic surgery that inevitably turns out to be too good to be true and a fudged courtoom sequence as she has to face her attacker, and it never quite rings true that, aside from one jerk in the workplace, no one ever seems to react to  her scars, not even in curious stares. The film’s strength, however, is in not portraying Jade (who can at times come across as self-centred and unlikable, especially in her neglect of Rae) as a victim calling on the audience’s pity but a survivor to be cheered on, that, for all that’s happened, beneath the skin she remains the person she always was. (Mon/Tue: MAC)

Midsommar (18)

Given it involves a troubled visitor to a reclusive, isolated community that practices ancient fertility and renewal rites, including a sacrificial offering, it’s hard not to think of this as a Swedish-set version of The Wicker Man. Except that was 88 minutes and this is almost an hour longer.

Written and directed by Ari Aster as his follow-up to Hereditary, it pivots on a terrific performance by Florence Pugh (increasily resembling a  young Kate Winslet) as the traumatised  Dani who, having experienced a family tragedy (a brilliant opening of panic and a wordless reveal that her unbalanced sister’s committed suicide and murdered their parents), is grudgingly invited by her less than committed boyfriend. Christian (Jack Reynor), to join him and his loosely sketched university friends, fellow PhD student Josh (William Jackson Harper),  ever horny Mark (Will Poulter), and the just graduated Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the latter’s Swedish commune. Indeed,  the latter’s especially keen for her to come.

On arrival, they link up with two English tourists, Connie and Simon, who are essentially redundant to the mix other than for body count purposes, and they’re all invited to take part in a nine-day celebration that’s only held once every 90 years. With everyone wearing white, forever waving their hands in the air, an unexplained caged bear and ritualistic group meals, it’s all a bit odd. Things take a rather more startling turn, however, when, following tradition, two elderly members of the community hurl themselves from a cliff to be dashed, in gruseome rubbery rootage, on the rock below.  Dani is understandably rattled, but her travelling companions seem less so, Christian and Josh seeing it as anthropologicaly fascinating and the culturally insensitive Mark, well, frankly not giving a toss since he only appears to have tagged along to get laid. Which will, of course, not turn out for the best.

From hereonin, things start to get creepier, what with all those disturbing paintings in to the communal sleeping quarters, the assorted ululations and hallucinogenic drinks, until the group’s been whittled down to just Dani and the increasingly bemused Christian, the former invited to take part in the dance to choose the May Queen and the other  reluctantly becoming a central player in an impregnation ritual. And, for those unaware of  Edward Woodward’s wicker man fate, we’ve still to find out why the bear’s there.

Making effective use of the constant daylight, Aster takes his time in building the gathering sense of dread, dropping in small suggestions and details, relying on imagery rather than carnage, while the narrative’s peppered with bursts of humour (some more intentional than others as it descends into giggle-inducing silliness) as it finally builds to a  genuinely disturbing finale that gives Pugh the last unsettling freeze frame.

It’s a muddled and mostly predictable journey in which much happens off camera and, as obligatory in such films, no one ever says let’s get the fuck out of here,., but while it will try the patience, those last fifteen minutes are well worth the wait. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Queen’s Corgi (PG)

Given to the Queen (Julie Walters) by Prince Philip (Tom Courteney) as a present, Rex (Jack Whitellla) becomes her favourite corgi. But, when he disgraces himself during a  state visit by Donald and Melania Trump when they want him to mate with their dog, he’s persuaded by cunning rival Charlie (Matt Lucas), who wants to be topdog (spot the in-joke), to leave the palace and finds himself locked up in an animal shelter. Here he falls for slinky Saluki Wanda (Sheridan Smith), which sees him fall foul of shelter bully Tyson (Ray Winstone). Now he has to persuade the other dogs to help him survive a showdown, escape and get back to Buckingham Palace  before Charlie officially takes his place.

A competently made and functionally written Belgian animation revoiced with an all star English cast, this has its amusing moments (and, of course, pooh and widdle jokes) and the canine capers will entertain younger kids, though parents might have a tough time explaining the Fight Club references, pole dancing and corgi couplings. Not exactly Secret Life of Pets pedigree, but Trump taking a selfie with Liz and telling Melania to ‘grab some puppy’ offer some compensation. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90-minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live  action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece, though it may also leave audiences hoping remake things take a turn for the better with the upcoming The Lion King. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Apollo 11 (U)

We’ve already had First Man, but now, marking the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon, Todd Douglas Miller’s   documentary pulls together previously unseen NASA 70mm footage and some 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio that that had been gathering dust in the archives to take audiences through the mission, going behind the scenes at Cape Canaveral, into Apollo 11 and the lunar module with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and out into the crowd that gathered to watch lift-off and follow the rocket into the skies and on the television screens  over its nine day mission. Relying totally on the archive footage and eschewing any narration or recreations, while the facts are familiar, the film brings them alive as if seeing it for the first time, that one giant leap still stopping your breath while in today’s troubled Trump times, recalling how this was the last time not only America but the entire world was united as one.  See it on the biggest screen you can. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park)

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Unquestionably the year’s biggest film, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. NB: Now with added deleted scene. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Brightburn  (15)

An interesting idea that starts off well but has nowhere to go, this sort of blends together the origin of Superman with a dash of The Omen as Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), a childless farming couple from Brightburn in rural Kansas get their prayers for a miracle answered when a spacecraft crashes to earth containing a baby boy. They take him in, name him Brandon (a suitably creepy Jackson A. Dunn), hide the evidence and raise him as their own, but, come puberty, the kid starts zoning out, hearing voices and is drawn to the barn (naturally glowing red) where his folks have hidden his cosmic cradle. An encounter with the lawnmower reveals to Brandon he’s superstrong and impervious to harm, while his latent maliciousness manifests itself when he breaks the hand of a girl classmate (Emmie Hunter) after he’s been bullied. Clearly getting a taste for it, he proceeds to use his powers (superspeed, flight, laser beam eyes) to slaughter the family chickens before building up to dispatching anyone who crosses him, starting with the girl’s unpleasant waitress mother and moving on to the husband (Matt Jones) of his school counsellor aunt (Meredith Hagner) and two of the local cops before turning his attention to mom and dad who, by now, have discovered the drawings under his bed. Wearing a sack with peepholes over his head and a scrappy red cape, he also leaves a trademark symbol (his initials) at the scene of his crimes. Mom, meanwhile, remains determined to protect him despite everything.

Directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, respectively brother and cousin of producer James Gunn, the super-hero horror concept is promising, but once Brandon embarks on his murder spree, it’s clear none of them have much idea of where to take it other than throwing in more gore and some confused planetary domination babble as he keeps repeating ‘Take the world’.

Niceties such as character development, satirical wit and depth of narrative don’t get a look in, but you do get to see a sliver a glass in someone’s eyeball and a rather grisly severed jaw and admire how the cast can keep a straight face while delivering lines like “He’s not our son! He’s something we found in the woods!” While agreeably unpleasant in a B-movie manner, without even attempting to offer any explanation or motivation to Brandon’s actions (he protests to mom, “I want to be good” but shows no evidence of any inner struggle), this is ultimately more silly than scary, a sort of Drab Phoenix. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)

 

Child’s Play (15)

A different kind of toy story, this reboots the Chucky franchise, a sort of older male cousin to Annabelle. In the original, it was Good Guy doll which became possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer seeking a human body to inhabit, here it’s a Buddi doll who, voiced by Mark Hamill, becomes a murder machine after its AI is sabotaged in the production plant. The remake follows the same basic set up  in that the doll’s bought by busy single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) as a companion for her adolescent (and, here, deaf) son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and subsequently takes on a life if its own, getting a taste for butchery after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, and murdering the babysitter, for which Andy gets the blame and put in a psychiatric hospital. Variations this time around include a bunch of neighbourhood kids straight out of Stranger Things who team up to defeat the doll, mom’s  jerk boyfriend and  a creepy handyman with Mike Norris (Bryan Tyree Henry), the detective on the case, being the son of a neighbour. There are, naturally, plenty of grisly deaths (including by lawnmower), stupid decisions and some woolly cautionary messages about technology out of control and the toxic influence of mankind, but nothing to warrant resurrecting a franchise that had worn out its invention and welcome long before it got the axe.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Diego Maradona (12A)

“A bit of cheating and a lot of genius”, someone says in summing up Argentinian football megastar Diego Maradona whose ‘Hand of God’ moment in the quarter final against England sealed the 1986 World Cup as Argentina went on to defeat West Germany 3-2. Directed by Asif Kapadia, but largely using existing TV footage alongside some modern day reminiscences from its subject, the two-hour plus documentary traces Maradona’s life and career from the slums of Buenos Aires through a less than glorious 80s stint at Barcelona to Naples and subsequent superstar status, the disastrous fall out of the Argentina vs. Italy clash in the 1990 World Cup  and a crash back down through  assorted extramarital affairs, pregnancy controversies, cocaine habit, mobster associations, weight gain, media ostracisation, drugs bust and despair.

Very much one for soccer enthusiasts, but even less than casual viewers are likely to be impressed by footage of the man in action; however, it’s the story away from the pitch, one fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fierce determination to win and rampant hubris that makes this, as one historian puts it, “tremendous and terrible” story worth going well into extra time.  (Electric; MAC)

 

Godzilla: King Of Monsters (12A)

At 132 minutes, this sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot is around 90% special effects action and 10% plot, but then who goes to a movie about a radiation-breathing giant lizard for the subtleties of the script! Picking things up five years on from the end of the previous film, having lost their son in Godzilla’s San Francisco rampage, scientists Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) are now divorced, she still working for Monarch with teenage daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), he out in the frozen wilds studying wolves. Together they invented the Orca, a device that can synthesise the cries of the assorted titans to communicate with – and importantly calm – them, but as she’s testing it out on Mothra, the facility’s invaded by British Army colonel turned eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) and she and Madison taken captive. Naturally, Mark is pulled back in to help rescue them before Alan can use the Orca to awaken the other titans (17 of them apparently, though we only see a few, including a glimpse of Kong) in his deranged quest to restore balance to Earth by basically giving it back to its original rulers (apparently nature blossoms in their wake) and wiping out most of humanity. The early twist is that a misguided obsessional Emma is in on the Thanos kick too, resurrecting Monster Zero, aka  King Ghidorah, the three-headed, winged hydra-like serpent and Godzilla’s big rival for the titan throne.

From which the film descends into a series of peril-fraught visits to various holding facilities dotted around the planet (China, Colorado, Bermuda, Mexico, Antarctica), the cast list dwindling as it goes (Sally Hawkins’ scientist an early casualty), as Mark, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) and assorted colleagues and military types basically try and figure out if they want to kill Godzilla or recruit him to take Ghidorah who, it turns out is not of this world and has an agenda rather different to Emma’s on the others, and is trying to bring the other titans, among them the original angry bird, Rodin, under his control.

Scattered among the spectacular (albeit at times rather murky) destruction set pieces as assorted monsters go head to heads or wings to tails, trashing cities wholesale in their path, there’s a smattering of human stories designed to ground the emotions, including a couple of sacrifices to save the planet, but these are essentially just window dressing to the main event as it builds to its mega-sized nuclear bomb kick-start climax at Boston’s Fenway Park and the end-titled set up next year’s sequel Godzilla vs. Kong. Big and loud does it. (Vue Star City; Sat/Tue-Thu: Mockingbird)

John Wick: Chapter 3 (15)

Save for Constantine, after the end of the Matrix series Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much in the commercial doldrums, then, five years ago, along came John Wick and, while he can still be found in low budget indie fare like Replicas and Destination Wedding, his formerly retired soulful loner, one-man-army assassin has put him back in the A list.

Its title coming from the Latin phrase meaning ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’, this picks up immediately after the end of John Wick 2, with an hour to go before he’s declared ex-communicado after breaking the Masonic-like High Table’s rules by killing someone inside the Continental Hotel, after which, with a $14million bounty on his head,  he’s fair game for every assassin going. The first of the bone-crunching fights, in the New York Public Library, giving a new meaning to doing things by the book, what follows is pretty much two hours of constant bloody shootings and stabbings, including a knife through an eye, with occasional breathers to move the narrative to the next level as, calling on his Belarus heritage and bearing a talisman, Wick first calls in a debt and asks for passage to Casablanca from Anjelica Huston’s Russian crime boss The Director (who trained the orphaned young Wick in ballet moves and wrestling), then seeks out the local Continental’s manager, Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a backstory (and another marker) that doesn’t occur in either of the first two chapters, to secure a meeting with her Italian boss (Jerome Flynn) and from there out into the Sahara desert to strike a deal with a High Table Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), albeit at the cost of a finger.

Meanwhile, back in New York the script introduces a new character in the Adjudicator (a superbly frosty Asia Kate Dillon) who’s there to bring to account the Continental’s Manager, Winston (Ian McShane, as cooly imperious as ever), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick after the hotel killing and who recruits top Japanese assassin and Wick fan Zero (Mark Dacasos) and his goons (including Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid) as muscle.

Again directed by Chad Stahelski and saturated with colour, it not only looks amazing but delivers one breathtaking and often close-up action set piece after another (notably a frenetic melee in a weapons museum lined with glass knife display cases) as Wick variously takes on his assailants with fists, guns, knives, swords, motorbikes and even the hind legs of a horse while, in the Casablanca shoot-out, teamed up with Sofia, they also have the help of her two German Shepherd attack dogs (echoing the canine theme running through the series) who know just where to bite a man, all climaxing in a showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass maze.

Reeves again delivers droll line delivery perfection alongside incredible physicality while those around him rise to the glorious absurdity and excess of the occasion as the film ends ready to launch into a revenge/payback themed John Wick Chapter 4. Bring it on. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Men In Black International (12A)

Seven years on from the third and final installment starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (who get a tip of the hat in a painting, and almost 22 since the MiB started protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe, director F Gary Gray reboots the franchise, reuniting Thor and Valkyrie, okay Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, for a more globe-spanning outing that takes in Paris, London, Naples and Marrakesh.

It opens with Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent High T (Liam Neeson), the boss of the London bureau atop the Eiffel Tower, saving the world from The Hive, an alien race bent on galactic-scale destruction, “with nothing but their wits and series-70 atomizers.” Flashback twenty years with Molly witnessing her parents being neurolised by two MiB and helping a fluffball alien to escape, an incident that sparks a deep obsession that will, in the present, lead to her tracking down the MiB New York HQ and convincing station boss Agent O (Emma Thompson) to take her on as a probationer as Agent M complete with trademark Paul Smith suit, white shirt and skinny black tie.

