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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

NEW RELEASES

City Of Tiny Lights  (15)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hugely charismatic Ahmed is terrific while Piper carries just the right touch of flintiness and pain, but the cast as a whole, in particular those playing the younger versions of the characters are all solid. There are flaws – not least Travis’s fondness for visual flourishes – and things are possibly more complicated than need be, especially the American involvement, but, making effective use – both physically and figuratively – of the shadowy city settings, shooting extensively at night with its neon glows, this is a compelling watch.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Broadway Plaza;  Vue Star City)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

Going In Style (12A)

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

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

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

 

Table 19 (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

 

Flatpack Festival Picks

Sat

The Giant (12A)

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

Suntan (18)

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

Sun

My Life as a Courgette (12A)

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

The Other Side of Hope (12A)

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

 

NOW PLAYING

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dancer  (12A)

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

 

Free Fire (15)

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

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

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

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

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Life  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LoveTrue (15)

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

Personal Shopper (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Power Rangers (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

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

 

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

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Interview: Chris Tye

Singer-songwriter Chris Tye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any other favourite tracks on the album?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW RELEASES

Ghost in the Shell (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

“We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us,” intones Johannson, inevitably thoughts of Blade Runner, Scott’s film clearly offering template for the film’s look as well as its themes about identity and humanity. Undeniably glossily and sleekly thrilling and with a pulsing core part composed by Black Country boy  Clint Mansell, on the downside, it’s singularly lacking in humour and, with rather damning irony, despite the title, it’s a entirely soulless affair. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Fits (12A)

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

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

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

Free Fire (15)

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

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

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

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

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (U)

 

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

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

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

 

 

NOW PLAYING

Another Mother’s Son (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHIPS: Law and Disorder  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elle (18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Life  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lion (PG)

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

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

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

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

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lost City of Z (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Power Rangers (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview – Van Gogh’s Good Ear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

NEW RELEASES

Life  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Another Mother’s Son (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Certain Women (12A)

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

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

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

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

CHIPS: Law and Disorder  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lost City of Z (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Power Rangers (12A)

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Found Footage Festival

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

 

 

 

 

NOW PLAYING

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elle (18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hidden Figures (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Wick: Chapter 2 (15)

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

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

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

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

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lego Batman Movie (U)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lion (PG)

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

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

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

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

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Moonlight (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Personal Shopper (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sing (U)

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

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

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

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

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

 

T2 Trainspotting (18)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Marcel Lucont’s quick guide to French culture

French comedian Marcel Lucont

French flâneur Marcel Lucont returns to Birmingham with his brand new show, Whine List (7 April 2017, The Glee).

The appearance finds the self-proclaimed greatest French comedian currently in the UK sipping wine, and encouraging audience members to air their gripes and challenging experiences. He, or course, has to a few options of his own.

Discussing his before show regime, he says: “My preferred pre-show routine is the three Fs – food, fan mail and fellatio. Receiving not giving, in every instance.”

While on the topic of what he does post gig, he adds: “After a show in France I may saunter to a nearby café to discuss life’s many oddities over a carafe of fine wine.

“My post-show ritual in the UK more often entails strolling at pace through a city centre paved with anger and chips, attempting to avoid various oddities, be that bellowing men or tottering women who cannot decide whether they are angry, hungry or horny.”

Forever flying the flag for French cultural superiority, here’s Marcel Lucont’s one-stop guide to the very best of French culture…

Music:

Marcel: “Spend a day and night with the entire oeuvre of Serge Gainsbourg and tell me you have not gained some seductive powers, as well as a sudden desire for a maximum-strength cigarette.”

Film:

Marcel: “Jacques Rivette’s “Out 1: Noli Me Tangere” would be a strong start. If this semi-improvised, 13-hour 1971 classic is not for you, you should probably stop listing “culture” as one of your interests, French or otherwise.”

Literature:

Marcel: “After watching “Out 1…” why not find a suitable bed to make a start on “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu,” Proust’s fairly comprehensive novella?”

Visual Art:

Marcel: “Abraham Poincheval, a performance artist who has lived inside a boulder for one week and the inside of a bear for two weeks. With the world as it is, it is difficult not to be at least a little jealous.”

