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MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Aug 11-Thu Aug 17

NEW RELEASES

Atomic Blonde (15)

Doctor Who notwithstanding, the chances of there ever being a female 007 seem pretty slim. But now there’s no need, Charlize Theron makes the whole question redundant in this adaptation of the Antony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City. She plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent who is pretty much the dictionary definition of cool. Not to mention lethal. Set in 1989, in the days prior to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, events are framed by a debriefing of a bruised and battered (but still ice cool) Broughton by her handler, Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and his CIA counterpart (John Goodman) regarding her recent mission to Berlin. Her ostensible purpose was to retrieve a list of operatives hidden inside a wristwatch stolen from a fellow agent, seen being bumped off by a  KGB hitman in the opening sequence, and prevent it falling into the wrong hands and extending the Cold War, but also to unmask a double agent known as Satchel, whose identity could well be on the list.

As such, she’s supposed to work with the head of the Berlin station, David Percival (James McEvoy), except he, as Gray puts it, has gone ‘feral’ and clearly has his own agenda involving the source of  the list, a Russian defector, codenamed Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who has it committed to memory. Advised, rather unnecessarily given her cynicism,  by MI6 chief C  to trust no one, the mission inevitably becomes both complex and increasingly dangerous, with inevitable its plethora of double crosses and violent repercussions. All of which involves along the way a brutal KBG boss (Roland Møller) and his psychotic henchmen, a young dissident (Bill Skarsgård) who heads up a resistance network, an enigmatic watchmaker (Til Schweiger) and a rookie French agent (Sofia Boutella) with whom Broughton has some hot girl on girl action. On top of which, the people of East Berlin are flooding the streets in the ongoing protest and resistance to Communist control.

Helmed by John Wick co-director David Leitch, it grabs you by the balls and never lets go until the end, the energy and intensity bolstered by a bass throbbing, amped up soundtrack that papers the  film with the likes of Blue Monday, Cat People (Putting Out Fire),  99 Luftballons and I Ran, not to mention the atmospheric use of lighting and camera angles. Needless to say, the script has more twists than a double-jointed, contortionist pole dancer

Effortlessly and compellingly flowing  through the narrative, building on the casual sociopathic qualities evidenced in Split, McEvoy keeps the audience guessing as to which way he rolls in terms of loyalties. But there’s no doubt as to whom the film belongs. Dressed in predominantly black-and-white, an intense and steely focused Theron, on a roll after Mad Max revived a somewhat stagnating career, is electrifying as Broughton who, even if her style (like some of the futuristic settings) at  times seems rather at odds with the period, plays by her own tightly defined rules that demand no emotional involvement and the ability to dish out gymnastic martial arts moves and bullets with the best, not least in a  brilliantly staged apartment to staircase fight with two Stasi goons. Blondes clearly have more fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Everyman;Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Annabelle : Creation (15)

A second attempt to establish a franchise for The Conjuring spin-off,  Lights Out director David F. Sandberg scores in relying on old-school horror tactics with half-glimpsed figures, shadows, doors opening of their own accord and teasing the audience with anticipation that’s not always fulfilled. This goes back to the 1950’s origins of the devil doll, as 12 years after their beloved daughter Bee (Samara Lee) is killed in an auto accident, former doll maker Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) opens up the rural California farmouse he shares with his mysteriously invalided wife (Miranda Otto)  to serve as an orphanage for a group of young Catholic girls and their accompanying nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).

Central to the narrative are young  best friends Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman), the latter in a  leg brace after being stricken with polio. Shut out by the older girls, they end up sharing  room to themselves, next to a door which, Mulls advises them, is locked and will stay that way. So, naturally, when, one night, Janice is awoken by someone slipping  note under the door bearing the words ‘find me’ (the same game the dead daughter played with her parents) and finds the forbidden room unlocked, she duly enters and discovers a white-frocked wooden doll locked  in a  cupboard. From which point, thing start to get even more creepy with the doll mysteriously shifting locations (though you never actually see it move), scary noises and, eventually, Janice coming face to face with the dead daughter, who, naturally turns out to be a demon in disguise (the back story’s explained towards the end) which wants her soul.

The film makes effective use of the set and lighting design to build the tension, plus, of course, the soundtrack which generally cuts to silence before the jump shot occurs, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous installments, to which the coda provides a direct link), Curiously, the film does little with its religious elements as regards the possession theme and is, at times, a little too cryptic for logic but, by placing two resourceful but nevertheless still young and vulnerable children (very effectively played Bateman and Wilson, respectively seen in Nine Lives and  Ouija: Origin of Evil) at the centre of the gathering horror it adds to the suspense it seeks to evoke. One of the better horrors in recent years, however, whether it can conjure up a successful ongoing series remains to be seen.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

A Ghost Story (15)  

It’s a fickle world. One minute you’re winning Oscars, BAFTAs and whatever else and the next your latest film is being dumped with a  single screen release in the Midlands and no publicity. There again, this was never intended as a mainstream feature. Reteaming Ain’t The Bodies Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, director David Lowery explores grief and loss in the story of a nameless married couple who have moved home for a new start. But then he’s killed in a car crash only to return in the traditional Halloween representation of a ghost as a white sheet with two black cut-out eyes, turning up in the corner of the living room and elsewhere, even when Mara moves out and a new family take over the house. An experimental work that features a lengthy single take of Mara eating  pie left by a friend, it’s a compelling study in how life – and sadness – goes on, for the dead as well as the living as they attempt to come to terms with their new situations. (Cineworld NEC;  Vue Star City)

 

Kedi (U)

If you’ve ever been to Istanbul, you’ll know that the streets are home to literally hundreds of stray cats. But, if they don’t have homes, they do have people who love and care for them, and they, in return, give back affection, loyalty and much more. This beguiling Turkish documentary follows several Istanbul felines and the humans with whom they interact, the latter, ranging from a fisherman and an artist to a restaurant owner and a man recovered from depression offering observations on what how the animals display their different personalities and what they have brought to their lives. This, as the film reveals, involves physical, emotional, spiritual and even therapeutic qualities, one interviewee declaring them to be intermediaries from God while another compares communicating with them as like learning to talk with aliens.

The seven cats include the tabby Sari,  a protective very strong-willed “new mother, the  grey/brown Bengü with his distinctive paw gestures, the long-haired, black-and-white Aslan Parçasi, who works nights as a rat catcher for a harbour-side restaurant  and Gamsiz, a tough guy loner   and, like their ‘adoptive ‘owners’, they are all fascinating characters. However, with plans to gentrify the area and tear down the market that they haunt, the cat population is under threat, as, given their iconic status, is also part if Istanbul’s cultural identity.  But the film is about much more, as one resident observes, “People who don’t love animals can’t love people either,”, a reminder that, in this life, what’s important is taking care of each other. (Sat-Wed:MAC; Sun, Tue: Electric)

The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature (U)  

The original 2014 animation about a bunch of critters living in a  park and their search for food was amiable enough, but surely didn’t warrant a second trip. Which no doubt explains why there have been absolutely no press previews. Perhaps most notable for the fact that the fart gag in the trailer isn’t actually in the film itself, this is a largely joyless and laugh free affair in which everyone dashes maniacally about when, the Nut Store having exploded, and the lifetime of nuts along with it, the animals are forced to return to the park, only to see it torn down and dug up by the corrupt city mayor  and a ramshackle amusement park erected in place of the trees and grass. The film basically entails the fight by the animals, led by Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) and his mute rat buddy, to regain their home while romantic interest squirrel Andie (Katherine Heigl) keeps admonishing him about how they should get back to their natural instincts and forage for food rather than taking the easy option.