To which end, she’s despatched to London and assigned to work with Agent H, who, as everyone observes, hasn’t been the same since Paris, generally assumed to be the result of breaking up with arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson). Given the job of babysitting visiting royalty, Vungus the Ugly, an old alien friend of H, things go pear-shaped when he’s murdered by two lookalike alien trackers (Larry Bouregois) who can absorb the appearance of those they have killed, but not before he passes on a purple crystal device to M, the only one he can trust.

This, it turns out, is some sort of superweapon involving a compressed star that could potentially obliterate the planet and needleless to say, the two aliens aren’t the only ones who want to get their hands on it, plus there’s suggestions that the London office has been compromised, while priggish Agent C (Rafe Spall) seeks to put his oar into the mission and it all winds up back in Paris with a not too hard to see coming twist, albeit with a twist inside itself.

Visually, it sometimes falls short and Gray never quite manages to successfully integrate the live action with the action-heavy effects. But this is more than compensated by the hugely enjoyable screwball comedy interplay and banter between Hemsworth, in typical laconic mode, and Thompson as the eager to impress Agent M, boosted in the latter half by the amusing addition of Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a sort of living green alien chess piece in a red uniform that resembles an acorn pod, who adopts M as his new Queen.  Ultimately, it’s not all it might have been, but there’s more than enough fun and chemistry (as well as some unresolved plot lines) here to make you hope they’re back in black again in the not too distant future.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)

Not even the most ardent Pokemon fan would have thought another animated feature would be a good idea, so relief all round that, directed by  Rob Letterman, who made Goosebumps, this is a live action/CGI reboot of the franchise, a sort of family friendly answer to  The Happytime Murders. Following his detective father Harry’s apparent death in a car accident, estranged son Tim Goodman  (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City, a sprawling metropolis created by tech-visionary Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as a place where humans and their Pokemons can live together in peace and Pokemon battles are illegal (though they still happen). Here, Tim (a loner who has no Pokémon of his own) runs into his dad’s amnesiac, electricity-discharging furry yellow Pokémon partner, Pikechu (voiced in Deadpool sardonic manner by Ryan Reynolds), and discovers that, after inhaling the purple gas from a capsule in dad’s apartment, that, unlike other humans and Pokémons, they can understand one another. Unfortunately, the gas has a different effect on Pokémons, turning their ultra-violent.

All of which, it seems, is part of a plan by Clifford’s resentful son Roger (Chris Geere) to destroy his father’s vision by unleashing mayhem during the upcoming celebratory parade, something in which a genetically created Mewtwo (seen sending Harry’s car off the bridge in the opening) would seem to be instrumental.Naturally, as Tim and Pikechu join forces with Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an aspirant TV news reporter with a Nancy Drew streak and a  Psyduck Pokémon (basically a passive-aggressive walking bomb), not everything is as it seems.

A film noir for kids that echoes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? it possesses a knowing sense of humour, the wisecracking Pikechu sporting  a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and a coffee addiction, to complement the often dizzying action sequences. An encounter with a jester-like Pokémon mime is particularly funny, but there’s many amusing throwaways to keep youngsters and grown-ups happy as the plot wanders through some inevitable bonding, friendship, father-son issues and keep them distracted from a somewhat obvious twist. Smith immerses himself in the whole Pokémon world to natural effect while Reynolds tosses off his snarky asides and one-liners with precision timing while Rita Ora puts in a brief flashback cameo as a Pokémon neurologist. For once, the prospect of a sequel is actually something to look forward to rather than dread. (MAC)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former  scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)

A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax.  His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.

Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.

Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots  and weeing up trees with more anarchic and  subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Thunder Road (15)      

Opening with cop Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) giving an emotional, long, cringeworthy, rambling and often embarrassingly free associating confessional eulogy that veers between tears and nervous laughter at his mother’s funeral, at which he can’t get the titular Springsteen song to work on the cassette player and resorts to a  theatrical performance in front of a dumbfounded congregation that goes viral on the Internet, this is very much a Marmite movie. If you don’t buy into that monologue, then the rest of the film, which follows Jim, who insists on reporting for work despite being clearly disturbed, as he gradually unravels under the weight of grief, humiliation, the fact his estranged wife (Jocelyn DeBoer) is divorcing him and he’s caught in a custody battle for his indifferent young daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr), is going to be  painful watch. In fact, it is regardless.

His daughter shows him no affection even though he stays up nights learning the games she likes to play and, normally an efficient if overzealous patrol cop, he’s patently losing it, an argument with his African-American partner and best friend Nate (Nican Robinson) seeing him suspended from duty. Added to which, he physically threatens Crystal’s teacher (Macon Blair) he tells him she’s an acting-out problem child.

Basically, Jim’s life is a mess largely down to the fact he always outs his own need before anyone else’s, family included and refuses to see that things aren’t fine. However, an accident offers him an unexpected chance to mend his relationship with his daughter. He just need to work out what he has to do to become the best dad ever.

Cummings, who also wrote and directed (the film’s an expanded version of a short he made in 2016), immerses himself totally in the tragicomedy, his screenplay piling on the pathos alongside the palpable repressed rage so that you never quite know how to react as he exposes every raw nerve or in scenes such as the one where, his over-protective father instincts kicking in, he intervenes in what he sees as two boys coming on to a teenage girl in a parking lot.

Essentially a film about the damage repressed anger and self-loathing can do until life forces you to grow up, it strikes clear chords with the despair in America’s heartland as everything falls apart. It will irritate many, others it will tear to shreds. (Fri/Sat:MAC)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)

Set in 1992, ten years after the events of Apocalypse (and serving as a prequel to 2006’s The Last Stand), the X-Men are now national heroes, called on by the President in times of need. Such as when something goes wrong with a space shuttle mission and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), already disillusioned with the direction things are going, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are despatched by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to save them. Arriving at the shuttle, they find it in the grip of a powerful cosmic energy force that’s tearing it apart and, using their teleporting and super speed powers, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver rescue the astronauts, only to find one’s still onboard. Nightcrawler returns, this time with Jean who uses her mental powers to keep the craft together. However, before she can return to the X-craft, the force engulfs the ship, flooding her with its energy. It should have killed her, but she somehow survives and is returned to Earth where a medical shows her to be perfectly fine. In fact, rather more than fine.

It would seem that the force she’s absorbed has interacted with her own powers, enhancing them to the extent that she’s now the most powerful being on the planet, her skin glowing with cracks revealing the pulsating inner light. Unfortunately, she’s not in control of them and the psychic walls Xavier put in place to protect her when he took her in after she was orphaned in a car crash as a child are starting to collapse, flooding her with suppressed memories. Worse, she likes the feeling she gets when she exercises the power. On top of which a shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari and led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain channelling Tilda Swinton) are on Earth to drain the power inside Jean so they can take Earth for themselves.

Turning her back on the X-Men after learning what a well-intentioned but misguided Xavier did to her as a child and in the wake of a tragedy caused by the inner Phoenix taking her over, a traumatised and increasingly out of control Jean initially seeks help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), culminating in him joining forces with the Beast, who feels betrayed by Xavier (who seems to be on a  bit of PR ego trip),  in a revenge-driven attempt to kill her while the other X-Men seek to reach out to the inner Jean and the Vuk marshal their forces for first a tumultuous New York-set show down followed by the climax aboard a speeding train.

The culmination of the franchise, it’s dark affair that sees the death of two major characters and a change in the X-Men leadership but, it never quite has the same emotional punch as Wolverine’s send-off in Logan, Writer and first time director  Simon Kinberg (who also co-wrote The Last Stand), handles things well enough, welding the somewhat functional  narrative and dazzling effects together and lacing things with a vein of gender politics about powerful women, but somehow the film never really soars as it should. It may be the end, but it’s no Endgame.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Vue Star City)

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play  some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 28-Thu Jul 4

 

NEW RELEASES

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Apollo 11 (U)

We’ve already had First Man, but now, marking the 50thanniversary of man landing on the moon, Todd Douglas Miller’s   documentary pulls together previously unseen NASA 70mm footage and some 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio that that had been gathering dust in the archives to take audiences through the mission, going behind the scenes at Cape Canaveral, into Apollo 11 and the lunar module with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and out into the crowd that gathered to watch lift-off and follow the rocket into the skies and on the television screens over its nine day mission. Relying totally on the archive footage and eschewing any narration or recreations, while the facts are familiar, the film brings them alive as if seeing it for the first time, that one giant leap still stopping your breath while in today’s troubled Trump times, recalling how this was the last time not only America but the entire world was united as one.  See it on the biggest screen you can. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park)

We The Animals (15)

Based on Justin Torres’ semi-autobiographical first person novel of the same name, making his first venture into drama after two documentaries, shooting handheld on fuzzy 16mm director  Jeremiah Zagar unfolds the 90s-set story of, initially, three somewhat feral young brothers, Manny (Isiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel) and Jonah (Evan Rosado),  living in the backwoods of upstate New York with their parents, referred to only as Ma (Sheila Vand, white) and Paps (Raúl Castillo, Puerto Rican) who share a somewhat volatile and at times abusive relationship and rarely interact in the sons’ lives. As the film develops, however, the focus shifts to the youngest brother, Jonah, to unfold as a baptismal coming of age story as he struggles with his emerging sexuality in his relationship with the rebellious nephew of a kindly neighbour who introduces him to the world of gay porn, leading Jonah to make some explicit drawings he keeps hidden under his bed.

Newcomer Rosado is a compelling presence as the kid trying to navigate a world from which he’s come adrift, but he’s let down by Zagar’s attempts to channel the mood of Moonlight and the magic realism and narcotic, hallucinatory feel of Terrence Malick, slipping in instances of animation and intrusive poetic voiceover while letting narrative moments such as the brothers robbing a store of the bruises on Ma’s face being  passed off as the dentist’s fault slip past without establishing a  hold. There’s time when it has flashes of what might have been, but these are too infrequent to deliver any sustained effect. (Wed/Thu: Mockingbird)

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90-minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece, though it may also leave audiences hoping remake things take a turn for the better with the upcoming The Lion King. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Unquestionably the year’s biggest film, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Booksmart (15)

The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, this high school coming of age comedy fully deserves to take its place alongside such evergreen as deserved The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Superbad and Pretty In Pink. About to graduate, best friends, openly gay activist Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and lightly more well-built Molly (Beanie Feldstein, sister to Jonah Hill), are academic overachievers who’ve dedicated their entire school life to studying. Amy’s taking a  year off to volunteer in Botswana and Molly’s got her sights set on the Supreme Court. So,  when, while in the toilet correcting some graffiti, she overhears other students, who she snobbishly regards a time wasters, dissing her and, declaring they’ll never amount to anything, imagine her  horror to discover that they have all got into prestigious universities, or in one case, landed a six-figure job with Google– and didn’t have to not party to do so.

So, Molly persuades Amy that they’re going to spend their last night making up for lost time, partying hard, getting drunk, taking drugs and losing their virginity, Amy to the androgynous geeky skate-girl she has a crush on and Molly to the handsome class Vice-President, Nick (Mason Gooding) who just happens to be holding the hottest party in town. While they are unquestionably the film’s most potent chemistry, Dever and Feldstein are bolstered by an array of colourful but well-delineated supporting characters, most notably Triple A (Molly Gordon), a girl with a sexual reputation, Jared (Skyler Gisondo), whose spent his years in school trying to buy his schoolmates friendship, to no avail, and the ethereal, eccentric super rich Gigi (Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd) who adopts Amy has her new BFF and pops up throughout the film where the girls may go.

While their contributions are smaller, the adult cast get to shine too with Jason Sudekis as the school principal who turns out to have a job on the side, Jessica Williams as a teacher who crosses the no fraternising line, Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s blissfully unaware supportive parents and Michael Patrick O’Brien as a pizza delivery guy who hilariously finds himself on the sharp end of Molly’s attempts to extort directions to Nick’s party.

Scripted by three women, it has an honest feel to the female relationships and the ability to talk about things like lesbian sex in a way that doesn’t feel like some sort of cheap gag a man might have thrown in. Boys may not get it but this should delight their more sussed counterparts. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Brightburn (15)

An interesting idea that starts off well but has nowhere to go, this sort of blends together the origin of Superman with a dash of The Omen as Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), a childless farming couple from Brightburn in rural Kansas get their prayers for a miracle answered when a spacecraft crashes to earth containing a baby boy. They take him in, name him Brandon (a suitably creepy Jackson A. Dunn), hide the evidence and raise him as their own, but, come puberty, the kid starts zoning out, hearing voices and is drawn to the barn (naturally glowing red) where his folks have hidden his cosmic cradle. An encounter with the lawnmower reveals to Brandon he’s superstrong and impervious to harm, while his latent maliciousness manifests itself when he breaks the hand of a girl classmate (Emmie Hunter) after he’s been bullied. Clearly getting a taste for it, he proceeds to use his powers (superspeed, flight, laser beam eyes) to slaughter the family chickens before building up to dispatching anyone who crosses him, starting with the girl’s unpleasant waitress mother and moving on to the husband (Matt Jones) of his school counsellor aunt (Meredith Hagner) and two of the local cops before turning his attention to mom and dad who, by now, have discovered the drawings under his bed. Wearing a sack with peepholes over his head and a scrappy red cape, he also leaves a trademark symbol (his initials) at the scene of his crimes. Mom, meanwhile, remains determined to protect him despite everything.

Directed by David Yarovesky and written byBrian Gunn and Mark Gunn, respectively brother and cousin of producer James Gunn, the super-hero horror concept is promising, but once Brandon embarks on his murder spree, it’s clear none of them have much idea of where to take it other than throwing in more gore and some confused planetary domination babble as he keeps repeating ‘Take the world’.