  • Marcel Lucont brings his Whine List to The Glee Club, The Arcadian Centre, Birmingham, on Friday 7 April 2017. For more information, see: www.glee.co.uk

Interview: Binker & Moses

London jazz duo Binker and Moses

The debut album from Binker and Moses, 2015’s Dem Ones, has firmly established the duo as “the new sound of London jazz” (FT). Recorded live, in one day, it’s a remarkable, and ferocious, album from the saxophonist (Binker Golding) and drummer (Moses Boyd), who’ve been playing together, and with other artists, for the best part of a decade.

Since the album’s release (initially only on vinyl, though there are now CDs), B&M have won a MOBO (Best Jazz Act), a Parliamentary Jazz Award (Best Newcomer), and two JazzFM nods (Breakthrough Act and Best UK Jazz Act).

Now comes the real test for the duo: album number two. Due for release in May on Gearbox, Journey To The Mountain Of Forever is described by Binker as “a storybook, with a narrative, characters, places and hidden messages.”

BrumNotes caught up with Binker as the Londoners prepared for a visit the Hare and Hounds (30 March 2017).

Dem Ones was recorded in a day, straight to a vintage Studer 1/4″ tape machine – what approach to recording have you taken with Journey To The Mountain Of Forever?

The equipment, studio, engineer and process of straight to tape were the same for Journey… as they were for Dem Ones, we just chewed up a hell of a lot more tape because there were way more tracks – it’s a double LP. There were something like 48 tracks – not takes but individual tracks; we narrowed it down to 15 for the album. We love our engineer Ricky Damian – [he’s] best known for mastering [Mark Ronson’s] Uptown Funk. The sound desk and mics etc we used on Dem Ones were some of the best in the world, and they got the sound we wanted, so we didn’t need to change it for this album as we wanted some consistency. We spent two full days in the studio, from early to really late – Red Bull should sponsor us after this album! This album is a lot more thought out than Dem Ones was … Dem Ones was deliberately spur of the moment. The first LP is the duo, the second has features or multiple features on every track. The artists included are Tori Handsley on harp, Evan Parker on saxophones, Sarathy Korwar on tabla, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Yuseef Dayes from Yuseef Kamaal on drums and percussion. There were absolutely no overdubs, drop-ins or anything like that, it’s all completely real. For this sort of album we didn’t believe in using the studio to modify the tracks, but maybe one day. There were barely any second takes. We only did a few re-takes because some of the equipment started to pack up on the second day of recording. Couldn’t handle it I guess.

You’ve hinted that the album perhaps has a concept linking some of the tracks …. can you say a bit more?

You’ve done your research! We honestly don’t know where you could’ve heard that! We’ve been trying to keep everything under wraps, including the album name until the BBC leaked it. We’re gonna try not to give away too much about the concept behind the album and let audiences make up their minds & make their own readings of it. There’s at least two ways you could ‘read’ the material. But yes, it is a concept album and the music, titles and artwork are all one. To give a light description, it’s about a journey from the known to the unknown. It’s a lot more ambitious than Dem Ones.

What are some of the stand-out tracks for you personally, and why?

The duets I did with Evan Parker will always be special to me as he’s a hero of mine both as a player and a human being. There’s a track on the second disk called Echoes From The Other Side Of The Mountain, with Tori Handsley and Sarathy Korwar. I think that track came off particularly well. There’s a duo track on the first disk called Intoxication From Jahvmonishi Leaves … I like it ‘cos it shouldn’t have worked, but it did, so I see it as an achievement for us. So far from the ones that have been heard Fete By The River seems to be most peoples’ favourite.

You’ve known each other, and played together, for some years – 10-13 years now is it? What do you consider to be your, and your partners, strengths?

Moses has a good few strengths. I’d say mainly to keep a level head and not let problems, stress and things going wrong affect him/ us. As a result, he can often become the voice of reason in the group. My tendency is to lose it, so he balances that out. Moses also generally smiles a lot, which definitely balances out against me. He makes us a lot more approachable because of this. I’m almost incapable of smiling, despite being a happy person, more or less. I think my personal strength is to get the promoters to put more beer in the backstage fridge for the after party.

Did you have any drums/ sax guys in mind when you first started playing as Binker and Moses? Perhaps just drummers and saxophonist teams you admired …?

Quite a few. We’re certainly not the first people to do this. I think the recordings that ultimately made us go there were the duo segments of Kenny Garrett and Jeff ‘Tai’n Watts in the Songbook era, and the John Coltrane/ Rasheed Ali album Interstellar Space. The album Red And Black In Willisau by Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell is another great one that gave us ideas. There are other stand alone tracks like The Surrey With The Fringe On Top by Sonny Rollins and Philly Joe Jones,  and the second track from the Michael Brecker album called “Michael Brecker” where it starts with a duet with Jack DeJohnette – Syzygy.

