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MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Sept 15-Thu Sept 21

 

NEW RELEASES

Mother!  (18)

It certainly earns its exclamation mark! Never one for  conservative or safe, writer-director Darren Aronofsky pushes the boat out with this mindfuck of a psychological thriller that throws in haunted house horrors, biblical allegory (Cain and Abel and the plagues of Egypt included), relationship drama, home invasion and even a kitchen sink. It opens on a hallucinatory scene of  a woman burning alive, followed by a dream sequence involving a large red-veined crystal and the charred house gradually restoring itself before, finally, the camera pans in on Jennifer Lawrence waking up in bed and saying ‘baby?

Never given a  name, she’s married to Javier Barden’s equally unnamed and older character, a famous poet suffering rom writer’s block, while she’s being restoring his isolated and previously ruined old  house to try and get his juices flowing again.  An early clue that it isn’t going to be especially straightforward comes when she puts her hands on the wall and has visions of a sort of beating organ inside them. When she gets anxious she retreats to the bathroom to take some sort of yellow powder. One night, they get a visitor, a man (Ed Harris) claiming to be a doctor who says he was told he could get a room. Bardem invites him to stay, enraptured with the stories he tells him, though Lawrence is clearly not happy about this.  The next morning along the man’s disrespectful wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who quickly taps into the unspoken but fraught  issue of  Lawrence and Barden not having kids.  Lawrence is even more unsettled by their unwanted guests when their two sons (Domhall and Brian Gleeson) turn up, quarrelling over dad’s will. Things get ugly, someone dies,  a wake gets out of hand, the floor and walls bleed, Javier writes another bestseller, she gets pregnant and suddenly there’s an army of fans descending on the place, to his delight and her anger. Things turn apocalyptic, people riot, tearing the place apart for relics of the great man,  the army crashes  in shooting. What happens to the  baby is for strong stomachs only.

It’s operatically delirious and frequently surreal  stuff that has Lawrence, from whose perspective the entire thing is seen,  getting increasingly desperate and intense (particularly in the many extreme close-ups) and the creepily smiling and increasingly callous Barden possessed of a demented good humour and cheer to allcomers, basking in their admiration. Cinephiles will enjoy picking apart nods to the likes of Rebecca, The Shining,   Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Exterminating Angel and much more, others will just wonder what the hell’s going on.

At the end of the day,  however, it boils down to Aronofsky’s recurring themes, specifically selfish, consuming nature of the act of creation, the idolatrous and destructive nature of fame in which the artist draws on the love of others like a sort of vampire and is willing to sacrifice (here quite literally) those close to him to fuel his creativity.  That by way of parenthood, trophy objects and the male ego. It’s a real mutha! (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Electric;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

American Assassin (18)

With the established stars of action movies now starting to get on a bit, Hollywood’s becoming increasingly desperate to find new and younger blood on whom to build franchises. Hence Michal Cuesta’s adaptation of Vince Flynn’s airport lounge pulp page turner knocking a decade or two off  its hero, Mitch Rapp, so as to cast Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien.

Opening with a scene that’s likely to be something of  raw nerve for many, Rapp is wounded and sees his girlfriend, to whom he’s just proposed, murdered when a bunch of armed Islamist terrorists start shooting up the Ibiza beach where they’re holidaying.  Fast forward 18 months and, recovered but seething with barely repressed rage, now sporting healthy face fuzz, Rapp has mastered  gun and martial arts skills  and learned Arabic so that he can infiltrate the Libyan terrorist cell responsible and take out them and their leader.  What he doesn’t know is that he’s being monitored by the CIA, who swoop in and do the job for him. Then. back in the USA, he’s invited by cool, no nonsense CIA  Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who reckons he has the exact psychological profile she seeks in a killing machine, to join her black ops team. So, it’s off to the woods for some boot camp training under the command of hard-bitten ex-Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (a suitably taciturn Michael Keaton). Meanwhile, Kennedy and her boss (David Suchet) have been meeting with some top level Iranians regarding the theft of weapons grade plutonium from Russia and ascertained that the man responsible has arranged to acquire a nuclear trigger, so he duly despatches Hurley, Rapp and fellow trainee Victor (Birmingham’s Scott Atkins), hooking up with Turkish agent Annika (Shiva Negar),  to take the arms dealer and the thief and recover the plutonium.