Niceties such as character development, satirical wit and depth of narrative don’t get a look in, but you do get to see a sliver a glass in someone’s eyeball and a rather grisly severed jaw and admire how the cast can keep a straight face while delivering lines like “He’s not our son! He’s something we found in the woods!” While agreeably unpleasant in a B-movie manner, without even attempting to offer any explanation or motivation to Brandon’s actions (he protests to mom, “I want to be good” but shows no evidence of any inner struggle), this is ultimately more silly than scary, a sort of Drab Phoenix. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Child’s Play (15)

A different kind of toy story, this reboots the Chucky franchise, a sort of older male cousin to Annabelle. In the original, it was Good Guy doll which became possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer seeking a human body to inhabit, here it’s a Buddi doll who, voiced by Mark Hamill, becomes a murder machine after its AI is sabotaged in the production plant. The remake follows the same basic set up  in that the doll’s bought by busy single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) as a companion for her adolescent (and, here, deaf) son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and subsequently takes on a life if its own, getting a taste for butchery after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, and murdering the babysitter, for which Andy gets the blame and put in a psychiatric hospital. Variations this time around include a bunch of neighbourhood kids straight out of Stranger Things who team up to defeat the doll, mom’s  jerk boyfriend and  a creepy handyman with Mike Norris (Bryan Tyree Henry), the detective on the case, being the son of a neighbour. There are, naturally, plenty of grisly deaths (including by lawnmower), stupid decisions and some woolly cautionary messages about technology out of control and the toxic influence of mankind, but nothing to warrant resurrecting a franchise that had worn out its invention and welcome long before it got the axe.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Diego Maradona (12A) 

“A bit of cheating and a lot of genius”, someone says in summing up Argentinian football megastar Diego Maradona whose ‘Hand of God’ moment in the quarter final against England sealed the 1986 World Cup as Argentina went on to defeat West Germany 3-2. Directed by Asif Kapadia, but largely using existing TV footage alongside some modern day reminiscences from its subject, the two-hour plus documentary traces Maradona’s life and career from the slums of Buenos Aires through a less than glorious 80s stint at Barcelona to Naples and subsequent superstar status, the disastrous fall out of the Argentina vs. Italy clash in the 1990 World Cup  and a crash back down through  assorted extramarital affairs, pregnancy controversies, cocaine habit, mobster associations, weight gain, media ostracisation, drugs bust and despair.

Very much one for soccer enthusiasts, but even less than casual viewers are likely to be impressed by footage of the man in action; however, it’s the story away from the pitch, one fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fierce determination to win and rampant hubris that makes this, as one historian puts it, “tremendous and terrible” story worth going well into extra time.  (Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City; Tue-Thu:Mockingbird)

 

Godzilla: King Of Monsters (12A)

At 132 minutes, this sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot is around 90% special effects action and 10% plot, but then who goes to a movie about a radiation-breathing giant lizard for the subtleties of the script! Picking things up five years on from the end of the previous film, having lost their son in Godzilla’s San Francisco rampage, scientists Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) are now divorced, she still working for Monarch with teenage daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), he out in the frozen wilds studying wolves. Together they invented the Orca, a device that can synthesise the cries of the assorted titans to communicate with – and importantly calm – them, but as she’s testing it out on Mothra, the facility’s invaded by British Army colonel turned eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) and she and Madison taken captive. Naturally, Mark is pulled back in to help rescue them before Alan can use the Orca to awaken the other titans (17 of them apparently, though we only see a few, including a glimpse of Kong) in his deranged quest to restore balance to Earth by basically giving it back to its original rulers (apparently nature blossoms in their wake) and wiping out most of humanity. The early twist is that a misguided obsessional Emma is in on the Thanos kick too, resurrecting Monster Zero, aka  King Ghidorah, the three-headed, winged hydra-like serpent and Godzilla’s big rival for the titan throne.

From which the film descends into a series of peril-fraught visits to various holding facilities dotted around the planet (China, Colorado, Bermuda, Mexico, Antarctica), the cast list dwindling as it goes (Sally Hawkins’ scientist an early casualty), as Mark, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) and assorted colleagues and military types basically try and figure out if they want to kill Godzilla or recruit him to take Ghidorah who, it turns out is not of this world and has an agenda rather different to Emma’s on the others, and is trying to bring the other titans, among them the original angry bird, Rodin, under his control.

Scattered among the spectacular (albeit at times rather murky) destruction set pieces as assorted monsters go head to heads or wings to tails, trashing cities wholesale in their path, there’s a smattering of human stories designed to ground the emotions, including a couple of sacrifices to save the planet, but these are essentially just window dressing to the main event as it builds to its mega-sized nuclear bomb kick-start climax at Boston’s Fenway Park and the end-titled set up next year’s sequel Godzilla vs. Kong. Big and loud does it. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

John Wick: Chapter 3 (15)

Save for Constantine, after the end of the Matrix series Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much in the commercial doldrums, then, five years ago, along came John Wick and, while he can still be found in low budget indie fare like Replicas and Destination Wedding, his formerly retired soulful loner, one-man-army assassin has put him back in the A list.

Its title coming from the Latin phrase meaning ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’, this picks up immediately after the end of John Wick 2, with an hour to go before he’s declared ex-communicado after breaking the Masonic-like High Table’s rules by killing someone inside the Continental Hotel, after which, with a $14million bounty on his head,  he’s fair game for every assassin going. The first of the bone-crunching fights, in the New York Public Library, giving a new meaning to doing things by the book, what follows is pretty much two hours of constant bloody shootings and stabbings, including a knife through an eye, with occasional breathers to move the narrative to the next level as, calling on his Belarus heritage and bearing a talisman, Wick first calls in a debt and asks for passage to Casablanca from Anjelica Huston’s Russian crime boss The Director (who trained the orphaned young Wick in ballet moves and wrestling), then seeks out the local Continental’s manager, Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a backstory (and another marker) that doesn’t occur in either of the first two chapters, to secure a meeting with her Italian boss (Jerome Flynn) and from there out into the Sahara desert to strike a deal with a High Table Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), albeit at the cost of a finger.

Meanwhile, back in New York the script introduces a new character in the Adjudicator (a superbly frosty Asia Kate Dillon) who’s there to bring to account the Continental’s Manager, Winston (Ian McShane, as cooly imperious as ever), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick after the hotel killing and who recruits top Japanese assassin and Wick fan Zero (Mark Dacasos) and his goons (including Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid) as muscle.

Again directed by Chad Stahelski and saturated with colour, it not only looks amazing but delivers one breathtaking and often close-up action set piece after another (notably a frenetic melee in a weapons museum lined with glass knife display cases) as Wick variously takes on his assailants with fists, guns, knives, swords, motorbikes and even the hind legs of a horse while, in the Casablanca shoot-out, teamed up with Sofia, they also have the help of her two German Shepherd attack dogs (echoing the canine theme running through the series) who know just where to bite a man, all climaxing in a showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass maze.

Reeves again delivers droll line delivery perfection alongside incredible physicality while those around him rise to the glorious absurdity and excess of the occasion as the film ends ready to launch into a revenge/payback themed John Wick Chapter 4. Bring it on. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Men In Black International (12A)

Seven years on from the third and final instalment starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (who get a tip of the hat in a painting, and almost 22 since the MiB started protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe, director F Gary Gray reboots the franchise, reuniting Thor and Valkyrie, okay Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, for a more globe-spanning outing that take sin Paris, London, Naples and Marrakesh.

It opens with Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent High T (Liam Neeson), the boss of the London bureau atop the Eiffel Tower, saving the world from The Hive, an alien race bent on galactic-scale destruction, “with nothing but their wits and series-70 atomizers.” Flashback twenty years with Molly witnessing her parents being neurolised by two MiB and helping a fluffball alien to escape, an incident that sparks a deep obsession that will, in the present, lead to her tracking down the MiB New York HQ and convincing station boss Agent O (Emma Thompson) to take her on as a probationer as Agent M complete with trademark Paul Smith suit, white shirt and skinny black tie.

To which end, she’s despatched to London and assigned to work with Agent H, who, as everyone observes, hasn’t been the same since Paris, generally assumed to be the result of breaking up with arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson). Given the job of babysitting visiting royalty, Vungus the Ugly, an old alien friend of H, things go pear-shaped when he’s murdered by two lookalike alien trackers (Larry Bouregois) who can absorb the appearance of those they have killed, but not before he passes on a purple crystal device to M, the only one he can trust.

This, it turns out, is some sort of superweapon involving a compressed star that could potentially obliterate the planet and needleless to say, the two aliens aren’t the only ones who want to get their hands on it, plus there’s suggestions that the London office has been compromised, while priggish Agent C (Rafe Spall) seeks to put his oar into the mission and it all winds up back in Paris with a not too hard to see coming twist, albeit with a twist inside itself.

Visually, it sometimes falls short and Gray never quite manages to successfully integrate the live action with the action-heavy effects. But this is more than compensated by the hugely enjoyable screwball comedy interplay and banter between Hemsworth, in typical laconic mode, and Thompson as the eager to impress Agent M, boosted in the latter half by the amusing addition of Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a sort of living green alien chess piece in a red uniform that resembles an acorn pod, who adopts M as his new Queen.  Ultimately, it’s not all it might have been, but there’s more than enough fun and chemistry (as well as some unresolved plot lines) here to make you hope they’re back in black again in the not too distant future.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)

A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax.  His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.

Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.

Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots  and weeing up trees with more anarchic and  subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Sometimes Always Never (15)

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and directed in stylised fashion by Carl Hunter who, channelling Wes Anderson, evokes a 70s kitsch sensibility with his use of bright colours (mainly orange and green) and frequent shots through doorways or reflections in mirrors, this rather mannered but ultimately involving road trip tale unfolds the father-son relationship between Alan (Bill Nighy), an emotionally distant widowed Liverpudlian tailor, and his estranged grown younger son Peter (Sam Riley) who paints and makes jingles for ice-cream vans. They meet up for the first time in ages in Merseysideto view a body that may or may not be that of Peter’s brother, Michael, who walked out of the house one day many years back following an argument over using the word Zo in a game of Scrabble (or rather, as Peter reminds him, a knock off cardboard version since his dad always did things on the cheap) and never came back. Alan’s been trying to find him ever since while Peter feels he can never compete with the memory of his vanished sibling.

Alan’s the Scrabble obsessive (good with words but useless at communicating), indeed, when he and Peter meet another couple (Jenny Agutter, Tim McInnerny) staying at the same B&B who have also come to identify the body as potentially their own missing son, Alan hustles the husband out of £200, much to Peter’s embarrassment.

Back home, Alan foists himself upon Peter’s family, sharing the bunk bed in their teenage son Jack’s (Louis Healy) room and taking over his computer to play online Scrabble, gradually convinced that his unknown opponent is actually Michael.  Playing alongside this is Peter’s emotional distance from Jack, who reaps the benefits of his grandfather’s dress sense, and how his wife (Alice Lowe, a low-key delight) helps engineer shy Jack’s romance with the girl at the bus stop.

Essentially a film that treats on loss, reconnecting and making the best of what remains behind, it draws excellent performances from Nighy and Riley (and an odd cameo from Alexei Sayle) and build to an understated emotional punch without resorting to sentimentality. You also get to learn why you can’t buy Marmite in Canada. The film’s title is apparently a reference to how the three descending buttons on a suit’s jacket should be fastened, though quite what it has to do with the narrative remains a puzzle. Alan would probably have a word for it. (MAC)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiquesand spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950spull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)

Set in 1992, ten years after the events of Apocalypse (and serving as a prequel to 2006’s The Last Stand), the X-Men are now national heroes, called on by the President in times of need. Such as when something goes wrong with a space shuttle mission and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), already disillusioned with the direction things are going, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are despatched by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to save them. Arriving at the shuttle, they find it in the grip of a powerful cosmic energy force that’s tearing it apart and, using their teleporting and super speed powers, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver rescue the astronauts, only to find one’s still onboard. Nightcrawler returns, this time with Jean who uses her mental powers to keep the craft together. However, before she can return to the X-craft, the force engulfs the ship, flooding her with its energy. It should have killed her, but she somehow survives and is returned to Earth where a medical shows her to be perfectly fine. In fact, rather more than fine.

It would seem that the force she’s absorbed has interacted with her own powers, enhancing them to the extent that she’s now the most powerful being on the planet, her skin glowing with cracks revealing the pulsating inner light. Unfortunately, she’s not in control of them and the psychic walls Xavier put in place to protect her when he took her in after she was orphaned in a car crash as a child are starting to collapse, flooding her with suppressed memories. Worse, she likes the feeling she gets when she exercises the power. On top of which a shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari and led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain channelling Tilda Swinton) are on Earth to drain the power inside Jean so they can take Earth for themselves.

Turning her back on the X-Men after learning what a well-intentioned but misguided Xavier did to her as a child and in the wake of a tragedy caused by the inner Phoenix taking her over, a traumatised and increasingly out of control Jean initially seeks help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), culminating in him joining forces with the Beast, who feels betrayed by Xavier (who seems to be on a  bit of PR ego trip),  in a revenge-driven attempt to kill her while the other X-Men seek to reach out to the inner Jean and the Vuk marshal their forces for first a tumultuous New York-set show down followed by the climax aboard a speeding train.

The culmination of the franchise, it’s dark affair that sees the death of two major characters and a change in the X-Men leadership but, it never quite has the same emotional punch as Wolverine’s send-off in Logan, Writer and first time director  Simon Kinberg (who also co-wrote The Last Stand), handles things well enough, welding the somewhat functional  narrative and dazzling effects together and lacing things with a vein of gender politics about powerful women, but somehow the film never really soars as it should. It may be the end, but it’s no Endgame.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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

 

NEW RELEASES

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiquesand spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and touches of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Brightburn  (15)

An interesting idea that starts off well but has nowhere to go, this sort of blends together the origin of Superman with a dash of The Omen as Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), a childless farming couple from Brightburn in rural Kansas get their prayers for a miracle answered when a spacecraft crashes to earth containing a baby boy. They take him in, name him Brandon (a suitably creepy Jackson A. Dunn), hide the evidence and raise him as their own, but, come puberty, the kid starts zoning out, hearing voices and is drawn to the barn (naturally glowing red) where his folks have hidden his cosmic cradle. An encounter with the lawnmower reveals to Brandon he’s superstrong and impervious to harm, while his latent maliciousness manifests itself when he breaks the hand of a girl classmate (Emmie Hunter) after he’s been bullied. Clearly getting a taste for it, he proceeds to use his powers (superspeed, flight, laser beam eyes) to slaughter the family chickens before building up to dispatching anyone who crosses him, starting with the girl’s unpleasant waitress mother and moving on to the husband (Matt Jones) of his school counsellor aunt (Meredith Hagner) and two of the local cops before turning his attention to mom and dad who, by now, have discovered the drawings under his bed. Wearing a sack with peepholes over his head and a scrappy red cape, he also leaves a trademark symbol (his initials) at the scene of his crimes. Mom, meanwhile, remains determined to protect him despite everything.

Directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, respectively brother and cousin of producer James Gunn, the super-hero horror concept is promising, but once Brandon embarks on his murder spree, it’s clear none of them have much idea of where to take it other than throwing in more gore and some confused planetary domination babble as he keeps repeating ‘Take the world’.

Niceties such as character development, satirical wit and depth of narrative don’t get a look in, but you do get to see a sliver a glass in someone’s eyeball and a rather grisly severed jaw and admire how the cast can keep a straight face while delivering lines like “He’s not our son! He’s something we found in the woods!” While agreeably unpleasant in a B-movie manner, without even attempting to offer any explanation or motivation to Brandon’s actions (he protests to mom, “I want to be good” but shows no evidence of any inner struggle), this is ultimately more silly than scary, a sort of Drab Phoenix. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

ALSO PLAYING

Child’s Play (15)

A different kind of toy story, this reboots the Chucky franchise, a sort of older male cousin to Annabelle. In the original, it was Good Guy doll which became possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer seeking a human body to inhabit, here it’s a Buddi doll who, voiced by Mark Hamill, becomes a murder machine after its AI is sabotaged in the production plant. The remake follows the same basic set up  in that the doll’s bought by busy single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) as a companion for her adolescent (and, here, deaf) son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and subsequently takes on a life if its own, getting a taste for butchery after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, and murdering the babysitter, for which Andy gets the blame and put in a psychiatric hospital. Variations this time around include a bunch of neighbourhood kids straight out of Stranger Things who team up to defeat the doll, mom’s  jerk boyfriend and  a creepy handyman with Mike Norris (Bryan Tyree Henry), the detective on the case, being the son of a neighbour. There are, naturally, plenty of grisly deaths (including by lawnmower), stupid decisions and some woolly cautionary messages about technology out of control and the toxic influence of mankind, but nothing to warrant resurrecting a franchise that had worn out its invention and welcome long before it got the axe.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Halston (12A)

Documentary about top 70s fashion designer and socialite Roy Halston Frowick whose style was taken up by such names as Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor, charting his rise from rural Iowa to become the king of Studio 54 and ruler of a fashion empire before and addiction to  sex and drugs led to a spectacular downfall and the loss of everything. Archive footage and insider interviews  include Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher and Pat Cleveland. (Until Wed; MAC)

 

 

 

 

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90 minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live  action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece, though it may also leave audiences hoping remake things take a turn for the better with the upcoming The Lion King. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Amazing Grace (U)       

Shot in 1972 by Sydney Pollack, legal and technical issues have long prevented this concert documentary from being made public, not least Aretha Franklin’s own refusal to give permission and the fact that Pollock, unused to music documentaries, filmed it in a way that it was impossible to synch the sound and the pictures. Time and technology, and Franklin’s passing,  have finally solved all that, so here (albeit somewhat truncated) is the late Queen of Soul, then 29, recording her new live album at the New Temple Missionary Baptist church in Los Angeles, including Wholly Holy and a barnstorming version of the title song. (Sat/Sun, Tue. Thu:Electric)

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Unquestionably the year’s biggest film, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Booksmart (15)

The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, this high school coming of age comedy fully deserves to take its place alongside such evergreen as deserved The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Superbad and Pretty In Pink. About to graduate, best friends, openly gay activist Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and lightly more well-built Molly (Beanie Feldstein, sister to Jonah Hill), are academic overachievers who’ve dedicated their entire school life to studying. Amy’s taking a  year off to volunteer in Botswana and Molly’s got her sights set on the Supreme Court. So,  when, while in the toilet correcting some graffiti, she overhears other students, who she snobbishly regards a time wasters, dissing her and, declaring they’ll never amount to anything, imagine her  horror to discover that they have all got into prestigious universities, or in one case, landed a six-figure job with Google– and didn’t have to not party to do so.

So, Molly persuades Amy that they’re going to spend their last night making up for lost time, partying hard, getting drunk, taking drugs and losing their virginity, Amy to the androgynous geeky skate-girl she has a crush on and Molly to the handsome class Vice-President, Nick (Mason Gooding) who just happens to be holding the hottest party in town. While they are unquestionably the film’s most potent chemistry, Dever and Feldstein are bolstered by an array of colourful but well-delineated supporting characters, most notably Triple A (Molly Gordon), a girl with a sexual reputation, Jared (Skyler Gisondo), whose spent his years in school trying to buy his schoolmates friendship, to no avail, and the ethereal, eccentric super rich Gigi (Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd) who adopts Amy has her new BFF and pops up throughout the film where the girls may go.

While their contributions are smaller, the adult cast get to shine too with Jason Sudekis as the school principal who turns out to have a job on the side, Jessica Williams as a teacher who crosses the no fraternising line, Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s blissfully unaware supportive parents and Michael Patrick O’Brien as a pizza delivery guy who hilariously finds himself on the sharp end of Molly’s attempts to extort directions to Nick’s party.

Scripted by three women, it has an honest feel to the female relationships and the ability to talk about things like lesbian sex in a way that doesn’t feel like some sort of cheap gag a man might have thrown in. Boys may not get it but this should delight their more sussed counterparts. (Mockingbird; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Diego Maradona (12A)

“A bit of cheating and a lot of genius”, someone says in summing up Argentinian football megastar Diego Maradona whose ‘Hand of God’ moment in the quarter final against England sealed the 1986 World Cup as Argentina went on to defeat West Germany 3-2. Directed by Asif Kapadia, but largely using existing TV footage alongside some modern day reminiscences from its subject, the two-hour plus documentary traces Maradona’s life and career from the slums of Buenos Aires through a less than glorious 80s stint at Barcelona to Naples and subsequent superstar status, the disastrous fall out of the Argentina vs. Italy clash in the 1990 World Cup  and a crash back down through  assorted extramarital affairs, pregnancy controversies, cocaine habit, mobster associations, weight gain, media ostracisation, drugs bust and despair.

Very much one for soccer enthusiasts, but even less than casual viewers are likely to be impressed by footage of the man in action; however, it’s the story away from the pitch, one fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fierce determination to win and rampant hubris that makes this, as one historian puts it, “tremendous and terrible” story worth going well into extra time.  (Cineworld 5 Ways. Solihull; Electric; Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City)

 

Gloria Bell (15)

A virtual note for note English language remake of his own A Fantastic Woman (minus the political undertones), Chile’s Sebastian Lelio now gets to direct Julianne Moore as fifty-something, independent but lonely divorcee Gloria who goes to yoga classes, has a dull but steady job, loves to sing along, out of tune, to soft rock classics as she drives and regularly goes dancing in a 70s-themed singles bar. It’s here she meets and starts an affair with slick fellow divorcee Arnold (John Turturro,), a former Navy officer who now runs a paintball park, a romance that proves misguided and upsets her hitherto stable work-life balance and her admittedly arm’s length relationship with her mother (Holland Taylor) and children, new father Peter (Michael Cera) and hippie daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius) whose fiancée is a Swedish extreme surfer. Complicating a life in which, until then, her biggest problem was keeping her mentally unstable upstairs neighbour’s hairless cat out of her apartment, now she has to deal with the fact that Arnold has a needy ex-wife and daughters who now how to yank the lead and that, while she’s introduced him to her offspring, he won’t mention her to his.

A family dinner – that includes Gloria’s ex-husband (Brad Garrett) and his new wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn) – leads to a break-up, but then they get back together, though it’s clear by now this isn’t going to last as the heady rush of new love and energetic sex gives way to noticing the flaws and cracks in the reality  as a Vegas vacation to get away from Arnold’s problems goes pear-shaped and; faced with his unreliability and emotional con games,  Gloria slowly realises the cost of being together on her own life.

Featuring a supporting cast that also includes Rita Wilson, Barbara Sukowa and Sean Astin and, like the original, bookended with dance floor scenes, the end credits again featuring Laura Branigan’s disco pop classic, not a great deal happens, although there is an amusing third act moment involving a paintball gun, and it rather overdoes the ironic soundtrack with such numbers as Alone Again Naturally, All By Myself, Total Eclipse of the Heart and No More Lonely Nights. However, featuring in virtually every scene, Moore’s consummate, emotionally grounded performance, rather feistier than the original, and Turturro’s always slightly edgy nature keep you engaged as the narrative takes its inevitable bittersweet course. (MAC)

 

Godzilla: King Of Monsters (12A)

At 132 minutes, this sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot is around 90% special effects action and 10% plot, but then who goes to a movie about a radiation-breathing giant lizard for the subtleties of the script! Picking things up five years on from the end of the previous film, having lost their son in Godzilla’s San Francisco rampage, scientists Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) are now divorced, she still working for Monarch with teenage daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), he out in the frozen wilds studying wolves. Together they invented the Orca, a device that can synthesise the cries of the assorted titans to communicate with – and importantly calm – them, but as she’s testing it out on Mothra, the facility’s invaded by British Army colonel turned eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) and she and Madison taken captive. Naturally, Mark is pulled back in to help rescue them before Alan can use the Orca to awaken the other titans (17 of them apparently, though we only see a few, including a glimpse of Kong) in his deranged quest to restore balance to Earth by basically giving it back to its original rulers (apparently nature blossoms in their wake) and wiping out most of humanity. The early twist is that a misguided obsessional Emma is in on the Thanos kick too, resurrecting Monster Zero, aka  King Ghidorah, the three-headed, winged hydra-like serpent and Godzilla’s big rival for the titan throne.

From which the film descends into a series of peril-fraught visits to various holding facilities dotted around the planet (China, Colorado, Bermuda, Mexico, Antarctica), the cast list dwindling as it goes (Sally Hawkins’ scientist an early casualty), as Mark, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) and assorted colleagues and military types basically try and figure out if they want to kill Godzilla or recruit him to take Ghidorah who, it turns out is not of this world and has an agenda rather different to Emma’s on the others, and is trying to bring the other titans, among them the original angry bird, Rodin, under his control.

Scattered among the spectacular (albeit at times rather murky) destruction set pieces as assorted monsters go head to heads or wings to tails, trashing cities wholesale in their path, there’s a smattering of human stories designed to ground the emotions, including a couple of sacrifices to save the planet, but these are essentially just window dressing to the main event as it builds to its mega-sized nuclear bomb kick-start climax at Boston’s Fenway Park and the end-titled set up next year’s sequel Godzilla vs. Kong. Big and loud does it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

John Wick: Chapter 3 (15)

Save for Constantine, after the end of the Matrix series Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much in the commercial doldrums, then, five years ago, along came John Wick and, while he can still be found in low budget indie fare like Replicas and Destination Wedding, his formerly retired soulful loner, one-man-army assassin has put him back in the A list.

Its title coming from the Latin phrase meaning ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’, this picks up immediately after the end of John Wick 2, with an hour to go before he’s declared ex-communicado after breaking the Masonic-like High Table’s rules by killing someone inside the Continental Hotel, after which, with a $14million bounty on his head,  he’s fair game for every assassin going. The first of the bone-crunching fights, in the New York Public Library, giving a new meaning to doing things by the book, what follows is pretty much two hours of constant bloody shootings and stabbings, including a knife through an eye, with occasional breathers to move the narrative to the next level as, calling on his Belarus heritage and bearing a talisman, Wick first calls in a debt and asks for passage to Casablanca from Anjelica Huston’s Russian crime boss The Director (who trained the orphaned young Wick in ballet moves and wrestling), then seeks out the local Continental’s manager, Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a backstory (and another marker) that doesn’t occur in either of the first two chapters, to secure a meeting with her Italian boss (Jerome Flynn) and from there out into the Sahara desert to strike a deal with a High Table Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), albeit at the cost of a finger.

Meanwhile, back in New York the script introduces a new character in the Adjudicator (a superbly frosty Asia Kate Dillon) who’s there to bring to account the Continental’s Manager, Winston (Ian McShane, as cooly imperious as ever), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick after the hotel killing and who recruits top Japanese assassin and Wick fan Zero (Mark Dacasos) and his goons (including Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid) as muscle.

Again directed by Chad Stahelski and saturated with colour, it not only looks amazing but delivers one breathtaking and often close-up action set piece after another (notably a frenetic melee in a weapons museum lined with glass knife display cases) as Wick variously takes on his assailants with fists, guns, knives, swords, motorbikes and even the hind legs of a horse while, in the Casablanca shoot-out, teamed up with Sofia, they also have the help of her two German Shepherd attack dogs (echoing the canine theme running through the series) who know just where to bite a man, all climaxing in a showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass maze.

Reeves again delivers droll line delivery perfection alongside incredible physicality while those around him rise to the glorious absurdity and excess of the occasion as the film ends ready to launch into a revenge/payback themed John Wick Chapter 4. Bring it on. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Late Night (15)

The first woman to ever do so, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), an icy Englishwoman married to the older Walter Lovell (John Lithgow), a former celebrated pianist now suffering from Parkinson’s, has been hosting her own late-night talk show for 30 years, winning a truckload of Emmys. But, of late, set in her ways, the formula has become stale, the ratings slipping while brasher names like stand-up Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz) and vacuous YouTuber Mimi Mismatch (Annaleigh Ashford) are hoovering up audiences. Informed by the network head (Amy Ryan) that this is her last season, it seems the only chance of  jump-starting her show and hanging on to her career might be new addition to the writing team, huge fan Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a former chemical factory troubleshooter with no TV experience who only got the job in the writers’ room as a diversity hire to rebuff claims that the self-absorbed and supposedly feminist Newbury (dubbed by the media at one point the nation’s least favourite aunt) doesn’t hate women. A fish out of water, naturally, she’s not welcomed with open arms by her all white male colleagues, especially not monologue head Tom (Reid Scott), not of whom have ever actually interacted with Newbury who, when she attends a meeting, gives them all numbers rather than bothering to remember their names. Molly is eight.