Three major jazz awards last year – congratulations! What affect have they, and the earlier MOBO, had on your careers so far do you think?

They really had a great affect that we don’t take lightly. The combined awards put us on the map and forced people to pay attention to the group. We were both known at least on the London scene as individuals before that, but the awards combined with good reviews for the album and performances made people pay attention to us as a duo. We went from being the guys who made an angular, middle finger album … to the guys who you brought your girlfriend that doesn’t like jazz to the gig because you read about us in Jocks & Nerds or the Guardian. Either way, we’re still the same and didn’t change because of it.

You both have other projects outside of the duo, and work with other artists – can you say a bit more about your other activities?

Moses runs his band – Moses Boyd’s: Exodus – which has a number of EPs out and will be releasing an album this year. I also happen to be a part of that band, so you see we do spend a lot of time together. For me, it’s hard to explain what the Exodus does. You have to hear it, and especially see it live, in order to understand it. There’s a lot going on in that band and I can’t really describe it. There will be another Zara McFarlane album this year, which we’re both on. That should be out in the summer. I’ve also started leading a quartet again, which is something I did for many years and dropped for artistic reasons, but I’ve started up again but with guitar instead of piano. There’s a lot of delta blues, country and folk in the ensemble & writing. There should be an album soon with that also but its brand new so it will take a minute.

What are your plans for the coming months (once the album’s out)?

My personal plan for after the release and album launch is to get really drunk and then go to sleep for three days, as I’m already exhausted. We’ll be doing plenty of shows up and down the UK and in Europe after the album release. We’ll also be in the USA and Canada. Follow us on the Binker & Moses Facebook page and on Twitter at @ManLikeBinks and @MosesBoydExodus to get all the info. There will be too much to mention here…

* Binker and Moses appear at The Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham, on Thursday 30 March 2017. More details/ tickets.

MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Mar 17-Thu Mar 23

 

NEW RELEASES

Get Out (15)

Bringing a  welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, actor-writer turned first-time director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary. Previously memorably  exercised in the likes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Stepford Wives, Society and, most recently, The Witch, as with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Peele has constructed his film as a racial satire, one which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate of exacerbated white on black violence. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.

A rising star in the photography world,  Chris (Brit Daniel Kaluuya) has been persuaded to visit the family of  his girlfriend of five months, Rose  (Allison Williams), in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of what sort of reaction he might get, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA  who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers, Obama fans, and will be totally accepting about it.

Indeed,  neurosurgeon Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) and somewhat distant hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener subverting her amiable persona) prove to be just that, the former perhaps over-egging their white liberal credentials by recalling how his had ran alongside Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed to fit the cliché of wealthy whites having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), but, kept on after caring for his elderly parents, they’re  like part of the family, Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling. Likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who reckons Chris’s “genetic makeup” would make him a great MMA fighter and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.

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

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

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

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

The first (and, to date, only) animation to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a  full out musical, complete with three new numbers, although, in the shadow of La La Land, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off  as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the woods and the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a backlot set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (giving an inexplicable Cockney accent to Mrs. Potts, the teapot, although she does shine on the title song), they’re also often very irritating. Gugu Mbatha Raw is less so as feather duster Plumette, largely because she has little to say, but sadly the same does not hold true for Audra McDonald’s singing wardrobe or Stanley Tucci as her harpispchord hubbie.

And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring, camp closet case sidekick LeFou, Disney’s coy first ‘gay’.  The problem extends to the central characters too. Despite channeling Bill Nighy, Dan Stevens is magnificent under the prosthetics and CGI as the horned, hulking, tortured Beast (albeit rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, an often hesitant Emma Watson is all too prettily winsome and vanilla as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever really come to life, meaning that much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring, feeling, to paraphrase the song, that  moments do seem to last forever.