There’s very little inspiration or flair in evidence, the best bits being a subplot in which slobbering pooch Precious (Maya Rudolph) is abducted by the Mayor’s brattish daughter and forms a bond with her put-upon bull dog Frankie (Bobby Canavale) and the spirited contribution of Jackie Chan as Mr. Feng, a martial arts city mouse (billed as a weapon of mouse destruction)  who leads an army of similarly garbed rodents and who, themselves having previously lost their own park, come to the aid of Surly and co. Among the laboured gags and repetitive plot there may be just enough to satisfy undemanding six-year-olds, but otherwise these nuts are decidedly stale. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Overdrive (15)

Another release without previews, this is a basically a lower budget Fast and the Furious knockoff (the writers also penned 2 Fast, 2 Furious) about two luxury car thief half-brothers (Scott Eastwood and Freddie Thorp) who,  been hired to steal a Bugatti 1937,  head to the the south of France and fall foul of  its owner, who happens to be the local crime boss (Simon Abkarian). In exchange for sparing  their lives, he wants them  to steal a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, from his arch rival, to which end they need to assemble a team, their respective girlfriends (Ana de Armas, Gaia Weiss) among them. Excited? No, though not. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Step (PG)

You saw the dance musicals, now here’s the documentary as director Amanda Lipitz follows an inner-city  girls’ high school’s step dance team  in their final year at Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women on the journey to the finals of the state  step championships. A study in finding unity and a common purpose as well as individual motivation by being pushed and challenged by their teachers, counsellors, coaches, families  and each other to always do better, focusing on three students in particular, each from different backgrounds,  it’s an inspiring portrait of both sisterhood and the impulse to rise above socioeconomic ghettoising and find self-value, in both their dancing and academic performances, not to mention an insight into life in contemporary America. (Everyman)

 

 

NOW PLAYING

47 Metres Down  (15)

Director Johannes Roberts works up  a definite sense of tension, but this is ultimately a ho hum contribution to the menaced  by sharks genre, one that delivers an audacious but ill-advised (if clearly signalled) twist in the final moments. Having been dumped by her boyfriend for being too boring, Lisa (Mandy Moore) has been taken by her free spirit sister Kate (Claire Holt) on holiday to Mexico. Here they hook up with a couple of local lads who persuade them have don scuba gear and descend into the ocean in a cage to get up close with some great whites.

Given the low rent nature of  both their adventure operator (Matthew Modine) and his ramshackle boat, it’s no surprise when the winch fails, sending the two girls plummeting 47 metres to the ocean floor, putting into motion a  race against the clock to get rescued before the air in their tanks runs out. Roberts manages to drag this out  for a decently tense hour, mining the silent dark of the underwater location and with judicious use of the sharks as an unseen presence and the shock value when they do appear (particularly effective when suddenly illuminated by a red flare). Unfortunately, the girls’ faces and expression largely hidden by the masks,  the time’s also filled with long bouts of dialogue along the lines of  “it’ll be all right”, “don’t leave me alone”, “the shark almost got me!” and, inevitably  “I’m almost out of air” and “I’m so scared we’re going to die down here.” Given the already two-dimensional  characterisation,  it might have been a much better idea had their radio mics malfunctioned too. It does the job well enough, but this is no Shallow Water. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

All Eyez On Me (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baby Driver (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Sick (15)

Taking self-reflexiveness to the extreme, Pakistani-born Chicago Muslim Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, not only co-wrote the screenplay of  the true story of how he and his wife got together, but he also plays himself opposite  Zoe Kazan as Emily (here Gardner).   Working as a  cabbie while trying to make his name as a stand-up comic, Kumail meets the equally deadpan Emily, a recent graduate, when she heckles him at one of his shows. Although neither is actively seeking a relationship, a  tentative romance develops and,  charted through evenings watching horror B movies, all is going well until Emily discovers a box of photographs of women in his room. These, it transpires, are the girls his conservative-minded mother (Zenobia Shroff) has been having ‘drop by’ for dinner since like herself  and fellow immigrant husband (Anupam Kher) and her other son,  Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), and his wife, Fatima (Shenaz Treasury), she expects him to follow tradition with an arranged marriage. Kumail dutifully goes along with  her arrangements, but, just as he pretends to pray in the basement, it’s all a charade. When he tells Naveed he’s dating a white girl, he’s reminded that their cousin was disowned by the family for doing the same thing.

However, knowing what he risks losing whatever decision he makes, before he gets a chance to work out what to do or explain things, Emily storms out and the next thing you know he finds she’s in hospital in a medically-induced coma witha rare lung condition. Which is where she remains for the movie’s middle act, during which time it introduces her parents, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter) and the more acquiescent Terry (Ray Romano), the former understandably angry at the way he’s treated her daughter. But, as they all attend on Emily as her condition gradually worsens, the hostility defuses and they and Kumail begin to bond.  As it turns out, her parents also have a relationship problem. Given the film’s background, it’s no spoiler to reveal Emily eventually wakes up and the couple get back together, but it’s the fraught journey between those two points and the reactions of Kumail’s family that provide the poignant fuel for the third act.

Alongside all this is the subplot involving Kumail and his fellow stand-ups, CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Andy Bryant) and room-mate Chris (Kurt Braunohler) looking to be selected for the upcoming Montreal Showcase and well as  Kumail’s awkward one-man show about Pakistani culture.

Reminiscent of 2014 documentary Meet The Patels, which detailed a similar culture clash scenario (without the coma), founded on superb performances throughout, its balance of comedy and drama is confidently directed by Michael Showalter . Both poignant and sharply funny, daringly introducing terrorist and even 9/11 jokes while exploring notions of identity, family, religion, racism and integration alongside its core love story  and, if not endorsing Kumail’s parents’ traditional views, at least empathising with them. Veined with an optimism that love  actually can conquer everything and the observation that life, like stand-up, is about constant improvisation, it’s easily one of the year’s best. (Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Captain Underpants – The First Epic Movie (U)

Having bonded over hearing the word Uranus as tots, first graders George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are firm friends with a mission to enliven school boredom with wild pranks. However, finally caught in the act by joyless principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), they face being put in separate classes to end their friendship. To prevent this, George uses a toy hypno-ring  from a cereal box to make Mr. Krupps think he’s really Captain Underpants, the decidedly dumb superhero character in red cape and white pants with a “Tra La Laaaa!” catchphrase in the comics they create together. Naturally chaos follows as he keeps switching between nice and nasty (the change triggered by splashes of water. However, with the arrival of their new Einstein-lookalike mad scientist teacher (Nick Kroll),  who, with the help of humour-challenged (“Like a chair, or a supermodel!”) class nerd Melvin, is determined to ride the world of laughter after being ridiculed because of his name, maybe, together, they can save the day and transform Krupps (who’s really just lonely) into a more pleasant person as well.