Needless to say, things go pear-shaped,  Rapp ignoring orders and taking off to finish the mission. Naturally, things get more complicated when it turns out the one who stole the plutonium calls himself Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) and is actually one of Hurley’s former protégés gone rogue and is playing to provide the Iranians with everything they need, scientist included, to make a nuke to attack Israel

Thus the stage is set for another maverick race against the clock  complete with several twists and reveals in the final stretch that steers this away from the  Islam-bashing narrative it first seems.

The result of four screenwriters, it’s fairly generic and cliché-bound, complete with the chiselled dialogue you might expect along with the stoicism in the face of pain patriotism (Keaton figures in a particularly nasty torture scene) and the repeated mantra about not making it personal. It’s not big on character depth or development, but, variously unfolding in Warsaw, Istanbul, Malta and Rome, it delivers the limited action sequences in workmanlike manner, building up to the big CGI effects climax, doing the job efficiently enough to ensure the sequel promised in the final shot.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom,; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Jungle Bunch (U)

We’ve had a kung-fu panda, and now here’s a kung-fu penguin. That’ll be Maurice, who lives in the jungle and, raised by his adoptive  tiger mom, thinks he’s one too. Many years ago, she was part of The Champs,  a team of heroes who saved the jungle from deranged koala Igor and his crab sidekick. But now, years later, they’ve disbanded and Igor is back, determined to destroy the jungle using explosive mushrooms. So, now it’s up to Maurice, who, to be honest, isn’t the world’s most skilful kung-fu artist,  and his new team of misfits, Junior his adopted tiger fish son, Gilbert the tarsier, his would be  lover Batricia the bat, Miguel the not entirely with it gorilla, and Al and Bob the sarcastic toads, to stop him. Adapted from the children’s TV series, it never rises to even the lower heights of Pixar and their like, but it’s colourful and fun enough to keep undemanding six-year-olds happy. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Victoria and Abdul  (PG)

An unofficial sequel to Mrs. Brown, director Stephen Frears persuades Judi Dench to reprise her role as Queen Victoria, approaching the end of her reign and set several years on from John Madden’s 1997 film in which starred opposite Billy Connolly as the Scottish Highlander with whom she struck up an unlikely and close friendship.  This is pretty much the same story, except instead of Brown we have Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), disparagingly referred to as a brown Mr.Brown by Baroness Churchill (Olivoa Williams), one of the Royal Household. A lowly prison clerk in Agra, he’s chosen, on account of his height, to travel to London and present the queen with a ceremonial coin along with the shorter Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar, ultimately sidelined), a fellow Muslim drafted in as a replacement after an accident with an elephant.

Dressed up in what Royal official’s version of Indian regalia, Abdul’s told not to make eye contact during the presentation at one of the  many lavish dinners. Naturally, he does, catching the queen’s eye (“he’s rather handsome, she remarks) and finding himself and Mohammed enlisted as her personal retainers.  Before long, he’s teaching her Urdu and becoming her  “Munshi,” or teacher, inspiring and delighting her with all things Indian, since, while she may be Empress of India, she’s never been allowed to visit for risj of assassination.

As Abdul becomes ever closer and rises in position to become a member of the  household with a cynical Mohammed as his own servant,  bringing over his wife and mother-in-law  (in full burqa) and being installed in his own ‘cottage’, needless to say, fuelled by racism and snobbery,  the Queen’s advisers, among them head of household Sir Henry Ponsonby   (Tim Pigott-Smith), her doctor  (Paul Higgins), the PM (Michael Gmabon) and her eldest son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), duly take umbrage at this Indian, and a commoner and a Muslim at that, having such sway over her. When she decides to knight him, revolt ensues.