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

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

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

 

Personal Shopper (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

NOW PLAYING

Elle (18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fallen (12A)

 When civil war broke out in Heaven,  those angels who had not declared for either Team God or Team Lucifer were apparently cast out and sent to Earth. Several millennia later, it appears that a  good many of them have wound up disguised as sulky teens at the Sword and Cross reform school. It’s to here that Lucinda (Addison Timlin), a  troubled kid prone to visions and  strange abilities, is sent after being wrongly blamed for killing a classmate in a  fire and where she finds herself in a  tug of love  between charismatic bad boy Cam (Harrison Gilbertson) and sullen Daniel (Jeremy Irvine), the latter seeming inexplicably familiar. Meanwhile, as the students and teachers  variously line up on the side of good and evil, Lucinda finds herself also having to make a choice.

 

Marking a decided  career low for director Scott Hicks, who made the Oscar-winning Shine, this is a sort of Twilight-lite, with angels rather than vampires and werewolves, but, between the functional direction, risible dialogue, ham-fisted acting and general visual cheesiness (check out the dismal superimposed CGI silvery wings shimmering a good foot away from Daniel’s back), it feels like a bad parody. It may attract stray readers of the bestselling young adult novels, but they might be better advised saving their money and picking it up from the DVD reduced bin a couple of months time.  (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

 

Fences (15)

Making its stage debut in 1983, August Wilson’s play won both a Tony and Pulitzer in 1987, but, despite attempts to bring it to the screen, Wilson refused permission unless it had a black director. It took 33 years, but, finally, Denzel Washington has taken on the mantle, both behind the camera and starring as Troy Maxson,  a refuse truck collector in 50s Pittsburgh, embittered at how segregation  cut short his career as a baseball player and the racist attitudes that have him at the rear of the truck rather than driving it. Washington played the same role on Broadway in 2010 and he’s brought several of the same cast with him, Mykelti Williamson as his brain-damaged war veteran brother, Gabriel, Russell Hornsby as his eldest son (by a previous marriage), aspirant and permanently broke jazz musician Lyons, and, most notably, Oscar winner Viola Davis as Rose, his loyal, supportive wife of 18 years, a role she also played in the 1987 revival

However, Troy’s bitterness and self-pity has been eating away at both the marriage and their younger son, Cory (Jovan Adepo) who sees his tough love father’s refusal to support his aspiration to play college football as jealousy over chances he never had.

Largely set in Troy’s house or the backyard where he holds court, swigging gin as he jokes around, tells fanciful stories and bemoans life to best friend Bono (Stephen Henderson), it gradually builds to a reveal the devastating secret Troy’s been hiding from his wife, offering Davis the monologue that undoubtedly earned her Oscar nomination.

However, as good as both she  and Washington’s complex, sympathy-shifting portrayal are, the film never escapes its theatrical origins, whether in the carefully appointed set, heavy-handed symbolism and metaphors or the cadence of the dialogue, reinforcing its comparisons to a black answer to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Also, after the slow burn build to the heartbreaking  climax, the aftermath coda feels somewhat limp, never delivering the  emotional epiphany it seeks. (Vue Star City)

 

Fifty Shades Darker (18)

Hardware stores saw a boost in trade with the first adaptation of E.L. James’ S&M trilogy, but, while sales in pleasure balls may be boosted, part two puts more emphasis on the relationship between Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and the ludicrously wealthy Christian Grey (Jamie Doran) than the kinky sex, though that’s not to say there aren’t some steamy – and indeed sexy – sequences and a visit to the Red Room. Picking up from the end of the first film, she’s now assistant to Jack Hyde, her red alert named senior editor  at the publishing company, but miserable after breaking up with Grey. But then, suddenly, he’s back in her life, swearing he’s changed, that he wants her back, can’t live without her and even opening up about himself. He wants to renegotiate terms, so, she decides to give him another chance, provided they take it slow, with no rules and no secrets,  and walk before they run. However, it’s not long before she decides she likes running and what loosely passes for a plot gets underway with Grey’s sexual mentor (Kim Basinger) warning Anastasia off, Hyde making a pass  and the mentally disturbed Leila (Bella Heathcote), one of his earlier submissives, stalking her.

Since, written by  Niall Leonard,  this could easily fit into a half hour TV episode with room to spare, director James Foley fleshes out the running time with a swathe of increasingly opulent wealth-dripping scenes, including a masked ball, a lavish birthday bash, a yacht and any number of hugely expensive offices and houses. The longer it goes on the soapier it gets, becoming a  sort of X-rated Dynasty complete with a helicopter crash  and, not one, but two marriage proposal scenes, although the second is, admittedly, rather more extravagant than the first.