The fact that Kroll’s character is named Professor Poopypants should tell grown-ups not familiar with Dav Pilkey’s best-selling books what to expect from this animated big screen adaptation. The better news is that, although clearly aimed at the immature humour of  seven-year-olds with its giant robot toilet  with a smattering of subversive  adult jokes, it’s also  an enjoyably good-natured silly gigglefest about the power of friendship and laughter.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Cars 3 (U)

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

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

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

Dunkirk  (12A)

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

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

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

The air section, which covers just one hour, involves two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) as. mostly behind oxygen masks, they take on the Messerschmitts and Heinkels wreaking havoc on the troops and ships, the three time scales coming together for the final moments as Dawson’s boat heads towards a bombed minesweeper while Tommy and a fellow soldier (singer Harry Styles acquitting himself well) flounder in the sea after their appropriated trawler, strafed by the unseen enemy as target practice, sinks. Rounding out the cast, Kenneth Branagh gives a quietly impressive performance as the highest-ranking naval offer at the scene, while James D’Arcy is his opposite number in the Army

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

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

The Emoji Movie: Express Yourself (U)

Basically, Inside Out in a Smartphone with a dash of Divergence, without the poignancy or existential philosophising.  The son of the morose Mel (Steven Wright) and Mary (Jennifer Coolidge) Meh, young Gene (T.J. Miller) is about to make his debut in the Cube as the new indifferent emoji. However, unable to control the fact that he’s actually happily upbeat and not limited to one expression when selcted, everything in Textopolis goes into meltdown, with Cube controller Smiler (Maya Rudolph) declaring him a malfunction and ordering his deletion. To which end, he and out of fashion emoji Hi-5 (James Cordon) recruit hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who, it turns out has her own secret,  to help him navigate the apps (Spotify, YouTube, etc), avoid  the Internet Trolls and getting lost in the Trash, escape into the Cloud and get reprogrammed so he can fit in. All the while trying to avoid the illegal upgrade malware Smiler’s sent to eradicate them. Meanwhile, the phone’s owner, high schooler freshman Alex, whose texts to his crush, Addie, keep going awry, decides to have it wiped and reset, prompting the obligatory race against the clock.

Retreading the message about being who you are, individuality and not being defined by one trait, as well as the usual stuff about friendship, it’s a colourful affair populated with dozens of familiar emojis, among them Poop (Patrick Stewart) and Akiko Glitter (Christina Aguilera), allowing for any number of groan-inducing puns, although the comments about how emojis and texting limit real communication seem at odds with the film’s concept per se.  It may not be deep, but it’s undeniably fun.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

England Is Mine (15)

This is director Mark Gill and co-writer William Thacker’s  biopic of the pre-Smiths life of one Stephen Morrissey (Jack Lowden) and his getting together with Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston). However, given the fact they couldn’t get the rights to any of the band’s music, it essentially stops just when the story gets interesting and there’s very few scenes of the two together. It’s a bit like recalling how Lennon and McCartney met, but stopping before they started writing together or formed The Beatles. And, let’s be honest, Morrissey and Marr aren’t really as interesting as Paul and John.

So, what you get is a lot of Morrissey angst and bouts of depression growing up in 70s Manchester with his supportive mom Betty (Simone Kirby), even if it ignores the fact that, a librarian, she encouraged his literary interests along with artist friend Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) and  bandmate Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) , whose moves to London he saw as a betrayal and abandonment. Given Morrissey’s fame has faded considerably over recent years and his dubious  pro-Brexist political views and contentious Islamic statements, quite how many  will be beating a daffodil to the cinema door is open to question.  (Electric)

Girls Trip (15)

At times feeling like an exercise to prove that  African-American women getting together for a riotous weekend can be every bit as filthy – yet also poignant – as Bridesmaids or the Hangovers  series, this brings together Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and newcomer Tiffany Haddish as four college friends back in the 90s (somewhat stretching credibility given the age differences), the infamous Flossy Posse, who’ve not seen each other for five years, having lost touch as they’ve followed their separate lives and careers. Ryan Pierce (Hall) has become a best-selling self-help author in partnership with her  retired NFL hero husband Stewart (Mike Colter); former top Times journalist Sasha (Latifah) now runs a failing scandal  blog after a business partnership with Ryan fell through when she got into bed with Stewart instead;  Dina (Haddish), a  libido-rampant hot-head with no filters,  is recently  unemployed after assaulting a co-worker for using her cup; and, once a wild child,  Lisa (Pinkett Smith) is now a divorced romance-challenged mother of two nurse who lives with her mother.

The four are reunited when Ryan invited them to join her at the upcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans where she’ll be  the keynote speaker on female empowerment  and where her agent, Liz (Kate Walsh), is looking to close a deal that will set up her and Stewart with a lucrative product line and talk show. This is being sold on her You Can Have It All ethos and her perfect marriage. Except Sasha has a paparazzi shot of Stewart cheating with Instagram model Simone (Deborah Ayorinde), an affair Dina can’t stop herself revealing to Ryan. As it turns out, she’s aware of it and argues that the pair of them are working things out, so why let it spoil their weekend, although Dina’s haranguing of Stewart has got them thrown out of their five star hotel and shacked up in a cheap flea pit  where some leary old bloke in search of his regular hooker flashes himself at the window. That’s just the first of many many moments involving male genitalia, either in reference, in the flesh or through Dina’s simulation of the, ahem, grapefruit technique (if you don’t know, don’t ask).

Essentially a vulgarity-enhanced black riff on Sex and the City, although intermittently taking time out to address friendship bonds, relationship cracks and lost self-belief, the bulk of  this wildly overlong largely entails moving from one crude or rowdy sequence to the next. Some of these, such as the girls tripping on absinthe at a nightclub, are hilarious, others, such as Pinkett Smith urinating on a crowd while hanging from a  trip wire between a New Orleans street are decidedly not.

The plot is as formulaic as the characters are generic (Haddish is basically the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis’ overbearingly irresponsible character in The Hangover), but the four leads give a cocktail of ebullient and nuanced performances above and beyond such tired clichés (there’s even a dance off), Pinkett Smith especially good.

En route to its sentimental happy ending, it’s symptomatic of the film’s ‘noise’ that director Malcolm Lee feels the need to stuff it to overflowing with cameos from the likes of Common, Sean Combs, Mike Epps,  Ne-Yo, Morris Chestnut and, clearly with more tolerance than The House filmmakers, even a  brief glimpse of Mariah Carey.

Some it works, a lot of it doesn’t and you have to ask whether a comedy  with a  white director and cast could ever have gotten away with the liberal use of the N word like this does and, a mark of its uneven nature,  it undermines its feminist principles when it seems to say that all women need to get them out of a funk is big dick. Still, cheaper than a pair of Manolo Blahniks I guess. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (12A)

Billed as the year’s biggest and best  3D spectacular, Luc Besson’s space opera adaptation of the classic French sci fi comics that influenced Blade Runner, Star Wars and Avatar is bigger on style than substance.