Reuniting Kaling with her The Mindy Project director Nisha Ganatra, it’s a fairly formulaic mainstream comedy as the two women impact on each other’s lives, but it’s lifted to a higher level by both a narrative that addresses the problems faced by women in the entertainment industry (especially, as a Newbury stand up skit observes, when they reach a certain age) and the workplace in general, and twin terrific serio-comic turns by Thompson and Kaling, not to mention the barbed banter that spikes the latter’s screenplay

Inevitably, it raises 30 Rock comparisons, but muddled in its attempts to reinvent Newbury’s persona, introducing a romantic subplot that simply fizzles out and resolved all too neatly, it ultimately falls short of Tina Fey’s razor sharp classic, but there’s enough laughs and talking points to make it worth staying up for. (Vue Star City)

 

 

Ma (15)

An assistant to acerbic vet Alison Janney (great in her few scenes), thereby offering convenient  access to all sorts of tranquilisers,  Sue Ann (Spencer) is a smalltown Ohio loner with a traumatic past who, one day, is approached by Maggie (Booksmart’s Diana Silvers), who’s just moved into town with her cocktail waitress mom (Juliette Lewis, very good), to buy booze for her and her new friends, among them bad girl Haley (McKaley Miller) and romantic interest Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), the son of sleazeball Ben (Luke Evans) who’s dating sharp-tongued town lush Mercedes (Missi Pyle). A lonely misfit, Sue Ann seizes on this as a chance to make some new friends of her own (one of them dubs her Ma), inviting them to come party in her basement, the only rules being no swearing, someone stays sober and nobody goes upstairs. Naturally, someone does and that’s when it hits the fan as Ma’s growing obsession shifts from hospitality to horror as she proceeds to exact revenge for a high school humiliation.

There’s some serious holes in the logic, for a start Ma has a daughter she keeps home claiming illness but the school don’t seem bothered, and things get more than a little ludicrous as it heads towards the climax,  but while Spencer, who won as Oscar for The Help (also directed by Tate Taylor) may be slumming it what is a fairly predictable Blumhouse B movie, she does so with enthusiasm, whether dancing creepily with the teens or giving that menacing glare, bringing an extra veneer of class as she’s pushed over the edge. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Men In Black International (12A)

Seven years on from the third and final instalment starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (who get a tip of the hat in a painting, and almost 22 since the MiB started protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe, director F Gary Gray reboots the franchise, reuniting Thor and Valkyrie, okay Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, for a more globe-spanning outing that take sin Paris, London, Naples and Marrakesh.

It opens with Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent High T (Liam Neeson), the boss of the London bureau atop the Eiffel Tower, saving the world from The Hive, an alien race bent on galactic-scale destruction, “with nothing but their wits and series-70 atomizers.” Flashback twenty years with Molly witnessing her parents being neurolised by two MiB and helping a fluffball alien to escape, an incident that sparks a deep obsession that will, in the present, lead to her tracking down the MiB New York HQ and convincing station boss Agent O (Emma Thompson) to take her on as a probationer as Agent M complete with trademark Paul Smith suit, white shirt and skinny black tie.

To which end, she’s despatched to London and assigned to work with Agent H, who, as everyone observes, hasn’t been the same since Paris, generally assumed to be the result of breaking up with arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson). Given the job of babysitting visiting royalty, Vungus the Ugly, an old alien friend of H, things go pear-shaped when he’s murdered by two lookalike alien trackers (Larry Bouregois) who can absorb the appearance of those they have killed, but not before he passes on a purple crystal device to M, the only one he can trust.

This, it turns out, is some sort of superweapon involving a compressed star that could potentially obliterate the planet and needleless to say, the two aliens aren’t the only ones who want to get their hands on it, plus there’s suggestions that the London office has been compromised, while priggish Agent C (Rafe Spall) seeks to put his oar into the mission and it all winds up back in Paris with a not too hard to see coming twist, albeit with a twist inside itself.

Visually, it sometimes falls short and Gray never quite manages to successfully integrate the live action with the action-heavy effects. But this is more than compensated by the hugely enjoyable screwball comedy interplay and banter between Hemsworth, in typical laconic mode, and Thompson as the eager to impress Agent M, boosted in the latter half by the amusing addition of Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a sort of living green alien chess piece in a red uniform that resembles an acorn pod, who adopts M as his new Queen.  Ultimately, it’s not all it might have been, but there’s more than enough fun and chemistry (as well as some unresolved plot lines) here to make you hope they’re back in black again in the not too distant future.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)

Not even the most ardent Pokemon fan would have thought another animated feature would be a good idea, so relief all round that, directed by  Rob Letterman, who made Goosebumps, this is a live action/CGI reboot of the franchise, a sort of family friendly answer to  The Happytime Murders. Following his detective father Harry’s apparent death in a car accident, estranged son Tim Goodman  (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City, a sprawling metropolis created by tech-visionary Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as a place where humans and their Pokemons can live together in peace and Pokemon battles are illegal (though they still happen). Here, Tim (a loner who has no Pokémon of his own) runs into his dad’s amnesiac, electricity-discharging furry yellow Pokémon partner, Pikechu (voiced in Deadpool sardonic manner by Ryan Reynolds), and discovers that, after inhaling the purple gas from a capsule in dad’s apartment, that, unlike other humans and Pokémons, they can understand one another. Unfortunately, the gas has a different effect on Pokémons, turning their ultra-violent. All of which, it seems, is part of a plan by Clifford’s resentful son Roger (Chris Geere) to destroy his father’s vision by unleashing mayhem during the upcoming celebratory parade, something in which a genetically created Mewtwo (seen sending Harry’s car off the bridge in the opening) would seem to be instrumental.

Naturally, as Tim and Pikechu join forces with Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an aspirant TV news reporter with a Nancy Drew streak and a  Psyduck Pokémon (basically a passive-aggressive walking bomb), not everything is as it seems.

A film noir for kids that echoes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? it possesses a knowing sense of humour, the wisecracking Pikechu sporting  a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and a coffee addiction, to complement the often dizzying action sequences. An encounter with a jester-like Pokémon mime is particularly funny, but there’s many amusing throwaways to keep youngsters and grown-ups happy as the plot wanders through some inevitable bonding, friendship, father-son issues and keep them distracted from a somewhat obvious twist. Smith immerses himself in the whole Pokémon world to natural effect while Reynolds tosses off his snarky asides and one-liners with precision timing while Rita Ora puts in a brief flashback cameo as a Pokémon neurologist. For once, the prospect of a sequel is actually something to look forward to rather than dread.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former  scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)

A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax.  His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.

Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.

Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots  and weeing up trees with more anarchic and  subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Sometimes Always Never (15)

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and directed in stylised fashion by Carl Hunter who, channelling Wes Anderson, evokes a 70s kitsch sensibility with his use of bright colours (mainly orange and green) and frequent shots through doorways or reflections in mirrors, this rather mannered but ultimately involving road trip tale unfolds the father-son relationship between Alan (Bill Nighy), an emotionally distant widowed Liverpudlian tailor, and his estranged grown younger son Peter (Sam Riley) who paints and makes jingles for ice-cream vans. They meet up for the first time in ages in Merseyside to view a body that may or may not be that of Peter’s brother, Michael, who walked out of the house one day many years back following an argument over using the word Zo in a game of Scrabble (or rather, as Peter reminds him, a knock off cardboard version since his dad always did things on the cheap) and never came back. Alan’s been trying to find him ever since while Peter feels he can never compete with the memory of his vanished sibling.

Alan’s the Scrabble obsessive (good with words but useless at communicating), indeed, when he and Peter meet another couple (Jenny Agutter, Tim McInnerny) staying at the same B&B who have also come to identify the body as potentially their own missing son, Alan hustles the husband out of £200, much to Peter’s embarrassment.

Back home, Alan foists himself upon Peter’s family, sharing the bunk bed in their teenage son Jack’s (Louis Healy) room and taking over his computer to play online Scrabble, gradually convinced that his unknown opponent is actually Michael.  Playing alongside this is Peter’s emotional distance from Jack, who reaps the benefits of his grandfather’s dress sense, and how his wife (Alice Lowe, a low-key delight) helps engineer shy Jack’s romance with the girl at the bus stop.

Essentially a film that treats on loss, reconnecting and making the best of what remains behind, it draws excellent performances from Nighy and Riley (and an odd cameo from Alexei Sayle) and build to an understated emotional punch without resorting to sentimentality. You also get to learn why you can’t buy Marmite in Canada. The film’s title is apparently a reference to how the three descending buttons on a suit’s jacket should be fastened, though quite what it has to do with the narrative remains a puzzle. Alan would probably have a word for it. (Electric)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)

Set in 1992, ten years after the events of Apocalypse (and serving as a prequel to 2006’s The Last Stand), the X-Men are now national heroes, called on by the President in times of need. Such as when something goes wrong with a space shuttle mission and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), already disillusioned with the direction things are going, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are despatched by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to save them. Arriving at the shuttle, they find it in the grip of a powerful cosmic energy force that’s tearing it apart and, using their teleporting and super speed powers, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver rescue the astronauts, only to find one’s still onboard. Nightcrawler returns, this time with Jean who uses her mental powers to keep the craft together. However, before she can return to the X-craft, the force engulfs the ship, flooding her with its energy. It should have killed her, but she somehow survives and is returned to Earth where a medical shows her to be perfectly fine. In fact, rather more than fine.

It would seem that the force she’s absorbed has interacted with her own powers, enhancing them to the extent that she’s now the most powerful being on the planet, her skin glowing with cracks revealing the pulsating inner light. Unfortunately, she’s not in control of them and the psychic walls Xavier put in place to protect her when he took her in after she was orphaned in a car crash as a child are starting to collapse, flooding her with suppressed memories. Worse, she likes the feeling she gets when she exercises the power. On top of which a shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari and led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain channelling Tilda Swinton) are on Earth to drain the power inside Jean so they can take Earth for themselves.

Turning her back on the X-Men after learning what a well-intentioned but misguided Xavier did to her as a child and in the wake of a tragedy caused by the inner Phoenix taking her over, a traumatised and increasingly out of control Jean initially seeks help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), culminating in him joining forces with the Beast, who feels betrayed by Xavier (who seems to be on a  bit of PR ego trip),  in a revenge-driven attempt to kill her while the other X-Men seek to reach out to the inner Jean and the Vuk marshal their forces for first a tumultuous New York-set show down followed by the climax aboard a speeding train.

The culmination of the franchise, it’s dark affair that sees the death of two major characters and a change in the X-Men leadership but, it never quite has the same emotional punch as Wolverine’s send-off in Logan, Writer and first time director  Simon Kinberg (who also co-wrote The Last Stand), handles things well enough, welding the somewhat functional  narrative and dazzling effects together and lacing things with a vein of gender politics about powerful women, but somehow the film never really soars as it should. It may be the end, but it’s no Endgame.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – 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

Big love for Fullee Love

Fullee Love, aka Soup (credit Elmar Rubio)

As a member of LA’s Jurassic 5, Soup toured the world, defining a new positive hip hop sound for the late-90s/ early-00s.

But when the band split in 2007, Soup (aka Zaakir) soon found himself homeless and then working the night shift in a Santa Monica clothing store to make ends meet.

“I needed a job, because the money that I had saved up ran out,” he says. “And I was sitting around there, wishful thinking, thinking that something may transpire, maybe with J5, that’d get me outta that boat.

“Then I came to the realisation that no-body’s gonna let me swim but me. So I got a job.

“But I’ve always been a person that had a job before doing music. I didn’t like it. You have to be humble, very humble, at the experience, but you live and you learn.”

Reflecting on the period he says: “I think it was a beautiful experience because it’s got me to this point.”

‘This point’ is a total reinvention for the rapper who, rather than simply follow the easy option of continuing with J5-like material, delved back to his soul, funk and disco roots. Donning a loud yet sharp suit and exercising his vocal chops, he’s been reborn as Fullee Love.

Overcoming his personal demons and fears, Soup’s dramatic change of mindset, his visual and vocal transformation, his new understanding, has done him a world of good! And he feels blessed.

“I didn’t see this coming,” he says of the positive reaction Fullee Love has bought him so far. “I’m not as bitter anymore. I used to be bitter, very bitter; I used to spit all kinds of venom at some of the members of J5, because I felt that they didn’t react the way I thought they should react. And that’s not for me to say. I was wrong for that. I had to look in the mirror and see all my faults and shortcomings and except those. The minute I did that … that’s the minute things started to turn around for me. While I was talking crazy about them…? Getting mad at them…? Nothing’s happening for me. But the minute I stopped, the minute I thought, look, it’s your fault, that’s when things started happening.”

In the wake of J5’s fleeting 2013/ 2014 reunion, Soup’s slowly established his Fullee Love identity. Working with producer Nicholas Eaholtz (aka Nick Green of The Internet), 2018’s Free, White And 21 was a revelation, with soulful waves and clipped Chic grooves. And now Soup’s spending most of 2019 in the UK working with his new live band of Brits, and sharpening his skills.

It’s been an emotional journey, and one he’s thankful for the opportunity to simply try it out.

“It’s emotional for me because … I didn’t think I could do it, I didn’t think I could do this. I beat myself for years, I really did. To get this opportunity is mindboggling for me. I want to enjoy it, I want to be around people who enjoy, I don’t want the world … I don’t want the world. I just want to do what I like doing. If it’s big, it’s big; if it’s not, it’s not, but just please let me be who I want to be.”

But the response so far has been nothing but positive, as The Fullee Love Collective win over audiences at both major and minor festivals, while Fullee/ Soup finds himself increasingly in demand as a guest artist, collaborating with such acts as Glasgow’s Shaaka Loves You, whose Boogie (featuring Fullee Love) recently piqued Craig Charles’ interest.

The Glaswegians – who’d previously collaborated with J5’s Chali 2na – reached out to Soup over social media, and sent him Boogie, expecting a rap in return.

“I knew they wanted rapping on it, they wanted a rapper, I knew that. But I was like, no, they’re going to get Fullee Love on it,” says the singer. “To be honest, I was going to give them what I want, not what they want … you’re going to get what you’re given! And if they don’t like it, that’s fine, it’s their project…”

Thankfully, the Scots “loved it” and more collaborations are already in discussion.

“They just contacted me again and they were like ‘we’re working on something new, do you wanna be a part of it again?’ I know what I give them they’ll take because they know I’m Fullee Love now, I’m not Soup from J5. I can do Fullee Love stuff and they have confidence that I can get it done as Fullee Love.

“That’s what’s beautiful. That’s why I get emotional. Because I wish I’d have known this stuff a few years ago … ”

* Jurassic 5’s Soup presents The Fullee Love Collective appear at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival on Friday 12 July 2019 along with The Jacksons, Ibibio Sound Machine, Renegade Brass Band and Young Pilgrims.

Other acts appearing over the weekend include The Brand New Heavies, Craig Charles, Brian Jackson, Smoove and Turrell and Rosie Tee (Sat 13 Jul); and Burt Bacharach, Khruangbin, Oscar Jerome and Ishmael Ensemble (Sun 14 Jul).