There’s a few more insights into why Grey is the way he is; his junkie birth mom died when he was four and, presumably, one of her lovers got off on stubbing cigarettes out on the boy’s chest, scarring him both physically and mentally, though it’s hard to resist the giggles when he has Anastasia a draw a lipstick boundary around his pecs to mark a no go area. He also apparently has a thing for Vin Diesel movie The Chronicles of Riddick. Unfortunately, insight into Anastasia doesn’t get much deeper than how nothing measured up  to those Austen and Bronte romantic novels. The core cast are back too, among them thankless roles for photographer friend Jose (Victor Rasuk), flatmate Kate (Eloise Mumford), and Christian’s sister Mia (Rita Ora), though Marcia Gay Harden gets somewhat more to do as protective adoptive mom Grace.

For long stretches it goes flaccid and meanders along as if looking for some sense of direction, and then rushes headlong to the finale, the last shot reappearance of one of the characters setting up what promises to be more of a thriller styled conclusion, possibly finally giving Christian’s fleet of bodyguards something to actually do.  Still, there’s more intentional humour this time around, making it rather more fun that the self-seriousness of the first film  and even something resembling, if not heat, then at least a mild glow between Doran and Johnson. It’s not darker by any means, but, to borrow one of the lines, it’s not blandly vanilla either. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Fist Fight (15)

Back in 1987, in Three O’Clock High a nerd finds himself challenged to an after-class playground fight by the school bully. Thirty years later, Richie Keen revisits the plot, except this time the nerd and the bully are teachers. The former is Andy Campbell, an English teacher at Roosevelt High. It’s the last day of school and the leavers are running wild, pulling all manner of extreme pranks. Meanwhile, the staff are all attending meetings with the Principal (Dean Norris)  to find out if they’re going to be laid off. With a young daughter and another kid on the way, Campbell can’t afford to lose his job, and, as a result, is something of an eager to please bundle of nerves.

Taking on the bully role, Ice Cube is Mr. Strickland, the volatile history teacher who’s stressed out about the school’s  lack of discipline and antiquated facilities and intimidates pupils and staff alike. Things explode when he summons Campbell to explain why the VHS he’s trying to play the class keeps shutting down. Campbell susses that one of the kids is using a mobile phone to turn off the machine, proving the final straw as Strickland takes a fire axe to the student’s desk.

Summoned before the Principal, the pair are told that, since no one’s owning up to what happened, one of them will be fired. At which point, Campbell fingers Strickland and, in turn, Strickland challenges him to a parking lot fight after school.

Given there’s little doubt that Andy’s in for a beating, the rest of the plot sees him trying to get the fight called off through inept efforts which variously entail bribing the student to lie to the Principal and planting drugs on Strickland in an attempt to get him arrested. Meanwhile, he also has to somehow get to the interview about his job and across to his daughter’s talent show before the showdown.

Populated by an assortment of oddballs who include an oblivious  football coach (Tracy Morgan), the meth junkie guidance counselor (Jillian Bell) with the hots for one of the students, and the  drama teacher (Christina Hendricks) who, thinking Campbell’s a pervert, encourages Strickand to knife him.

Crude and vulgar, although it takes some time to build up its energy, it’s often very funny, even inclining towards the hilarious in the final stretch as Andy both gets increasingly desperate and overcomes his wussiness to get as mad as hell and stand up for himself. It also makes some pointed observations about the nature of the education system that sees  teachers as expendable, while it’s hard not to admire its comedic nerve  in having Campbell’s 10-year-old (Alexa Nisenson) deliver a particularly explicit Big Sean rap at her own school bully. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Founder (12A)

A fascinating history lesson in how McDonalds came to be a globe-spanning franchise, John Lee Hancock’s film also comes with a moral dilemma for its audiences. Should they applaud Ray Kroc (an inspired Michael Keaton) for his drive and ruthless tenacity in building an empire out of what was a simple single mom and pop fast food takeaway or condemn him for the greed that led him to walk all over the two McDonald brothers with whom he had gone into a Faustian partnership, breaking their contract and denying them their due royalties? Is the film being bitterly ironic or is it, like Wall Street, endorsing the idea that greed is good, especially when it is directly linked to the very idea of America?

When we first meet Kroc, he’s a struggling 52-year-old travelling salesman with a smooth line in patter  and a long line of failed ventures behind him, his latest being trying to persuade diners to invest in one of his multiple mixer machines for their shakes. No one wants to know until, to his disbelief, he’s told he has an order for six machines in San Bernardino, California. Heading out to from Illinois to see them, he finds eager-to-please Maurice McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and his less trusting brother Dick (Nick Offerman) who tell him how they set up their burger stand and revolutionised it with their Speedee service system, delivering food in 30 seconds not thirty minutes, doing away with car hop service and plates. The world’s first fast food business.