The international space station having grown far beyond its original intentions to become a vast sprawling megopolis populated with hundreds of different human and alien species has been set adrift to wander the universe. Some 400 years later, things are amiss and there’s some sort of red zone at its heart that would seem to threatening its existence. To which end, government operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his lower ranked partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are charged with recovering some mysterious stolen property which, it transpires, is a cute armadillo-like creature, the last of its kind, previously seen crapping pearls in the opening sequence in which an intergalactic war winds up destroying the planet Müll, populated by the Pearls, a race of peaceful bald aliens with iridescent blue skin. All of which Valerian experiences in a  ‘dream’.

Recovering the ‘Mül Converter ’ from Igon Sirussa (John Goodman),  a Jabba the Hutt like black marketer, who’s about to sell it to one of the surviving Pearls, Valerian and Laureline find themselves plunged into an overloaded and dizzying plot involving an attempt by the Commander (Clive Owen) to cover up a past genocide and the proposed elimination of the other surviving Pearls. All of which variously involves an undercover incursion into the virtual reality Big Market, Laureline almost becoming some alien’s lunch, Valerian’s encounter with a shapeshifting burlesque glampod dancer called Bubble (Rihanna) and yet another  digital countdown to destruction. Oh, and, in-between battles, Valerian’s trying to persuade Laureline to marry him.

Rarely pausing to take a breath as its jumps between one dimension and set-up to the next, it’s wildly incoherent (even more so than The Fifth Element), one top of which the boyish-looking DeHann simply fails to convince as a seasoned combat veteran Major, let alone the cocky Han Solo character he’s intended to be. Nor is theresign of much sexual chemistry between him and Delevigne, although their banter has spark and the  latter does give the film a definite cool cachet as the snarky, sassy, sexy and far more self-possessed Laureline.

Besson does, of course, know enough not to take things too seriously and there’s a strong vein of humour running throughout, especially in the form of the three long nosed alien stool pigeons ready to sell information for a price, while throwaway cameos include Rutger Haeur (in a nod to Blade Runner), Herbie Hancock and Ethan Hawke. Excessive and overlong it may be, but unquestionably the most visually awesome cinema experience of the year, it’s never dull. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Birmingham Comedy Festival announces 2017 line-up

Joe Lycett

The award-winning Birmingham Comedy Festival returns this October with big names, international stars and much more (Friday 6 to Sunday 15 October 2017).

Among the acts set to appear at the 10-day event are Man Down, Cuckoo and Taskmaster star Greg Davies (9-10 Oct, Symphony Hall), Doctor Who and Little Britain actor Matt Lucas (14 Oct, Town Hall), and Birmingham’s own rising comedy hero, Joe Lycett (10 Oct, The Glee; 11 Oct, Town Hall).

Lending an international flavour are German Comedy Ambassador Henning Wehn (13-14 Oct, Town Hall), Comedy Central’s Impractical Jokers (12 Oct, Barclaycard Arena), and Australian short film festival Over The Fence (12 Oct, The Walkabout), which includes a screening of Not Sophie’s Choice starring Catherine Tate.

Meanwhile, fans of classic comedy can revel in Monty Python’s Spamalot! (3-7 Oct, New Alexandra Theatre), an afternoon of Laurel and Hardy films (14 Oct, mac Birmingham), a revival of 1960s BBC radio series Round The Horne (15 Oct, Victoria pub), and an expert recreation of Woody Allen’s early stage routines (11 Oct, The Glee).

Other highlights include cult Cold War-set comedy 5 Lesbians Eating Quiche (11-15 Oct, The Old Joint Stock Theatre), top-rated podcasting authors Scummy Mummies (7 Oct, Sutton Coldfield Town Hall), The Infinite Monkey Cage’s Robin Ince (13 Oct, Comedy Junction) and Simon Day (15 Oct, The Glee), who last appeared in the festival way back in 2002 as part of The Fast Show cast.

The festival officially kicks off with the fourth Birmingham Comedy Festival Breaking Talent Award (6 Oct, The Glee), and boasts two Free Half-Dayers (8 and 15 October). Taking place at Cherry Reds and The Victoria, on John Bright Street in Birmingham city centre, the successive Sunday afternoons see more than 16 acts perform new shows, among them Josh Pugh, improv’ troupe Foghorn Unscripted, Comedy Carousel’s Andy Robinson, and Funniest Joke of the Fringe 2016 winner Masai Graham.

The Birmingham Comedy Festival runs from Friday 6 to Sunday 15 October 2017.

For full details see: www.bhamcomfest.co.uk

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Aug 4-Thu Aug 10

NEW RELEASES

 Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (12A)

Being billed as the year’s biggest and best  3D spectacular should tell you Luc Besson’s space opera adaptation of the classic French sci fi comics that influenced Blade Runner, Star Wars and Avatar is bigger on style than substance.

The international space station having grown far beyond its original intentions to become a vast sprawling megopolis populated with hundreds of different human and alien species has been set adrift to wander the universe. Some 400 years later, things are amiss and there’s some sort of red zone at its heart that would seem to threatening its existence. To which end, government operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his lower ranked partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are charged with recovering some mysterious stolen property which, it transpires, is a cute armadillo-like creature, the last of its kind, previously seen crapping pearls in the opening sequence in which an intergalactic war winds up destroying the planet Müll, populated by the Pearls, a race of peaceful bald aliens with iridescent blue skin. All of which Valerian experiences in a  ‘dream’.

Recovering the ‘Mül Converter ’ from Igon Sirussa (John Goodman),  a Jabba the Hutt like black marketer, who’s about to sell it to one of the surviving Pearls, Valerian and Laureline find themselves plunged into an overloaded and dizzying plot involving an attempt by the Commander (Clive Owen) to cover up a past genocide and the proposed elimination of the other surviving Pearls. All of which variously involves an undercover incursion into the virtual reality Big Market, Laureline almost becoming some alien’s lunch, Valerian’s encounter with a shapeshifting burlesque glampod dancer called Bubble (Rihanna) and yet another  digital countdown to destruction. Oh, and, in-between battles, Valerian’s trying to persuade Laureline to marry him.

Rarely pausing to take a breath as its jumps between one dimension and set-up to the next, it’s wildly incoherent (even more so than The Fifth Element), one top of which the boyish-looking DeHann simply fails to convince as a seasoned combat veteran Major, let alone the cocky Han Solo character he’s intended to be. Nor is theresign of much sexual chemistry between him and Delevigne, although their banter has spark and the  latter does give the film a definite cool cachet as the snarky, sassy, sexy and far more self-possessed Laureline.