For tickets and more information, see: mostlyjazz.co.uk

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

 

NEW RELEASES

Men In Black International (12A)

Seven years on from the third and final instalment starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (who get a tip of the hat in a painting) and almost 22 since the MiB started protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe, director F Gary Gray reboots the franchise, reuniting Thor and Valkyrie, okay Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, for a more globe-spanning outing that takes in Paris, London, Naples and Marrakesh.

It opens with Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent High T (Liam Neeson), the boss of the London bureau atop the Eiffel Tower, saving the world from The Hive, an alien race bent on galactic-scale destruction, “with nothing but their wits and series-70 atomizers.” Flashback twenty years with Molly witnessing her parents being neuralysed by two MiB and helping a fluffball alien to escape, an incident that sparks a deep obsession that will, in the present, lead to her tracking down the MiB New York HQ and convincing station boss Agent O (Emma Thompson) to take her on as a probationer as Agent M complete with trademark Paul Smith suit, white shirt and skinny black tie.

To which end, she’s despatched to London and assigned to work with Agent H, who, as everyone observes, hasn’t been the same since Paris, generally assumed to be the result of breaking up with arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson). Given the job of babysitting visiting royalty, Vungus the Ugly, an old alien friend of H, things go pear-shaped when he’s murdered by two lookalike alien trackers (Larry Bouregois) who can absorb the appearance of those they have killed, but not before he passes on a purple crystal device to M, the only one he can trust.

This, it turns out, is some sort of superweapon involving a compressed star that could potentially obliterate the planet and needleless to say, the two aliens aren’t the only ones who want to get their hands on it, plus there’s suggestions that the London office has been compromised, while priggish Agent C (Rafe Spall) seeks to put his oar into the mission and it all winds up back in Paris with a not too hard to see coming twist, albeit with a twist inside itself.

Visually, it sometimes falls short and Gray never quite manages to successfully integrate the live action with the action-heavy effects. But this is more than compensated by the hugely enjoyable screwball comedy interplay and banter between Hemsworth, in typical laconic mode, and Thompson as the eager to impress Agent M, boosted in the latter half by the amusing addition of Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a sort of living green alien chess piece in a red uniform that resembles an acorn pod, who adopts M as his new Queen.  Ultimately, it’s not all it might have been, but there’s more than enough fun and chemistry (as well as some unresolved plot lines) here to make you hope they’re back in black again in the not too distant future.  Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Birds of Passage (12A)     

Unfolding in five chapters or songs and spanning the 1960s to the mid 1970s, Embrace of the Serpent directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s epic tragedy chart the real-life rise and fall of indigenous rival Wayuu clans in northern Colombia in a compelling and at times almost Godfather-like take on the cartel genre. When Rapayet (José Acosta), the nephew of the tribe’s sunglasses-sporting ‘word messenger’ (José Vicente Cotes), sees Zaida (Natalia Reyes) dance at her ritual “coming out” ceremony, he’s instantly smitten and determines to make her his.

However, Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), her mother and the tribe’s matriarch seer, demands a huge dowry of cows, goats and necklaces, one which he sets about securing by going into business with his friend Moisés (Jhon Narváez), an alijuna or outsider, by supplying gringo hippie Peace Corps volunteers with marijuana. To get this, they strike a deal Rapayet’s older cousin, Aníbal (Juan Martínez), who heads up a different clan who just happens to grow the wacky baccy.

As the money rolls in, Moisés’ greed, ego and arrogance run out of control, Zaida’s younger brother Leonidis (Greyder Meza) grows up to become a dangerous psychopath brat and rivalries flare, it all eventually turns into a bloody drug war in which traditions are trampled underfoot and family murders family.

The time span and extended narrative inevitably means some characters are underdeveloped and lose focus, Zaida unfortunately being one of them,  but what it loses in these details it makes up for in the more expansive widescreen textures and subtle touches, such as the way the weaponry grows ever more powerful, mules give way to trucks and planes, the archaic ceremonies, the foreboding dreams and the imagery of the symbolic birds and crickets that populate the film as it builds to its bloody Scarface climax while simultaneously offering implicit commentary on the changing face of Colombia itself over the timespan involved.  (MAC)

 

Sometimes Always Never (15)

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and directed in stylised fashion by Carl Hunter who, channelling Wes Anderson, evokes a 70s kitsch sensibility with his use of bright colours (mainly orange and green) and frequent shots through doorways or reflections in mirrors, this rather mannered but ultimately involving road trip tale unfolds the father-son relationship between Alan (Bill Nighy), an emotionally distant widowed Liverpudlian tailor, and his estranged grown younger son Peter (Sam Riley) who paints and makes jingles for ice-cream vans. They meet up for the first time in ages in Merseysideto view a body that may or may not be that of Peter’s brother, Michael, who walked out of the house one day many years back following an argument over using the word Zo in a game of Scrabble (or rather, as Peter reminds him, a knock off cardboard version since his dad always did things on the cheap) and never came back. Alan’s been trying to find him ever since while Peter feels he can never compete with the memory of his vanished sibling.

Alan’s the Scrabble obsessive (good with words but useless at communicating), indeed, when he and Peter meet another couple (Jenny Agutter, Tim McInnerny) staying at the same B&B who have also come to identify the body as potentially their own missing son, Alan hustles the husband out of £200, much to Peter’s embarrassment.

Back home, Alan foists himself upon Peter’s family, sharing the bunk bed in their teenage son Jack’s (Louis Healy) room and taking over his computer to play online Scrabble, gradually convinced that his unknown opponent is actually Michael.  Playing alongside this is Peter’s emotional distance from Jack, who reaps the benefits of his grandfather’s dress sense, and how his wife (Alice Lowe, a low-key delight) helps engineer shy Jack’s romance with the girl at the bus stop.

Essentially a film that treats on loss, reconnecting and making the best of what remains behind, it draws excellent performances from Nighy and Riley (and an odd cameo from Alexei Sayle) and build to an understated emotional punch without resorting to sentimentality. You also get to learn why you can’t buy Marmite in Canada. The film’s title is apparently a reference to how the three descending buttons on a suit’s jacket should be fastened, though quite what it has to do with the narrative remains a puzzle. Alan would probably have a word for it. (Electric; Empire Great Park)

 

 

ALSO PLAYING

Dead Good (PG)

After-death care documentary about a group of women in Brighton who have been ‘giving death back to people’ over the past twenty years.  Opposed to the secrecy and expense of the traditional funeral industry, they help the bereaved to be involved with the preparation of their loved one’s body and create bespoke funeral arrangements that are meaningful and personal to the deceased. A sensitive, moving perspective on matters of life and death. (Wed:MAC)

 

Diego Maradona (12A)

“A bit of cheating and a lot of genius”, someone says in summing up Argentinian football megastar Diego Maradona whose ‘Hand of God’ moment in the quarter final against England sealed the 1986 World Cup as Argentina went on to defeat West Germany 3-2. Directed by Asif Kapadia, but largely using existing TV footage alongside some modern day reminiscences from its subject, the two-hour plus documentary traces Maradona’s life and career from the slums of Buenos Aires through a less than glorious 80s stint at Barcelona to Naples and subsequent superstar status, the disastrous fall out of the Argentina vs. Italy clash in the 1990 World Cup  and a crash back down through  assorted extramarital affairs, pregnancy controversies, cocaine habit, mobster associations, weight gain, media ostracisation, drugs bust and despair.

Very much one for soccer enthusiasts, but even less than casual viewers are likely to be impressed by footage of the man in action; however, it’s the story away from the pitch, one fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fierce determination to win and rampant hubris that makes this, as one historian puts it, “tremendous and terrible” story worth going well into extra time.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City)

 

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90 minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece, though it may also leave audiences hoping remake things take a turn for the better with the upcoming The Lion King. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Unquestionably the year’s most eagerly anticipated film, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Booksmart (15)

The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, this high school coming of age comedy fully deserves to take its place alongside such evergreen as deserved The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Superbad and Pretty In Pink. About to graduate, best friends, openly gay activist Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and lightly more well-built Molly (Beanie Feldstein, sister to Jonah Hill), are academic overachievers who’ve dedicated their entire school life to studying. Amy’s taking a  year off to volunteer in Botswana and Molly’s got her sights set on the Supreme Court. So,  when, while in the toilet correcting some graffiti, she overhears other students, who she snobbishly regards a time wasters, dissing her and, declaring they’ll never amount to anything, imagine her  horror to discover that they have all got into prestigious universities, or in one case, landed a six-figure job with Google– and didn’t have to not party to do so.

So, Molly persuades Amy that they’re going to spend their last night making up for lost time, partying hard, getting drunk, taking drugs and losing their virginity, Amy to the androgynous geeky skate-girl she has a crush on and Molly to the handsome class Vice-President, Nick (Mason Gooding) who just happens to be holding the hottest party in town. While they are unquestionably the film’s most potent chemistry, Dever and Feldstein are bolstered by an array of colourful but well-delineated supporting characters, most notably Triple A (Molly Gordon), a girl with a sexual reputation, Jared (Skyler Gisondo), whose spent his years in school trying to buy his schoolmates friendship, to no avail, and the ethereal, eccentric super rich Gigi (Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd) who adopts Amy has her new BFF and pops up throughout the film where the girls may go.

While their contributions are smaller, the adult cast get to shine too with Jason Sudekis as the school principal who turns out to have a job on the side, Jessica Williams as a teacher who crosses the no fraternising line, Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s blissfully unaware supportive parents and Michael Patrick O’Brien as a pizza delivery guy who hilariously finds himself on the sharp end of Molly’s attempts to extort directions to Nick’s party.

Scripted by three women, it has an honest feel to the female relationships and the ability to talk about things like lesbian sex in a way that doesn’t feel like some sort of cheap gag a man might have thrown in. Boys may not get it but this should delight their more sussed counterparts. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Godzilla: King Of Monsters (12A)

At 132 minutes, this sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot is around 90% special effects action and 10% plot, but then who goes to a movie about a radiation-breathing giant lizard for the subtleties of the script! Picking things up five years on from the end of the previous film, having lost their son in Godzilla’s San Francisco rampage, scientists Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) are now divorced, she still working for Monarch with teenage daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), he out in the frozen wilds studying wolves. Together they invented the Orca, a device that can synthesise the cries of the assorted titans to communicate with – and importantly calm – them, but as she’s testing it out on Mothra, the facility’s invaded by British Army colonel turned eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) and she and Madison taken captive. Naturally, Mark is pulled back in to help rescue them before Alan can use the Orca to awaken the other titans (17 of them apparently, though we only see a few, including a glimpse of Kong) in his deranged quest to restore balance to Earth by basically giving it back to its original rulers (apparently nature blossoms in their wake) and wiping out most of humanity. The early twist is that a misguided obsessional Emma is in on the Thanos kick too, resurrecting Monster Zero, aka  King Ghidorah, the three-headed, winged hydra-like serpent and Godzilla’s big rival for the titan throne.

From which the film descends into a series of peril-fraught visits to various holding facilities dotted around the planet (China, Colorado, Bermuda, Mexico, Antarctica), the cast list dwindling as it goes (Sally Hawkins’ scientist an early casualty), as Mark, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) and assorted colleagues and military types basically try and figure out if they want to kill Godzilla or recruit him to take Ghidorah who, it turns out is not of this world and has an agenda rather different to Emma’s on the others, and is trying to bring the other titans, among them the original angry bird, Rodin, under his control.

Scattered among the spectacular (albeit at times rather murky) destruction set pieces as assorted monsters go head to heads or wings to tails, trashing cities wholesale in their path, there’s a smattering of human stories designed to ground the emotions, including a couple of sacrifices to save the planet, but these are essentially just window dressing to the main event as it builds to its mega-sized nuclear bomb kick-start climax at Boston’s Fenway Park and the end-titled set up next year’s sequel Godzilla vs. Kong. Big and loud does it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

John Wick: Chapter 3 (15)

Save for Constantine, after the end of the Matrix series Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much in the commercial doldrums, then, five years ago, along came John Wick and, while he can still be found in low budget indie fare like Replicas and Destination Wedding, his formerly retired soulful loner, one-man-army assassin has put him back in the A list.

Its title coming from the Latin phrase meaning ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’, this picks up immediately after the end of John Wick 2, with an hour to go before he’s declared ex-communicado after breaking the Masonic-like High Table’s rules by killing someone inside the Continental Hotel, after which, with a $14million bounty on his head,  he’s fair game for every assassin going. The first of the bone-crunching fights, in the New York Public Library, giving a new meaning to doing things by the book, what follows is pretty much two hours of constant bloody shootings and stabbings, including a knife through an eye, with occasional breathers to move the narrative to the next level as, calling on his Belarus heritage and bearing a talisman, Wick first calls in a debt and asks for passage to Casablanca from Anjelica Huston’s Russian crime boss The Director (who trained the orphaned young Wick in ballet moves and wrestling), then seeks out the local Continental’s manager, Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a backstory (and another marker) that doesn’t occur in either of the first two chapters, to secure a meeting with her Italian boss (Jerome Flynn) and from there out into the Sahara desert to strike a deal with a High Table Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), albeit at the cost of a finger.

Meanwhile, back in New York the script introduces a new character in the Adjudicator (a superbly frosty Asia Kate Dillon) who’s there to bring to account the Continental’s Manager, Winston (Ian McShane, as cooly imperious as ever), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick after the hotel killing and who recruits top Japanese assassin and Wick fan Zero (Mark Dacasos) and his goons (including Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid) as muscle.

Again directed by Chad Stahelski and saturated with colour, it not only looks amazing but delivers one breathtaking and often close-up action set piece after another (notably a frenetic melee in a weapons museum lined with glass knife display cases) as Wick variously takes on his assailants with fists, guns, knives, swords, motorbikes and even the hind legs of a horse while, in the Casablanca shoot-out, teamed up with Sofia, they also have the help of her two German Shepherd attack dogs (echoing the canine theme running through the series) who know just where to bite a man, all climaxing in a showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass maze.