 

Dazzled by the possibilities, silver-tongued Kroc persuades them to join forces and let him franchise the idea. Despite traditionally-minded Dick’s resistance to many of Kroc’s ideas, the concept becomes a huge success. The problem is, the deal means Ray’s still struggling to pay the bills and Dick won’t renegotiate. At which point, the banks refusing to lend any more money, enter both Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), the wife of one of the new franchisees and her ideas of introducing powdered milkshakes to save on the cost of refrigerating ice cream, and Harry J. Sonneborn (B.J. Novak), who, later to become Ray’s business manager, opens his eyes to the fact that real money lies in owning the land on which the restaurants are built. All of which eventually leads to the big break between Kroc  and the brothers.

“Business is war,” declares Kroc, his a take no prisoners approach in which his neglected, long suffering wife (Laura Dern) becomes collateral damage to his single-minded ambition and what ultimately turns out to be a David and Goliath battle between the ones with the integrity and the ones with the money, in which Goliath wins.

Given that the film shows how the whole foundation of McDonald’s global empire is built on an act of deliberate theft, it’s patently not a glowing product placement eulogy and it doesn’t take much effort to draw the dots between the almost evangelical identification of the Golden Arches with the American dream, a parable that won’t be lost on its post-Trump audiences.  (Sun-Wed: MAC)

 

The Great Wall (12A)

Zhang Yimou’s first major international release since 2007, this is his  most lavish and ambitious to date and, with Matt Damon in the lead, likely to reach beyond the usual Chinese martial arts fans. The Great Wall took some 1700 years to build and stretches for 5500 miles, inevitably giving rise to any number of legends about its purpose. Here, manned by a permanent army called the Nameless Order and divided into specialist units, it’s designed to keep out a legion of monsters known as the Tao Tie, reputedly freed when a meteor crashed into a mountain two thousand years ago and which, led by their queen, who’s fed by the bodies of their victims, attack northern China once every sixty years.

Mercenaries in search of the fabled black powder,  William Garin (Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are captured by the Nameless Order, their leader, General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) impressed by the fact that Garin has killed one of the creatures. While suspicious about their motives, they’re befriended by Lin Mae (Jing Tian), the English-speaking commander of the Crane Corps, female warriors who leap into battle tethered to ropes, Garin impressing them with his archery skills. When the Tao Tie attack, the pair prove invaluable, Garin saving the life of a boyish young soldier (Lu Han). Seeing how Lin and the others are prepared to give their lives, not for money, but to protect mankind, Garin comes to reassess his own priorities. Meanwhile, however, Tovar is conspiring with Ballard (Willem Dafoe), a fellow European prisoner, to escape with a cache of gunpowder, fully expecting Garin to join them.

There’s not much more to the plot than that, Damon spelling out the message about finding something worth fighting and dying for, he and Lin developing a  grudging mutual respect and friendship, and helping, with the aid of his magnet, to capture a Tao Tia in an attempt to destroy the queen.

Comparisons to Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are fairly inevitable, especially in the battles against the seemingly endless monstrous hordes who prove rather more cunning than their opponents thought, leading to an epic battle, including giant hot air paper lanterns, in the capital once they breach the Wall. It’s also fair to say that character development and back stories aren’t major aspects of the film’s agenda, but if you want epic, acrobatic  and bloody blockbuster action, elegant  and agile camerawork, frenetic editing  and bold use of colour and lighting, then this is suitably awesome in its scope and execution. (Vue Star City)

Hidden Figures (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

The dialogue and performances, especially those of the three female leads, are top notch, while Melfi deftly balances scenes like Johnson scrawling out calculations on the blackboard with archive footage from the era and recreations of meetings with the NASA team and its astronauts, delivering a film that is as entertaining as it’s  inspiring, uplifting and illuminating. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (15)