Besson does, of course, know enough not to take things too seriously and there’s a strong vein of humour running throughout, especially in the form of the three long nosed alien stool pigeons ready to sell information for a price, while throwaway cameos include Rutger Haeur (in a nod to Blade Runner), Herbie Hancock and Ethan Hawke. Excessive and overlong it may be, but unquestionably the most visually awesome cinema experience of the year, it’s never dull. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Emoji Movie: Express Yourself (U)

Basically, this is Inside Out in a Smartphone with a dash of Divergence, without the poignancy or existential philosophising.  The son of the morose Mel (Steven Wright) and Mary (Jennifer Coolidge) Meh, young Gene (T.J. Miller) is about to make his debut in the Cube as the new indifferent emoji. However, unable to control the fact that he’s actually happily upbeat and not limited to one expression when selcted, everything in Textopolis goes into meltdown, with Cube controller Smiler (Maya Rudolph) declaring him a malfunction and ordering his deletion. To which end, he and out of fashion emoji Hi-5 (James Cordon) recruit hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who, it turns out has her own secret,  to help him navigate the apps (Spotify, YouTube, etc), avoid  the Internet Trolls and getting lost in the Trash, escape into the Cloud and get reprogrammed so he can fit in. All the while trying to avoid the illegal upgrade malware Smiler’s sent to eradicate them. Meanwhile, the phone’s owner, high schooler freshman Alex, whose texts to his crush, Addie, keep going awry, decides to have it wiped and reset, prompting the obligatory race against the clock.

Retreading the message about being who you are, individuality and not being defined by one trait, as well as the usual stuff about friendship, it’s a colourful affair populated with dozens of familiar emojis, among them Poop (Patrick Stewart) and Akiko Glitter (Christina Aguilera), allowing for any number of groan-inducing puns, although the comments about how emojis and texting limit real communication seem at odds with the film’s concept per se.  It may not be deep, but it’s undeniably fun.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

England Is Mine (15)

No previews were available, but this is director Mark Gill and co-writer William Thacker’s  biopic of the pre-Smiths life of one Stephen Morrissey (Jack Lowden) and his getting together with Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston). However, given the fact they couldn’t get the rights to any of the band’s music, it essentially stops just when the story gets interesting and there’s very few scenes of the two together. It’s a bit like recalling how Lennon and McCartney met, but stopping before they started writing together or formed The Beatles. And, let’s be honest, Morrissey and Marr aren’t really as interesting as Paul and John.

So, what you get is a lot of Morrissey angst and bouts of depression growing up in 70s Manchester with his supportive mom Betty (Simone Kirby), even if it ignores the fact that, a librarian, she encouraged his literary interests along with artist friend Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) and  bandmate Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) , whose moves to London he saw as a betrayal and abandonment. Given Morrissey’s fame has faded considerably over recent years and his dubious  pro-Brexist political views and contentious Islamic statements, quite how many  will be beating a daffodil to the cinema door is open to question.  (Electric)

Maudie (15)

No previews were available, but reviews have been generally good for director Aisling Walsh’s biopic of Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis. Unfolding in the 1930’s rural Nova Scotia tell tells the story of her overcoming crippling arthritis, small town malice, her  position  as housekeeper for grouchy fisherman Everett (Ethan Hawke), and subsequent unconventional marriage,  living in a  run down one-room shack without running water or electricity, and through the friendship of Sandra (Kari Matchett), her blossoming as a painter of kittens, tulips and the like that brought her acceptance and minor celebrity status. Very much a  vehicle for Sally Hawkins who gives one of those disability-led performances (physical, facial and  verbal tics) the Academy loves. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park)

 

NOW PLAYING

47 Metres Down  (15)

Director Johannes Roberts works up  a definite sense of tension, but this is ultimately a ho hum contribution to the menaced  by sharks genre, one that delivers an audacious but ill-advised (if clearly signalled) twist in the final moments. Having been dumped by her boyfriend for being too boring, Lisa (Mandy Moore) has been taken by her free spirit sister Kate (Claire Holt) on holiday to Mexico. Here they hook up with a couple of local lads who persuade them have don scuba gear and descend into the ocean in a cage to get up close with some great whites.

Given the low rent nature of  both their adventure operator (Matthew Modine) and his ramshackle boat, it’s no surprise when the winch fails, sending the two girls plummeting 47 metres to the ocean floor, putting into motion a  race against the clock to get rescued before the air in their tanks runs out. Roberts manages to drag this out  for a decently tense hour, mining the silent dark of the underwater location and with judicious use of the sharks as an unseen presence and the shock value when they do appear (particularly effective when suddenly illuminated by a red flare). Unfortunately, the girls’ faces and expression largely hidden by the masks,  the time’s also filled with long bouts of dialogue along the lines of  “it’ll be all right”, “don’t leave me alone”, “the shark almost got me!” and, inevitably  “I’m almost out of air” and “I’m so scared we’re going to die down here.” Given the already two-dimensional  characterisation,  it might have been a much better idea had their radio mics malfunctioned too. It does the job well enough, but this is no Shallow Water. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

All Eyez On Me (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baby Driver (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Sick (15)

Taking self-reflexiveness to the extreme, Pakistani-born Chicago Muslim Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, not only co-wrote the screenplay of  the true story of how he and his wife got together, but he also plays himself opposite  Zoe Kazan as Emily (here Gardner).   Working as a  cabbie while trying to make his name as a stand-up comic, Kumail meets the equally deadpan Emily, a recent graduate, when she heckles him at one of his shows. Although neither is actively seeking a relationship, a  tentative romance develops and,  charted through evenings watching horror B movies, all is going well until Emily discovers a box of photographs of women in his room. These, it transpires, are the girls his conservative-minded mother (Zenobia Shroff) has been having ‘drop by’ for dinner since like herself  and fellow immigrant husband (Anupam Kher) and her other son,  Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), and his wife, Fatima (Shenaz Treasury), she expects him to follow tradition with an arranged marriage. Kumail dutifully goes along with  her arrangements, but, just as he pretends to pray in the basement, it’s all a charade. When he tells Naveed he’s dating a white girl, he’s reminded that their cousin was disowned by the family for doing the same thing.

However, knowing what he risks losing whatever decision he makes, before he gets a chance to work out what to do or explain things, Emily storms out and the next thing you know he finds she’s in hospital in a medically-induced coma witha rare lung condition. Which is where she remains for the movie’s middle act, during which time it introduces her parents, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter) and the more acquiescent Terry (Ray Romano), the former understandably angry at the way he’s treated her daughter. But, as they all attend on Emily as her condition gradually worsens, the hostility defuses and they and Kumail begin to bond.  As it turns out, her parents also have a relationship problem. Given the film’s background, it’s no spoiler to reveal Emily eventually wakes up and the couple get back together, but it’s the fraught journey between those two points and the reactions of Kumail’s family that provide the poignant fuel for the third act.

Alongside all this is the subplot involving Kumail and his fellow stand-ups, CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Andy Bryant) and room-mate Chris (Kurt Braunohler) looking to be selected for the upcoming Montreal Showcase and well as  Kumail’s awkward one-man show about Pakistani culture.