Based on Karim’s memoirs, discovered in 2010 (Bertie allegedly destroyed  all references to him and his mother), it’s lush, picturesque and generally light (as well as having Simon Callow cameo as Puccini), but, the political and (and not always accurate) historical threads are little more than lip service to a platonic summer/winter friendship and, while Dench is again magnificent as the lonely monarch finding joy again, firing up to exercise her royal command when faced with dissent, the film never really gives Fazal  any substantial depth or background to work with, leaving himl to basically just smile a lot.  Saccharine with some bowel movement jokes, it’s pleasant and once or twice  quite moving, it just isn’t very interesting. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

NOW PLAYING

American Made (15)

In 1978, tapped for smuggling illegal Cuban cigars, TWA pilot Barry Seal was approached by the CIA to run secret surveillance missions over Colombia, a success that, through the early 80s,  led to him becoming a bag man between the CIA and Nicaragua’s General Noriega, delivering pay offs in return for information on Communist operations in South America. Then, he was approached by the Medelin Cartel, the biggest drugs operation in Colombia, headed up by Pablo Escobar, who recruited him to transport their cocaine to  the United States. Then, further concerned about the Communist-run Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the CIA got him to fly arms to the supposedly opposing Contras, except instead, he ended up flying the guns to the Cartel  who armed their forces and  then got the Contras to smuggle cocaine into America. Before long Seal, who by now had been relocated by the CIA from Louisiana to Mena in smalltown Arkansas  was making so much money he was having to set up any number of front businesses to launder it, and even then he was still burying it in the garden and stuffing it into cupboards. And even when it went pear-shaped, and he was being pursued variously by state police, the FBI, CIA  and the DEA, he was still able to come out on top.

Unfolding between 1985 top 1986, it was one of the biggest covert operations ever run by the US government. His story’s been told before, but, screenwriter Gary Spinelli taking a cue from GoodFellas,  never as well or as entertainingly as here by director Doug Liman (whose father investigated the Iran-Contra affair) with a permagrin Tom Cruise donning the aviator sunglasses as Seals. Played with an eye on the comedic element in the whole situation (rather akin to the recent similarly-themed War Dogs), it romps from one implausible but real scenario to the next as Seal’s ‘business’ empire continues to expand. Although initially wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) is oblivious to Barry’s double life, but when you’ve got wads of dollar bills all over the house, it’s hard to keep things that secret and she readily takes to the  wealth and the life, although things almost come crashing down thanks her to her self-serving slacker brother (Caleb Landry Jones) who reckons he can deal himself an easy hand in the cash flow.

Not until the final act when, now working for the White House and Colonel Oliver North, he’s inadvertently outed as betraying the Cartel and becomes a marked man, while the Iran-Contra scandal blows up in the government’s face does it really involve any real tension, and even then, as he moves from motel to motel, recording the videotapes that would eventually reveal his story (and provide the film’s to camera framing device), it still manages to play for  edgy laughs as, each morning, he wonders if his car will explode.

Following the disappointment of The Mummy and a series of autopilot Jack Reacher  turns, Cruise is on peak form here, bringing a winning charm and charisma to the film’s anti-hero embodiment of the American Dream on speed. Liman’s also well served by a solid supporting turn from Domhnall Gleeson as Seal’s CIA handler Monty Shafer who gets to bask in the reflected glory of his protégé’s successes while turning a knowing blind eye to extracurricular activities as long as they serve to further the political agenda, and burning any trail when compromised. There’s evidence of some edit room chops (Jesse Plemons’ local sheriff and his suspicious wife  seemingly the biggest victims), but even so the film flows at an exhilarating rush, making it easily Cruise’s best since Collateral.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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 farmhouse 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  a 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, things 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, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous instalments, 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Odeon Birmingham, 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.   (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; 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. (Reel; Showcase Walsall)

 

The Dark Tower (12A)

When Robert Browning wrote his epic ballad Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came he could have no idea that it, along with Arthurian legends, Lord of the Ring and Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,  would prove the inspiration for Stephen King’s eight part multi-genre series about  the struggle between Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers (read knights), whose sworn duty is to protect the Dark Tower, which stands at the middle of the multiverse  protecting it from the demons and darkness seeking to enter and destroy it.