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

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

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

Chad Stahelski returns to the directing seat and delivers the bloody mayhem with stylish panache and visual flair, including a terrific climax in a hall of mirrors. Amid all the action and firefights, there’s a nice sense of humour at work too, underlining that things shouldn’t be taken too seriously, whether in the strict protocol governing assassin rules, the extensive network that takes in specialist tailors and Orthodox Jewish bankers, or a marvellous scene with Peter Serafinowicz as the Continental’s sommelier, advising Wick on choice of weapons as if they were fine wines. There’s also an appearance by Laurence Fishburne as inner-city assassin the Bowery King, while, dressed in his trademark cool three-piece black suit, Reeves makes hugely effective use of his expressionless style.  It ends with Wick declared excommunicado for breaking hotel rules, setting up Chapter 3 in which the contract is extended worldwide. Can’t wait.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

La La Land (12A)

Picking up six Oscars, including Best Director and Actress,  its title a reference to its Hollywood setting, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash is a love letter to the  golden age of  musicals that manages to be timeless while simultaneously striking contemporary notes, combining  the polish of 50s song and dance movies with the  energetic flash of things like Fame.

It opens in spectacular style with a one-take sequence staged on and around cars queuing on an LA freeway flyover wherein the film’s central couple, Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress working in a coffee shop  on the Warner Bros studio lot, and Seb (Ryan Gosling),  a jazz pianist purist with dreams of opening his own club, have a fleeting heated interchange.

Beginning in Winter, the film first follows Mia as, after another unsuccessful audition, she’s persuaded to join her flatmates for a night out and winds up drawn into a jclub by the sound of a jazz piano. Here she sees Seb, just as he’s being fired by the manager (JK Simmons) for slipping in one  of his free-jazz improvisations, but he brusquely brushes past her as she tries to introduce herself.  The film starts again, this time following Seb who lives in a run-down apartment, telling his exasperated sister that he’s just waiting for life to get tired of beating up on him, at which point he’ll make his move.

Moving on a season, fate contrives to have Mia and Seb meet again at a party where he’s slumming it with an 80s syth rock covers band and their connection begins to take root. They dance together on the hills overlooking  LA  and again at the Griffith Observatory in a magic realism waltz through the stars. Moving in together, she continues with her  auditions and Seb lands a keyboard gig with an old friend (John Legend) who now has his own jazz-rock outfit called The Messengers.

They become a huge success and, forever away on tour, Seb encourages Mia to write and star in her own one-woman play. It is from here that things, because they go right for their conflicting ambitions,  start to go wrong for them as a couple as the film focuses on the sacrifices that need to be made to achieve your dreams.

Neither of them professional singers or dancers,  Stone and  Gosling are terrific, their chemistry, in both the musical and dramatic sequences, lighting up the screen. Sprinkling the film with nods to Hollywood history and icons like Bergman and Monroe while also injecting some barbed commentary on the contemporary industry, it may have a certain cynicism, but it never loses sight of the heart that drives the narrative.

The film ends with a postscript, set five years on, catching up with the pair’s lives and fortunes with a scene that echoes their first actual meeting and offers both the real life ending and the fantasy happy ever after one of Hollywood musicals. It’s an exhilarating, heartburstingly romantic sweep you off your feet affair that will put a spring in your step and seems destined to become every bit a classic as the films to which it pays homage. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Lego Batman Movie (U)

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

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

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

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

To defeat them, he has to realise that it’s okay to accept help, just as it’s okay to accept family (and finally let Dick call him dad) as he joins forces with not only Alfred (wearing a retro Batman costume), Barbara and Robin (the origin of the costume another cute joke), but also pretty much every DC super hero and villain you can think of, including Harlequin, Bane, Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and, er, The Condiment King.  Although there are moments of quite melancholy, for the most part this is a dizzying hyperkinetic whirlwind of nonstop entertainment. Top that Ben Affleck!  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Lion (PG)

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

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

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

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

 

Logan (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Moonlight (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patriots Day (15)

Mark Whalberg reteams up with Lone Survivor/Deepwater Horizon director, Peter Berg, for a third true  life drama, here about the events of April 15, 2013 when, towards the end of the  annual Boston Marathon, two bombs exploded in the crowds, killing three and wounding many others,  leading to a four day citywide manhunt for those responsible.

However, there’s nothing crassly jingoistic flag-waving here, simply a procedural thriller designed to honour those involved in the tragedy and seeking to protect their city.

Whalberg, as  fictionalised cop Tommy Saunders, is at the centre of the narrative, providing the audience’s eyes as things unfold. On duty just a few yards from the finishing line when the explosion occurs, he’s shocked, but swiftly swings into action  until the FBI, led by  Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), take over. But, although we get scenes of him with wife  (Michelle Monaghan), he’s only one of those in the spotlight as the film intercuts between different stories.