Reminiscent of 2014 documentary Meet The Patels, which detailed a similar culture clash scenario (without the coma), founded on superb performances throughout, its balance of comedy and drama is confidently directed by Michael Showalter . Both poignant and sharply funny, daringly introducing terrorist and even 9/11 jokes while exploring notions of identity, family, religion, racism and integration alongside its core love story  and, if not endorsing Kumail’s parents’ traditional views, at least empathising with them. Veined with an optimism that love  actually can conquer everything and the observation that life, like stand-up, is about constant improvisation, it’s easily one of the year’s best. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Captain Underpants – The First Epic Movie (U)

Having bonded over hearing the word Uranus as tots, first graders George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are firm friends with a mission to enliven school boredom with wild pranks. However, finally caught in the act by joyless principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), they face being put in separate classes to end their friendship. To prevent this, George uses a toy hypno-ring  from a cereal box to make Mr. Krupps think he’s really Captain Underpants, the decidedly dumb superhero character in red cape and white pants with a “Tra La Laaaa!” catchphrase in the comics they create together. Naturally chaos follows as he keeps switching between nice and nasty (the change triggered by splashes of water. However, with the arrival of their new Einstein-lookalike mad scientist teacher (Nick Kroll),  who, with the help of humour-challenged (“Like a chair, or a supermodel!”) class nerd Melvin, is determined to ride the world of laughter after being ridiculed because of his name, maybe, together, they can save the day and transform Krupps (who’s really just lonely) into a more pleasant person as well.

The fact that Kroll’s character is named Professor Poopypants should tell grown-ups not familiar with Dav Pilkey’s best-selling books what to expect from this animated big screen adaptation. The better news is that, although clearly aimed at the immature humour of  seven-year-olds with its giant robot toilet  with a smattering of subversive  adult jokes, it’s also  an enjoyably good-natured silly gigglefest about the power of friendship and laughter.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Cars 3 (U)

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

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

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

Dunkirk  (12A)

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

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

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

The air section, which covers just one hour, involves two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) as. mostly behind oxygen masks, they take on the Messerschmitts and Heinkels wreaking havoc on the troops and ships, the three time scales coming together for the final moments as Dawson’s boat heads towards a bombed minesweeper while Tommy and a fellow soldier (singer Harry Styles acquitting himself well) flounder in the sea after their appropriated trawler, strafed by the unseen enemy as target practice, sinks. Rounding out the cast, Kenneth Branagh gives a quietly impressive performance as the highest-ranking naval offer at the scene, while James D’Arcy is his opposite number in the Army

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

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

Girls Trip (15)

At times feeling like an exercise to prove that  African-American women getting together for a riotous weekend can be every bit as filthy – yet also poignant – as Bridesmaids or the Hangovers  series, this brings together Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and newcomer Tiffany Haddish as four college friends back in the 90s (somewhat stretching credibility given the age differences), the infamous Flossy Posse, who’ve not seen each other for five years, having lost touch as they’ve followed their separate lives and careers. Ryan Pierce (Hall) has become a best-selling self-help author in partnership with her  retired NFL hero husband Stewart (Mike Colter); former top Times journalist Sasha (Latifah) now runs a failing scandal  blog after a business partnership with Ryan fell through when she got into bed with Stewart instead;  Dina (Haddish), a  libido-rampant hot-head with no filters,  is recently  unemployed after assaulting a co-worker for using her cup; and, once a wild child,  Lisa (Pinkett Smith) is now a divorced romance-challenged mother of two nurse who lives with her mother.

The four are reunited when Ryan invited them to join her at the upcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans where she’ll be  the keynote speaker on female empowerment  and where her agent, Liz (Kate Walsh), is looking to close a deal that will set up her and Stewart with a lucrative product line and talk show. This is being sold on her You Can Have It All ethos and her perfect marriage. Except Sasha has a paparazzi shot of Stewart cheating with Instagram model Simone (Deborah Ayorinde), an affair Dina can’t stop herself revealing to Ryan. As it turns out, she’s aware of it and argues that the pair of them are working things out, so why let it spoil their weekend, although Dina’s haranguing of Stewart has got them thrown out of their five star hotel and shacked up in a cheap flea pit  where some leary old bloke in search of his regular hooker flashes himself at the window. That’s just the first of many many moments involving male genitalia, either in reference, in the flesh or through Dina’s simulation of the, ahem, grapefruit technique (if you don’t know, don’t ask).

Essentially a vulgarity-enhanced black riff on Sex and the City, although intermittently taking time out to address friendship bonds, relationship cracks and lost self-belief, the bulk of  this wildly overlong largely entails moving from one crude or rowdy sequence to the next. Some of these, such as the girls tripping on absinthe at a nightclub, are hilarious, others, such as Pinkett Smith urinating on a crowd while hanging from a  trip wire between a New Orleans street are decidedly not.

The plot is as formulaic as the characters are generic (Haddish is basically the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis’ overbearingly irresponsible character in The Hangover), but the four leads give a cocktail of ebullient and nuanced performances above and beyond such tired clichés (there’s even a dance off), Pinkett Smith especially good.

En route to its sentimental happy ending, it’s symptomatic of the film’s ‘noise’ that director Malcolm Lee feels the need to stuff it to overflowing with cameos from the likes of Common, Sean Combs, Mike Epps,  Ne-Yo, Morris Chestnut and, clearly with more tolerance than The House filmmakers, even a  brief glimpse of Mariah Carey.

Some it works, a lot of it doesn’t and you have to ask whether a comedy  with a  white director and cast could ever have gotten away with the liberal use of the N word like this does and, a mark of its uneven nature,  it undermines its feminist principles when it seems to say that all women need to get them out of a funk is big dick. Still, cheaper than a pair of Manolo Blahniks I guess. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

It Comes At Night (15)

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

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

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

 

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

 

 

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jul 28-Thu Aug 3

 

NEW RELEASES

The Big Sick (15)

Taking self-reflexiveness to the extreme, Pakistani-born Chicago Muslim Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, not only co-wrote the screenplay of  the true story of how he and his wife got together, but he also plays himself opposite  Zoe Kazan as Emily (here Gardner).   Working as an Uber cabbie while trying to make his name as a stand-up comic, Kumail meets the equally deadpan Emily, a recent graduate, when she heckles him at one of his shows. Although neither is actively seeking a relationship, a  tentative romance develops, albeit following the two day rule (no dates on consecutive days), and,  charted through a series of evenings watching horror B movies, all is going well until Emily discovers a box of photographs of women in his room. These, it transpires, are the girls his conservative-minded mother (Zenobia Shroff) has been having ‘drop by’ for dinner since he, like she and fellow immigrant husband (Anupam Kher) and her other son,  Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), and his wife, Fatima (Shenaz Treasury), is required by tradition to have an arranged marriage. Kumail dutifully goes along with his mother’s arrangements, but, just as he pretends to pray in the basement, it’s just a charade. When he tells Naveed he’s dating a white girl, he’s reminded that their cousin was disowned by the family for doing the same thing.

However, knowing what he risks losing whatever decision he makes, before he gets a chance to work out what to do or explain things, Emily storms out and the next thing you know, he’s getting a  call to say she’s in hospital where the doctor tells him she has a rare lung condition and they’re putting her into a medically-induced coma. Which is where she remains for the movie’s middle act, during which time it introduces her parents, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter) and the more acquiescent Terry (Ray Romano), the former understandably angry at the way he’s treated her daughter. But, as they all attend on Emily as her condition gradually worsens, the hostility defuses and they and Kumail begin to bond.  As it turns out, her parents also have a relationship problem. Given the film’s background, it’s no spoiler to reveal Emily eventually wakes up and the couple get back together, but it’s the fraught journey between those two points and the reactions of Kumail’s family that provide the poignant fuel for the third act.