Reeves again delivers droll line delivery perfection alongside incredible physicality while those around him rise to the glorious absurdity and excess of the occasion as the film ends ready to launch into a revenge/payback themed John Wick Chapter 4. Bring it on. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Late Night (15)

The first woman to ever do so, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), an icy Englishwoman married to the older Walter Lovell (John Lithgow), a former celebrated pianist now suffering from Parkinson’s, has been hosting her own late-night talk show for 30 years, winning a truckload of Emmys. But, of late, set in her ways, the formula has become stale, the ratings slipping while brasher names like stand-up Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz) and vacuous YouTuber Mimi Mismatch (Annaleigh Ashford) are hoovering up audiences. Informed by the network head (Amy Ryan) that this is her last season, it seems the only chance of  jump-starting her show and hanging on to her career might be new addition to the writing team, huge fan Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a former chemical factory troubleshooter with no TV experience who only got the job in the writers’ room as a diversity hire to rebuff claims that the self-absorbed and supposedly feminist Newbury (dubbed by the media at one point the nation’s least favourite aunt) doesn’t hate women. A fish out of water, naturally, she’s not welcomed with open arms by her all white male colleagues, especially not monologue head Tom (Reid Scott), not of whom have ever actually interacted with Newbury who, when she attends a meeting, gives them all numbers rather than bothering to remember their names. Molly is eight.

Reuniting Kaling with her The Mindy Project director Nisha Ganatra, it’s a fairly formulaic mainstream comedy as the two women impact on each other’s lives, but it’s lifted to a higher level by both a narrative that addresses the problems faced by women in the entertainment industry (especially, as a Newbury stand up skit observes, when they reach a certain age) and the workplace in general, and twin terrific serio-comic turns by Thompson and Kaling, not to mention the barbed banter that spikes the latter’s screenplay

Inevitably, it raises 30 Rock comparisons, but muddled in its attempts to reinvent Newbury’s persona, introducing a romantic subplot that simply fizzles out and resolved all too neatly, it ultimately falls short of Tina Fey’s razor sharp classic, but there’s enough laughs and talking points to make it worth staying up for. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Liam: As It Was (15)

Documentary following Gallagher’s journey from Oasis frontman through a musical wilderness of boredom, booze and bitter legal battles to a comeback as a solo star. Covering writing his solo debut and playing it live in Manchester, it features interviews with collaborators and friends, long estranged brother Noel conspicuously absent. (Electric)

 

Ma (15)

An assistant to acerbic vet Alison Janney (great in her few scenes), thereby offering convenient  access to all sorts of tranquilisers,  Sue Ann (Spencer) is a smalltown Ohio loner with a traumatic past who, one day, is approached by Maggie (Booksmart’s Diana Silvers), who’s just moved into town with her cocktail waitress mom (Juliette Lewis, very good), to buy booze for her and her new friends, among them bad girl Haley (McKaley Miller) and romantic interest Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), the son of sleazeball Ben (Luke Evans) who’s dating sharp-tongued town lush Mercedes (Missi Pyle). A lonely misfit, Sue Ann seizes on this as a chance to make some new friends of her own (one of them dubs her Ma), inviting them to come party in her basement, the only rules being no swearing, someone stays sober and nobody goes upstairs. Naturally, someone does and that’s when it hits the fan as Ma’s growing obsession shifts from hospitality to horror as she proceeds to exact revenge for a high school humiliation.

There’s some serious holes in the logic, for a start Ma has a daughter she keeps home claiming illness but the school don’t seem bothered, and things get more than a little ludicrous as it heads towards the climax,  but while Spencer, who won as Oscar for The Help (also directed by Tate Taylor) may be slumming it what is a fairly predictable Blumhouse B movie, she does so with enthusiasm, whether dancing creepily with the teens or giving that menacing glare, bringing an extra veneer of class as she’s pushed over the edge. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)

Not even the most ardent Pokemon fan would have thought another animated feature would be a good idea, so relief all round that, directed by  Rob Letterman,who made Goosebumps, this is a live action/CGI reboot of the franchise, a sort of family friendly answer to  The Happytime Murders. Following his detective father Harry’s apparent death in a car accident, estranged son Tim Goodman  (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City, a sprawling metropolis created by tech-visionary Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as a place where humans and their Pokemons can live together in peace and Pokemon battles are illegal (though they still happen). Here, Tim (a loner who has no Pokémon of his own) runs into his dad’s amnesiac, electricity-discharging furry yellow Pokémon partner, Pikechu (voiced in Deadpool sardonic manner by Ryan Reynolds), and discovers that, after inhaling the purple gas from a capsule in dad’s apartment, that, unlike other humans and Pokémons, they can understand one another. Unfortunately, the gas has a different effect on Pokémons, turning their ultra-violent. All of which, it seems, is part of a plan by Clifford’s resentful son Roger (Chris Geere) to destroy his father’s vision by unleashing mayhem during the upcoming celebratory parade, something in which a genetically created Mewtwo (seen sending Harry’s car off the bridge in the opening) would seem to be instrumental.

Naturally, as Tim and Pikechu join forces with Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an aspirant TV news reporter with a Nancy Drew streak and a  Psyduck Pokémon (basically a passive-aggressive walking bomb), not everything is as it seems.

A film noir for kids that echoes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? it possesses a knowing sense of humour, the wisecracking Pikechu sporting  a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and a coffee addiction, to complement the often dizzying action sequences. An encounter with a jester-like Pokémon mime is particularly funny, but there’s many amusing throwaways to keep youngsters and grown-ups happy as the plot wanders through some inevitable bonding, friendship, father-son issues and keep them distracted from a somewhat obvious twist. Smith immerses himself in the whole Pokémon world to natural effect while Reynolds tosses off his snarky asides and one-liners with precision timing while Rita Ora puts in a brief flashback cameo as a Pokémon neurologist. For once, the prospect of a sequel is actually something to look forward to rather than dread.  (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)

A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax.  His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.

Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.

Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots  and weeing up trees with more anarchic and  subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Thunder Road (15)      

Opening with cop Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) giving an emotional, long, cringeworthy, rambling and often embarrassingly free associating confessional eulogy that veers between tears and nervous laughter at his mother’s funeral, at which he can’t get the titular Springsteen song to work on the cassette player and resorts to a  theatrical performance in front of a dumbfounded congregation that goes viral on the Internet, this is very much a Marmite movie. If you don’t buy into that monologue, then the rest of the film, which follows Jim, who insists on reporting for work despite being clearly disturbed, as he gradually unravels under the weight of grief, humiliation, the fact his estranged wife (Jocelyn DeBoer) is divorcing him and he’s caught in a custody battle for his indifferent young daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr), is going to be  painful watch. In fact, it is regardless.

His daughter shows him no affection even though he stays up nights learning the games she likes to play and, normally an efficient if overzealous patrol cop, he’s patently losing it, an argument with his African-American partner and best friend Nate (Nican Robinson) seeing him suspended from duty. Added to which, he physically threatens Crystal’s teacher (Macon Blair) he tells him she’s an acting-out problem child.

Basically, Jim’s life is a mess largely down to the fact he always outs his own need before anyone else’s, family included and refuses to see that things aren’t fine. However, an accident offers him an unexpected chance to mend his relationship with his daughter. He just need to work out what he has to do to become the best dad ever.

Cummings, who also wrote and directed (the film’s an expanded version of a short he made in 2016), immerses himself totally in the tragicomedy, his screenplay piling on the pathos alongside the palpable repressed rage so that you never quite know how to react as he exposes every raw nerve or in scenes such as the one where, his over-protective father instincts kicking in, he intervenes in what he sees as two boys coming on to a teenage girl in a parking lot.

Essentially a film about the damage repressed anger and self-loathing can do until life forces you to grow up, it strikes clear chords with the despair in America’s heartland as everything falls apart. It will irritate many, others it will tear to shreds. (Mockingbird)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)

Set in 1992, ten years after the events of Apocalypse (and serving as a prequel to 2006’s The Last Stand), the X-Men are now national heroes, called on by the President in times of need. Such as when something goes wrong with a space shuttle mission and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), already disillusioned with the direction things are going, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are despatched by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to save them. Arriving at the shuttle, they find it in the grip of a powerful cosmic energy force that’s tearing it apart and, using their teleporting and super speed powers, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver rescue the astronauts, only to find one’s still onboard. Nightcrawler returns, this time with Jean who uses her mental powers to keep the craft together. However, before she can return to the X-craft, the force engulfs the ship, flooding her with its energy. It should have killed her, but she somehow survives and is returned to Earth where a medical shows her to be perfectly fine. In fact, rather more than fine.

It would seem that the force she’s absorbed has interacted with her own powers, enhancing them to the extent that she’s now the most powerful being on the planet, her skin glowing with cracks revealing the pulsating inner light. Unfortunately, she’s not in control of them and the psychic walls Xavier put in place to protect her when he took her in after she was orphaned in a car crash as a child are starting to collapse, flooding her with suppressed memories. Worse, she likes the feeling she gets when she exercises the power. On top of which a shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari and led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain channelling Tilda Swinton) are on Earth to drain the power inside Jean so they can take Earth for themselves.

Turning her back on the X-Men after learning what a well-intentioned but misguided Xavier did to her as a child and in the wake of a tragedy caused by the inner Phoenix taking her over, a traumatised and increasingly out of control Jean initially seeks help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), culminating in him joining forces with the Beast, who feels betrayed by Xavier (who seems to be on a  bit of PR ego trip),  in a revenge-driven attempt to kill her while the other X-Men seek to reach out to the inner Jean and the Vuk marshal their forces for first a tumultuous New York-set show down followed by the climax aboard a speeding train.

The culmination of the franchise, it’s dark affair that sees the death of two major characters and a change in the X-Men leadership but, it never quite has the same emotional punch as Wolverine’s send-off in Logan, Writer and first time director  Simon Kinberg (who also co-wrote The Last Stand), handles things well enough, welding the somewhat functional  narrative and dazzling effects together and lacing things with a vein of gender politics about powerful women, but somehow the film never really soars as it should. It may be the end, but it’s no Endgame.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – 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 Reviews, Fri Jun 7-Thu Jun 13

 

 

NEW RELEASES

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)

Set in 1992, ten years after the events of Apocalypse (and serving as a prequel to 2006’s The Last Stand), the X-Men are now national heroes, called on by the President in times of need. Such as when something goes wrong with a space shuttle mission and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), already disillusioned with the direction things are going, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are despatched by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to save them. Arriving at the shuttle, they find it in the grip of a powerful cosmic energy force that’s tearing it apart and, using their teleporting and super speed powers, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver rescue the astronauts, only to find one’s still onboard. Nightcrawler returns, this time with Jean who uses her mental powers to keep the craft together. However, before she can return to the X-craft, the force engulfs the ship, flooding her with its energy. It should have killed her, but she somehow survives and is returned to Earth where a medical shows her to be perfectly fine. In fact, rather more than fine.

It would seem that the force she’s absorbed has interacted with her own powers, enhancing them to the extent that she’s now the most powerful being on the planet, her skin glowing with cracks revealing the pulsating inner light. Unfortunately, she’s not in control of them and the psychic walls Xavier put in place to protect her when he took her in after she was orphaned in a car crash as a child are starting to collapse, flooding her with suppressed memories. Worse, she likes the feeling she gets when she exercises the power. On top of which a shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari and led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain channelling Tilda Swinton) are on Earth to drain the power inside Jean so they can take Earth for themselves.

Turning her back on the X-Men after learning what a well-intentioned but misguided Xavier did to her as a child and in the wake of a tragedy caused by the inner Phoenix taking her over, a traumatised and increasingly out of control Jean initially seeks help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), culminating in him joining forces with the Beast, who feels betrayed by Xavier (who seems to be on a  bit of PR ego trip),  in a revenge-driven attempt to kill her while the other X-Men seek to reach out to the inner Jean and the Vuk marshal their forces for first a tumultuous New York-set show down followed by the climax aboard a speeding train.

The culmination of the franchise, it’s dark affair that sees the death of two major characters and a change in the X-Men leadership, but it never quite has the same emotional punch as Wolverine’s send-off in Logan. Writer and first time director  Simon Kinberg (who also co-wrote The Last Stand), handles things well enough, welding the somewhat functional  narrative and dazzling effects together and lacing things with a vein of gender politics about powerful women, but somehow the film never really soars as it should. It may be the end, but it’s no Endgame.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Gloria Bell (15)

A virtual note for note English language remake of his own A Fantastic Woman (minus the political undertones), Chile’s Sebastian Lelio now gets to direct Julianne Moore as fifty-something, independent but lonely divorcee Gloria who goes to yoga classes, has a dull but steady job, loves to sing along, out of tune, to soft rock classics as she drives and regularly goes dancing in a 70s-themed singles bar. It’s here she meets and starts an affair with slick fellow divorcee Arnold (John Turturro,), a former Navy officer who now runs a paintball park, a romance that proves misguided and upsets her hitherto stable work-life balance and her admittedly arm’s length relationship with her mother (Holland Taylor) and children, new father Peter (Michael Cera) and hippie daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius) whose fiancée is a Swedish extreme surfer. Complicating a life in which, until then, her biggest problem was keeping her mentally unstable upstairs neighbour’s hairless cat out of her apartment, now she has to deal with the fact that Arnold has a needy ex-wife and daughters who now how to yank the lead and that, while she’s introduced him to her offspring, he won’t mention her to his.

A family dinner – that includes Gloria’s ex-husband (Brad Garrett) and his new wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn) – leads to a break-up, but then they get back together, though it’s clear by now this isn’t going to last as the heady rush of new love and energetic sex gives way to noticing the flaws and cracks in the reality  as a Vegas vacation to get away from Arnold’s problems goes pear-shaped and; faced with his unreliability and emotional con games,  Gloria slowly realises the cost of being together on her own life.

Featuring a supporting cast that also includes Rita Wilson, Barbara Sukowa and Sean Astin and, like the original, bookended with dance floor scenes, the end credits again featuring Laura Branigan’s disco pop classic, not a great deal happens, although there is an amusing third act moment involving a paintball gun, and it rather overdoes the ironic soundtrack with such numbers as Alone Again Naturally, All By Myself, Total Eclipse of the Heart and No More Lonely Nights. However, featuring in virtually every scene, Moore’s consummate, emotionally grounded performance, rather feistier than the original, and Turturro’s always slightly edgy nature keep you engaged as the narrative takes its inevitable bittersweet course. (Electric)

Late Night (15)

The first woman to ever do so, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), an icy Englishwoman married to the older Walter Lovell (John Lithgow), a former celebrated pianist now suffering from Parkinson’s, has been hosting her own late-night talk show for 30 years, winning a truckload of Emmys. But, of late, set in her ways, the formula has become stale, the ratings slipping while brasher names like stand-up Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz) and vacuous YouTuber Mimi Mismatch (Annaleigh Ashford) are hoovering up audiences. Informed by the network head (Amy Ryan) that this is her last season, it seems the only chance of  jump-starting her show and hanging on to her career might be new addition to the writing team, huge fan Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a former chemical factory troubleshooter with no TV experience who only got the job in the writers’ room as a diversity hire to rebuff claims that the self-absorbed and supposedly feminist Newbury (dubbed by the media at one point the nation’s least favourite aunt) doesn’t hate women. A fish out of water, naturally, she’s not welcomed with open arms by her all white male colleagues, especially not monologue head Tom (Reid Scott), not of whom have ever actually interacted with Newbury who, when she attends a meeting, gives them all numbers rather than bothering to remember their names. Molly is eight.