There’s the station Sergeant (JK Simmons) who’ll be at the heart of the eventual shoot-out, a newly married couple who’ll both lose their legs,  MIT campus cop Sean Collier (Jake Picking) who was killed when he refused to let the terrorists take his gun, and Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), the young Chinese immigrant who was taken hostage when they hijacked his car, but risked his life to escape and call 911. All of whom get enough backstory to make them feel real rather than simply plot devices.

As the authorities desperately try and track down the bombers, DesLauriers is at loggerheads with the Police Commissioner (John Goodman) and governor (Michael Beach) about not releasing details of the suspects prematurely, Berg, using handheld cameras, grippingly captures the urgency of the situation.

It’s to the film’s credit too that the bombers, Chechen-born brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Jahar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff), aren’t cardboard cut out bad guys either, as the screenplay addresses their relationship and motivations, perhaps the most memorable moment from this perspective being the  scene between Tamerlan’s imperturbable white  American Muslim convert wife Kathleen Russell (Melissa Benoist)  and her equally implacable female interrogator  (Khandi Alexander).

As it heads towards the foregone conclusion, the action cranks up as the net closes in, leading to the fire-fight between the brothers and the cops and the eventual apprehension of  the second suspect in backyard boat. But, as well as celebrating the everyday heroism, it also poses the question as to what’s justified in  the fight against terrorism when Tommy is taken aback to learn orders have been given not to read the suspects their rights if captured.

Tommy’s monologue about good and evil, love and hate, is a misstep in an otherwise level-headed  avoidance of simplifications, but, as its  ends by merging docudrama  with documentary  footage of Red Socks’ Boston Strong celebration and the actual cops and victims involved, it serves reminder that sometimes, like in Hacksaw Ridge, Hollywood heroism is actually the stuff of real life. (Vue Star City)

 

Sing (U)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Split (15)

Having made a tentative return to form with The Visit,  writer-director M Night Shyamalan  finally gets his mojo back with this Dissociative Identity Disorder abduction thriller that also affords star James McAvoy one of the best performances of his career.

Wasting no time, the film opens with outsider teen Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and classmates  Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and c Marcia (Jessica Sula) being chloroformed and abducted by a stranger who gets into the car.

They awake in a bunker-like room and a panicked Claire suggests that, whoever their kidnapper is, they attack him when he comes in. Casey, who was never part of the original plan,  is calmer and more reasoned, observing they should find out what’s happening first. Their kidnapper  reveals himself as Dennis (McAvoy), a stern, shaved head OCD control freak in black who informs them they are to be ‘sacred food’ for who or whatever is coming.

Shortly afterwards, they see a woman through the crack in the door and call out. She enters, but, to their shock, turns out to be Denis, or rather the matriarchal British  Patricia, just one of apparently 23 different personalities the inhabit the body of Kevin, one of whom, flamboyant fashion designer Barry, we see visiting Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), the psychiatrist treating his/their case. Citing cases of  one personality not having the disability of another, she believes her study could lead to a breakthrough in understanding the potential of the human brain.

Meanwhile, back in the cell, the girls encounter another of Kevin’s personalities, Hedwig, a lisping nine-year-old who is not as easily manipulated as Casey believes him to be.

Escape attempts eventually lead to the three girls being locked in separate rooms, as Dennis announces that the time is coming when the Beast, a hitherto unseen 24th personality,  will come to claim then, turning things into a  race against the clock.

Punctuated with flashbacks to the young Casey’s abused childhood  and scenes with Fletcher dispensing exposition as she tries to work out why Barry is sending constant emails asking for  urgent help and who is the actual personality turning up for sessions purporting to be him.

Building a  genuinely gripping sense of claustrophobic tension, anticipation and dread as its cat and mouse game  heads towards the final confrontation, sometimes changing clothes, sometimes with just a facial expression, McAvoy brilliantly switches between personalities, often in the same line, making effective use of pauses  (and delivering a truly creepy dance routine to Kanye West), while Taylor-Joy subtly manages to hint at her own dark torments and the way she has learned to act and think in order to survive.

As ever, Shyamalan makes his usual cameo and, of course, delivers his trademark twists, one of which  delivers an audacious self-referencing moment that hints at a very intriguing prospect for the sequel.  (Vue Star City)

 

T2 Trainspotting (18)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vicerory’s House (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240