Alongside all this is the subplot involving Kumail and his fellow stand-ups, CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Andy Bryant) and room-mate Chris (Kurt Braunohler) looking to be selected for the upcoming Montreal Showcase and well as  Kumail’s awkward one-man show about Pakistani culture.

Reminiscent of 2014 documentary Meet The Patels, which detailed a similar culture clash scenario (without the coma), founded on superb performances throughout (including a  brief turn by Vella Lovell as one of the potential brides who gives the view from the other side of the table), it’s confidently directed by Michael Showalter in its balance of comedy and drama. Both poignant and sharply funny (although, at times, having a touch of sitcom about it), daringly introducing terrorist and even 9/11 jokes while exploring notions of identity, family, religion, racism and integration alongside its core love story  and, if not endorsing Kumail’s parents’ traditional views, at least empathising with them. Veined with an optimism that love  actually can conquer everything and the observation that life, like stand-up, is about constant improvisation, it’s easily one of the year’s best. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Everyman; Vue Star City)

 

47 Metres Down  (15)

Director Johannes Roberts works up  a definite sense of tension, but even so this is ultimately a rather ho hum contribution to the menaced  by sharks genre, one that delivers an audacious but ill-advised (if clearly signalled) twist in the final moments. Having been dumped by her boyfriend for being too boring, risk-averse Lisa (Mandy Moore) has been taken by her free spirit sister Kate (Claire Holt) on holiday to Mexico. Here they hook up with a couple of local lads who persuade them have a go at donning scuba gear and descending into the ocean in a cage and getting up close with some great whites.

Given the low rent nature of  both their adventure operator (Matthew Modine) and his ramshackle boat, it’s no surprise when the winch fails, sending the two girls plummeting 47 metres to the ocean floor, putting into motion a  race against the clock to get rescued before the air in their tanks runs out. Roberts, who also co-wrote the screenplay,  manages to drag this out  for a decently tense hour, mining the silent dark of the underwater location and with judicious use of the sharks as an unseen presence and the shock value when they do appear (particularly effective when suddenly illuminated by a red flare). Unfortunately, the girls’ faces and expression largely hidden by the masks,  the time’s also filled with long bouts of dialogue that with lines that rarely go much beyond “it’ll be all right”, “don’t leave me alone”, “the shark almost got me!” and, inevitably  “I’m almost out of air” and “I’m so scared we’re going to die down here.” Given the already two-dimensional  characterisation,  it might have been a much better idea had their radio mics malfunctioned too. It does the job well enough, but this is no Shallow Water. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Captain Underpants – The First Epic Movie (U)

Having bonded over hearing the word Uranus as tots, first graders George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are firm friends with a mission to enliven school boredom with wild pranks. However, finally caught in the act by joyless principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), they face being put in separate classes to end their friendship. To prevent this, George uses a toy hypno-ring  from a cereal box to make Mr. Krupps think he’s really Captain Underpants, the decidedly dumb superhero character in red cape and white pants with a “Tra La Laaaa!” catchphrase in the comics they create together. Naturally chaos follows as he keep switching and forth between nice and nasty (the change triggered by splashes of water. However, with the arrival of their new Einstein-lookalike mad scientist teacher (Nick Kroll),  who, with the help of humour-challenged (“Like a chair, or a supermodel!”) class nerd Melvin, is determined to ride the world of laughter after being ridiculed because of his name, maybe, together, they can save the day and transform Krupps (whose really just lonely) into a more pleasant person as well.

The fact that Kroll’s character is named Professor Poopypants should tell grown ups not familiar with Dav Pilkey’s best-selling books what to expect from this animated big screen adaptation. The better news is that, although clearly aimed at the immature humour of  seven-year-olds with its giant robot toilet  with a smattering of subversive  adult jokes, it’s also  an enjoyably good-natured silly gigglefest about the power of friendship and laughter.   (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Girls Trip (15)

At times feeling like an exercise to prove that  a film about African-American women getting together for a riotous weekend can be every bit as filthy – yet also poignant – as Bridesmaids or the Hangovers  series this brings together Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and newcomer Tiffany Haddish as four college friends back in the 90s (somewhat stretching credibility given the age differences), the infamous Flossy Posse, who have not seen each other for five years, having lost touch as they’ve followed their separate lives and careers. Ryan Pierce (Hall) has become a best-selling self-help author in partnership with her a retired NFL hero husband Stewart (Mike Colter), former top Times journalist Sasha (Latifah) now runs a failing scandal  blog after a business partnership with Ryan fell through when she got into bed with Stewart instead,  Dina (Haddish), a  libido-rampant hot-head with no filters,  is recently  unemployed after assaulting a co-worker for using her cup, and, once a wild child,  Lisa (Pinkett Smith) is now a divorced romance-challenged mother of two nurse who lives with her mother.

The four are reunited when Ryan invited them to join her at at the upcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans where she’ll be  the keynote speaker on female empowerment  and where her agent, Liz (Kate Walsh) is looking to close a deal that will set up her and Stewart with a lucrative product line and talk show. Of course, this is being sold on her You Can Have It All ethos and her perfect marriage. Except Sasha has a paparazzi shot of Stewart cheating with Instagram model Simone (Deborah Ayorinde), an affair Dina can’t stop herself revealing to Ryan. As it turns out, she’s aware of it and argues that the pair of them are working things out, so why let it spoil their weekend, although Dina’s haranguing of Stewart has got them thrown out of their five start hotel and shacked up in a cheap flea pit  where some leary old bloke in search of his regular hooker flashes himself at the window. That’s just the first of many many moments involving male genitalia, either in reference in the flesh or though Dina’s simulation of the, ahem, grapefruit technique (if you don’t know, don’t ask).

Essentially a vulgarity-enhanced black riff on Sex and the City, although intermittently taking time out to address friendship bonds, relationship cracks and lost self-belief, the bulk of  this wildly overlong (and seemingly never-ending film) largely entails moving from one crude or rowdy sequence to the next. Some of these, such as the girls tripping on absinthe at a nightclub, are hilarious, others, such as Pinkett Smith abandoning any sense of dignity in urinating on a crowd while hanging from a  trip wire between a New Orleans street are decidedly not.

The plot is as formulaic as the characters are generic (Haddish is basically the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis’ overbearingly annoying and irresponsible character in The Hangover who turns out to be the most loyal of all), but the four leads give a cocktail of ebullient and nuanced performances above and beyond such tired clichés (there’s even a dance off), Pinkett Smith especially good, while Larenz Tate is nicely soulful as Ryan’s bass playing old flame.

En route to its sentimental happy ending, it’s symptomatic of the film’s ‘noise’ that director Malcolm Lee feels the need to stuff it to overflowing with mostly self-playing cameos from the likes of Common, Sean Combs, Mike Epps,  Ne-Yo, Morris Chestnut and, clearly with more tolerance than The House filmmakers, even a  brief glimpse of Maria Carey.