Reuniting Kaling with her The Mindy Project director Nisha Ganatra, it’s a fairly formulaic mainstream comedy as the two women impact on each other’s lives, but it’s lifted to a higher level by both a narrative that addresses the problems faced by women in the entertainment industry (especially, as a Newbury stand up skit observes, when they reach a certain age) and the workplace in general, and twin terrific serio-comic turns by Thompson and Kaling, not to mention the barbed banter that spikes the latter’s screenplay

Inevitably, it raises 30 Rock comparisons, but muddled in its attempts to reinvent Newbury’s persona, introducing a romantic subplot that simply fizzles out and resolved all too neatly, it ultimately falls short of Tina Fey’s razor sharp classic, but there’s enough laughs and talking points to make it worth staying up for. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall)

 

 

ALSO PLAYING

Liam: As It Was (15)

Documentary following Gallagher’s journey from Oasis frontman through a musical wilderness of boredom, booze and bitter legal battles to a comeback as a solo star. Covering writing his solo debut and playing it live in Manchester, it features interviews with collaborators and friends, though whether that includes Noel remains to be seen. (Mockingbird)

 

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90 minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece, though it may also leave audiences hoping remake things take a turn for the better with the upcoming The Lion King. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Amazing Grace (U)

Shot in 1972 by Sydney Pollack, legal and technical issues have long prevented this concert documentary from being made public, not least Aretha Franklin’s own refusal to give permission and the fact that Pollock, unused to music documentaries, filmed it in a way that it was impossible to synch the sound and the pictures. Time and technology, and Franklin’s passing,  have finally solved all that, so here (albeit somewhat truncated) is the late Queen of Soul, then 29, recording her new live album at the New Temple Missionary Baptist church in Los Angeles, including Wholly Holy and a barnstorming version of the title song.  (Mon: Everyman; Sat-Thu:MAC)

 

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

Unquestionably the year’s most eagerly anticipated film, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.

Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.

After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.

Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it.  Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes  and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Booksmart (15)

The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, this high school coming of age comedy fully deserves to take its place alongside such evergreen as deserved The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Superbad and Pretty In Pink. About to graduate, best friends, openly gay activist Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and lightly more well-built Molly (Beanie Feldstein, sister to Jonah Hill), are academic overachievers who’ve dedicated their entire school life to studying. Amy’s taking a  year off to volunteer in Botswana and Molly’s got her sights set on the Supreme Court. So,  when, while in the toilet correcting some graffiti, she overhears other students, who she snobbishly regards a time wasters, dissing her and, declaring they’ll never amount to anything, imagine her  horror to discover that they have all got into prestigious universities, or in one case, landed a six-figure job with Google– and didn’t have to not party to do so.

So, Molly persuades Amy that they’re going to spend their last night making up for lost time, partying hard, getting drunk, taking drugs and losing their virginity, Amy to the androgynous geeky skate-girl she has a crush on and Molly to the handsome class Vice-President, Nick (Mason Gooding) who just happens to be holding the hottest party in town. While they are unquestionably the film’s most potent chemistry, Dever and Feldstein are bolstered by an array of colourful but well-delineated supporting characters, most notably Triple A (Molly Gordon), a girl with a sexual reputation, Jared (Skyler Gisondo), whose spent his years in school trying to buy his schoolmates friendship, to no avail, and the ethereal, eccentric super rich Gigi (Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd) who adopts Amy has her new BFF and pops up throughout the film where the girls may go.

While their contributions are smaller, the adult cast get to shine too with Jason Sudekis as the school principal who turns out to have a job on the side, Jessica Williams as a teacher who crosses the no fraternising line, Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s blissfully unaware supportive parents and Michael Patrick O’Brien as a pizza delivery guy who hilariously finds himself on the sharp end of Molly’s attempts to extort directions to Nick’s party.

Scripted by three women, it has an honest feel to the female relationships and the ability to talk about things like lesbian sex in a way that doesn’t feel like some sort of cheap gag a man might have thrown in. Timely arriving mid the GCSE season, boys may not get it but this should delight their more sussed counterparts. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Godzilla: King Of Monsters (12A)

At 132 minutes, this sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot is around 90% special effects action and 10% plot, but then who goes to a movie about a radiation-breathing giant lizard for the subtleties of the script! Picking things up five years on from the end of the previous film, having lost their son in Godzilla’s San Francisco rampage, scientists Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) are now divorced, she still working for Monarch with teenage daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), he out in the frozen wilds studying wolves. Together they invented the Orca, a device that can synthesise the cries of the assorted titans to communicate with – and importantly calm – them, but as she’s testing it out on Mothra, the facility’s invaded by British Army colonel turned eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) and she and Madison taken captive. Naturally, Mark is pulled back in to help rescue them before Alan can use the Orca to awaken the other titans (17 of them apparently, though we only see a few, including a glimpse of Kong) in his deranged quest to restore balance to Earth by basically giving it back to its original rulers (apparently nature blossoms in their wake) and wiping out most of humanity. The early twist is that a misguided obsessional Emma is in on the Thanos kick too, resurrecting Monster Zero, aka  King Ghidorah, the three-headed, winged hydra-like serpent and Godzilla’s big rival for the titan throne.

From which the film descends into a series of peril-fraught visits to various holding facilities dotted around the planet (China, Colorado, Bermuda, Mexico, Antarctica), the cast list dwindling as it goes (Sally Hawkins’ scientist an early casualty), as Mark, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) and assorted colleagues and military types basically try and figure out if they want to kill Godzilla or recruit him to take Ghidorah who, it turns out is not of this world and has an agenda rather different to Emma’s on the others, and is trying to bring the other titans, among them the original angry bird, Rodin, under his control.

Scattered among the spectacular (albeit at times rather murky) destruction set pieces as assorted monsters go head to heads or wings to tails, trashing cities wholesale in their path, there’s a smattering of human stories designed to ground the emotions, including a couple of sacrifices to save the planet, but these are essentially just window dressing to the main event as it builds to its mega-sized nuclear bomb kick-start climax at Boston’s Fenway Park and the end-titled set up next year’s sequel Godzilla vs. Kong. Big and loud does it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City; Sat/Sun: Electric)

John Wick: Chapter 3 (15)

Save for Constantine, after the end of the Matrix series Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much in the commercial doldrums, then, five years ago, along came John Wick and, while he can still be found in low budget indie fare like Replicas and Destination Wedding, his formerly retired soulful loner, one-man-army assassin has put him back in the A list.

Its title coming from the Latin phrase meaning ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’, this picks up immediately after the end of John Wick 2, with an hour to go before he’s declared ex-communicado after breaking the Masonic-like High Table’s rules by killing someone inside the Continental Hotel, after which, with a $14million bounty on his head,  he’s fair game for every assassin going. The first of the bone-crunching fights, in the New York Public Library, giving a new meaning to doing things by the book, what follows is pretty much two hours of constant bloody shootings and stabbings, including a knife through an eye, with occasional breathers to move the narrative to the next level as, calling on his Belarus heritage and bearing a talisman, Wick first calls in a debt and asks for passage to Casablanca from Anjelica Huston’s Russian crime boss The Director (who trained the orphaned young Wick in ballet moves and wrestling), then seeks out the local Continental’s manager, Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a backstory (and another marker) that doesn’t occur in either of the first two chapters, to secure a meeting with her Italian boss (Jerome Flynn) and from there out into the Sahara desert to strike a deal with a High Table Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), albeit at the cost of a finger.

Meanwhile, back in New York the script introduces a new character in the Adjudicator (a superbly frosty Asia Kate Dillon) who’s there to bring to account the Continental’s Manager, Winston (Ian McShane, as cooly imperious as ever), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick after the hotel killing and who recruits top Japanese assassin and Wick fan Zero (Mark Dacasos) and his goons (including Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid) as muscle.

Again directed by Chad Stahelski and saturated with colour, it not only looks amazing but delivers one breathtaking and often close-up action set piece after another (notably a frenetic melee in a weapons museum lined with glass knife display cases) as Wick variously takes on his assailants with fists, guns, knives, swords, motorbikes and even the hind legs of a horse while, in the Casablanca shoot-out, teamed up with Sofia, they also have the help of her two German Shepherd attack dogs (echoing the canine theme running through the series) who know just where to bite a man, all climaxing in a showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass maze.

Reeves again delivers droll line delivery perfection alongside incredible physicality while those around him rise to the glorious absurdity and excess of the occasion as the film ends ready to launch into a revenge/payback themed John Wick Chapter 4. Bring it on. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Ma (15)

An assistant to acerbic vet Alison Janney (great in her few scenes), thereby offering convenient  access to all sorts of tranquilisers,  Sue Ann (Spencer) is a smalltown Ohio loner with a traumatic past who, one day, is approached by Maggie (Booksmart’s Diana Silvers), who’s just moved into town with her cocktail waitress mom (Juliette Lewis, very good), to buy booze for her and her new friends, among them bad girl Haley (McKaley Miller) and romantic interest Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), the son of sleazeball Ben (Luke Evans) who’s dating sharp-tongued town lush Mercedes (Missi Pyle). A lonely misfit, Sue Ann seizes on this as a chance to make some new friends of her own (one of them dubs her Ma), inviting them to come party in her basement, the only rules being no swearing, someone stays sober and nobody goes upstairs. Naturally, someone does and that’s when it hits the fan as Ma’s growing obsession shifts from hospitality to horror as she proceeds to exact revenge for a high school humiliation.

There’s some serious holes in the logic, for a start Ma has a daughter she keeps home claiming illness but the school don’t seem bothered, and things get more than a little ludicrous as it heads towards the climax,  but while Spencer, who won as Oscar for The Help (also directed by Tate Taylor) may be slumming it what is a fairly predictable Blumhouse B movie, she does so with enthusiasm, whether dancing creepily with the teens or giving that menacing glare, bringing an extra veneer of class as she pushed over the edge. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)

Not even the most ardent Pokemon fan would have thought another animated feature would be a good idea, so relief all round that, directed by  Rob Letterman,who made Goosebumps, this is a live action/CGI reboot of the franchise, a sort of family friendly answer to  The Happytime Murders. Following his detective father Harry’s apparent death in a car accident, estranged son Tim Goodman  (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City, a sprawling metropolis created by tech-visionary Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as a place where humans and their Pokemons can live together in peace and Pokemon battles are illegal (though they still happen). Here, Tim (a loner who has no Pokémon of his own) runs into his dad’s amnesiac, electricity-discharging furry yellow Pokémon partner, Pikechu (voiced in Deadpool sardonic manner by Ryan Reynolds), and discovers that, after inhaling the purple gas from a capsule in dad’s apartment, that, unlike other humans and Pokémons, they can understand one another. Unfortunately, the gas has a different effect on Pokémons, turning their ultra-violent. All of which, it seems, is part of a plan by Clifford’s resentful son Roger (Chris Geere) to destroy his father’s vision by unleashing mayhem during the upcoming celebratory parade, something in which a genetically created Mewtwo (seen sending Harry’s car off the bridge in the opening) would seem to be instrumental.

Naturally, as Tim and Pikechu join forces with Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an aspirant TV news reporter with a Nancy Drew streak and a  Psyduck Pokémon (basically a passive-aggressive walking bomb), not everything is as it seems.

A film noir for kids that echoes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? it possesses a knowing sense of humour, the wisecracking Pikechu sporting  a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and a coffee addiction, to complement the often dizzying action sequences. An encounter with a jester-like Pokémon mime is particularly funny, but there’s many amusing throwaways to keep youngsters and grown-ups happy as the plot wanders through some inevitable bonding, friendship, father-son issues and keep them distracted from a somewhat obvious twist. Smith immerses himself in the whole Pokémon world to natural effect while Reynolds tosses off his snarky asides and one-liners with precision timing while Rita Ora puts in a brief flashback cameo as a Pokémon neurologist. For once, the prospect of a sequel is actually something to look forward to rather than dread.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)

A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax.  His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.

Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.

Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots  and weeing up trees with more anarchic and  subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Woman At War (12A)

Directed and co-written by Iceland’s Olafur Egilsson, there’s whimsical echoes of Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki in the way that three male musicians (piano, accordion, trumpet, tuba and drum) and three Ukranian female singers (in traditional dress) regularly appear in key scenes to provide the accompanying sound track  as both bystanders and commentators. They afford just one of the many delights in this enviro-protest themed comedy in which Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), a Reykjavik choir director, conducts an anonymous one-woman eco activist crusade against the energy corporations which she believes are  affecting the climate  and the countryside, using a bow and arrow to bring down power lines. Dubbed Mountain Woman by the local press, she’s particularly keen to scupper a possible deal with the Chinese to build a power plant. The only one who what she’s up to is Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson), one of the  choir and a ministry official, but now he’s getting nervous about the government backlash  and her increasingly dramatic actions. She’s also given a hand to evade the police by Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson), a gruff but kindly sheep farmer who might possibly be a cousin.

As Halla’s campaign heads to a climax, she gets a letter telling her that her long forgotten application to adopt (reinforcing the mother/caretaker theme) has been approved and there’s a young Ukrainian orphan girl waiting for her. Not of course that that’s going to happen if she’s nabbed by the authorities. At which point, it should be mentioned that Halla has an identical equally idealistic twin sister,  Ása (Geirharðsdóttir), a meditation and yoga teacher who’s about to take off to an ashram in India for two years. It’s not hard to see how this gimmick will play out, but that doesn’t detract from the gleeful manner in which the plot unfurls or the pleasure to be had in Geirharðsdóttir’s twin performances while Juan Camillo Roman Estrada puts in an amusing running joke as a luckless Spanish tourist who keeps getting arrested for Halla’s deeds. A deadpan joy. (Until Wed: MAC)

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – 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

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