Some it works, a lot of it doesn’t and you have to ask whether a comedy  with a  white director and cast could ever have gotten away with the liberal use of the N word like this does and, a mark of its uneven nature,  it undermines its feminist principles when it seems to say that all women need to get them out of a funk is big dick. Still, cheaper than a pair of Manolo Blahniks I guess. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Last Word (12A)

In a change of pace from previous thrillers Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies, director Marc Pellington wallows in sentimental cross-generational female bonding dramady in which Shirley Maclaine delivers an irrepressible turn as Harriet Lauler, an impossibly wealthy but  curmudgeonly octogenarian divorcee, once the head of a powerful LA ad agency,  who, impressed by the way she can the most loathed sound beloved and saintly, enlists Anne (Amanda Seyfried), the obituary writer on the struggling local paper to write one for her. Except she wants it written while she’s still around and duly furnishes a list of names for quotes.

Inevitably, other than her long suffering ex (Philip Baker Hall), no one, not even her former priest, has a good word to say about her. Thereby prompting the film to set off on its journey to fulfil what she’s indentified as the four constituents of a good obit,  loved by family, admired by co-workers; having  touched someone’s life for the better and  a wildcard achievement, It’s  a legacy makeover which entails getting back in touch with her estranged and equally intransigent daughter (Anne Heche) and becoming mentor to Brenda (Ann’Jewel Lee), a feisty at-risk the 9-year-old  from the projects, not to mention landing a gig as drive-time radio DJ (she’s a big fan of The Kinks- cute Waterloo Sunset for that tissue moment) and fixing up the station boss as Anne’s  potential boyfriend.  Harriet’s transformation from dragon to nurturing angel is as predictable as you’d expect, but at least Maclaine’s  acerbic, caustic comedic turn makes it easier to endure the mush. (Showcase Walsall; Mon-Thu; MAC)

A Man Call Ove (15)

As chance – or programming – would have it, this Swedish comedy-drama follows pretty much the same arc as the Maclaine film. Based  on a  Swedish best-seller, it concerns the titular Ove (Rolf Lassgård), a grumpy, tightly regimented old coot who gives everyone in the community where he lives – and was the association’s president until his now incapacitated friend was voted into his place – a hard time. Recently widowed and sacked from his job of  43 years, he decides to end it all, but his attempts are constantly interrupted by the  neighbours. Not least, a couple of gays and the new arrivals, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars),  a pregnant Iranian refugee, her husband and two kids, who insist on trying to be his friend.

As with Pellington’s film it follows a predictable route, but does so in a less manipulative and endearingly quirkier manner (the Saab/Volvo rivalry that ends a friendship is inspired), Ove’s gradual warming to the friendship on offer punctuated by flashbacks to his youth  (here played by Filip Berg), the meet cute and courtship of his future wife , Sonja (Ida Engvoll), and the tragedies that strike both her and his father, all of which serve to explain why and how he has become the sort of man he is with his distrust of bureaucracy and insistence on the rules. It may well serve as a metaphor for Sweden’s transition into the modern era, but it’s as a gentle celebration of humanity that it scores highest. (Fri-Sun:MAC)

The Wall (15)

No previews were available, but director Doug Liman’s work is usually well worth a  look. This is a claustrophobic chamber piece set during the Iraq War, in which two Army snipers, Matthews (John Cena) and Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), are given the job of  scouting a pipeline where workers  have been killed  by an expert sniper dubbed “Juba” (Laith Nakli). Inevitably, they too become targets, Matthews critically wounded and left bleeding in the open field with  Isaac hit in the leg and forced to take cover behind a crumbling brick wall near the pipeline. With Juba having hijacked Isaac’s radio frequency, the film becomes a  tense game of cat and mouse, as Juba proceeds to taunt his target while Isaac has to tend to his injuries, look after Matthews, and find a way to take the sniper down. Confined to just two men and a single location, with a screenplay that addresses  the moral and personal issues prompted by the War, and war in general.  (Vue Star City)

Wish Upon (15)

No previews were available, but this sounds like yet another variation on the horror genre concept explored by the likes of Hellraiser, Final Destination, Ouija et al. in that it involves premonitions and a box (here a musical one promising to grant seven wishes) which, when opened, unleashes all manner of terrors. Discovered in a  dumpster by her dad (Ryan Phillipe), high-schooler Clare (Joey King)  uses it to take revenge on a school bitch and get the boy she fancies to fall for her. Her wishes come true, but there are consequences for others, the inscription finally being translated as “When the music ends, the blood price is paid.” Don’t rush. (Cineworld NEC; Vue Star City)

 

NOW PLAYING

All Eyez On Me (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baby Driver (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beguiled  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cars 3 (U)

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

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

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

Dunkirk  (12A)

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

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

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

The air section, which covers just one hour, involves two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) as. mostly behind oxygen masks, they take on the Messerschmitts and Heinkels wreaking havoc on the troops and ships, the three time scales coming together for the final moments as Dawson’s boat heads towards a bombed minesweeper while Tommy and a fellow soldier (singer Harry Styles acquitting himself well) flounder in the sea after their appropriated trawler, strafed by the unseen enemy as target practice, sinks. Rounding out the cast, Kenneth Branagh gives a quietly impressive performance as the highest-ranking naval offer at the scene, while James D’Arcy is his opposite number in the Army

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

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

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman (12A)

Wonder Woman (2017)
Gal Gadot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NEW RELEASES

Dunkirk  (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NOW PLAYING

All Eyez On Me (15)

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

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

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

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

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

Alone in Berlin (12A)

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

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

 

Baby Driver (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beguiled  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cars 3 (U)

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

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

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

 

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

 

 

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

NEW RELEASES

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Beguiled  (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cars 3 (U)

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

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

 

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All Eyez On Me (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baby Driver (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baywatch (15)

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

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

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

Churchill (PG)

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

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

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

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

 

Hampstead (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

The House (15)

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

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

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

 

It Comes At Night (15)

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

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

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

 

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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

 

NEW RELEASES

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

It Comes At Night (15)

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

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

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

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

 

NOW PLAYING

All Eyez On Me (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Alone in Berlin (12A)

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

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

Baby Driver (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baywatch (15)

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

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

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

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with  a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Reel; Vue Star City)

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

The House (15)

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

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

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

 

 

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Man-free festivals – Segregation that the Gender Deserves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

NEW RELEASES

Baby Driver (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone in Berlin (12A)

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

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

 

All Eyez On Me (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Despicable Me 3 (U)

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

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

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

 

The House (15)

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

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

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

Risk (15) 

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

 

NOW PLAYING

Baywatch (15)

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

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

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

 

Churchill (PG)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Gifted (12A)

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

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

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

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

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

Hampstead (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

 

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases

 

NEW RELEASES

Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Henry (12A)

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

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

Hampstead (12A)

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

NOW PLAYING

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

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

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

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

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

Churchill (PG)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frantz (12A)

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

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

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

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

Gifted (12A)

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

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

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

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

The Graduate (15)

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

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

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

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

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

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

Mad To Be Normal (15)

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

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

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

 

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shack (12A)

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

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

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

Snatched (15

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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