Nor could he have imagined what a lumberingly uninvolving and incoherent 95 minute feature director Nikolaj Arcel would make of the first volume which, compressing elements from the entire series, pits Roland (Idris Elba) against evil sorcerer the Man in Black, who he knows by the not entirely scary name of Walter (Mathew McConaughey). For reasons never  properly explained, Walter (sniggerly surnamed o’Dim in the novel) is out to destroy the tower, to which end he’s using the Taheen, his rat-featured underlings, known as Skins because of their fake human faces, to abduct children from the other assorted worlds and use their latent psychic powers, termed ‘the shine’, as energy bolts.

On Earth, or keynote Earth, New York adolescent Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having troubling nightmares involving, well, all of the above, which, of course, no-one, especially loving mom (Katheryn Winnick), and not so loving step-dad, believe. Jake, apparently is pure shine, and just what Walter’s been looking for.  However, he manages to give his would-be captors the slip and discovers  a portal that enables him to cross to Mid-World, a sort of feudal post-apocalyptic version of Earth, only to find his would-be hero in a depressive funk after Walter killed his dad (Dennis Haysbert), resigned to having lost the battle and the inevitable doom of the universe. No longer in the Gunslinger creed that ““He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father,” he just wants to kill Walter.

Naturally, Jake reignites Roland’s spark, leading to a rambling fantasy western narrative that variously crosses between the two worlds as cosmic good takes on cosmic evil. Despite the deaths of any number of characters, there’s no emotional tug to be felt nor does the developing son and surrogate father bond between the two unlikely allies much convince. Elba looks nifty in his leathers and gun belt, his gun apparently forced from the steel of Excalibur, but his mind never seems to be much engaged with the narrative (given the clunky dialogue. that’s hardly surprising), though, sporting spiky black hair, long coat and smug icy smile,  McConaughey is clearly having a gleeful time, nonchalantly offing people by just telling them to stop breathing,. Despite being stuff with shine, Taylor, meanwhile, radiates almost no presence at all.

Indifferently directed and featuring equally indifferent CGI, there’s a couple of  zippy shoot’em up sequences, but nothing to get overly excited about and, clearly the result of some desperate cutting room surgery,  the film does pretty much nothing with the fleeting appearances of  a couple of demons and a red cloud, before finally hobbling to its anti-climax and the overly optimistic suggestion that this is just the start of a series. (Cineworld NEC)

 

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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza)

Detroit (15)

In the early hours of Sunday, July 23, during the hot summer of 1967, the police raided an all-black after-hours club in Detroit. Unable to access the rear of the building, the  men and women were taken out the front to be loaded into the police wagons. A crowd gathered and, despite pleas by the local Congressman for calm, the already brittle racial tension swiftly escalated into riots and looting, setting the almost exclusively African-American neighbourhood ablaze. A curfew was imposed and members of Michigan’s National Guard were brought in to help restore order.

Across town, Larry Reed (Algee Smith), lead singer with aspiring unsigned R&B outfit The Dramatics, smarting at having the group’s big-break at a show featuring Martha & The Vandellas cut short on account of the riots, takes a room at the Algiers Motel, and he and his younger friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore), hook up with a couple of white girls (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) looking to experience the sexual revolution. They  all go up to a room for drinks where, illustrating a familiar white cop black guy scenario,  one of the guests Carl (Jason Mitchell) pulls a prank with a starting pistol and then thinks it might be fun to shoot it out of the window at the National Guard. At this point everything goes to shit, as, believing there to be a sniper in the motel, bigot cops Krauss (a terrifyingly chilling Will Poulter) and Demens (Jack Reynor), storm the place and line all the guests, among them a Vietnam veteran , (Anthony Mackie), against the wall demanding to know who fired the gun and where it is. Before long, Carl is lying dead and things are going from bad to worse as Krauss, a baby-faced  bullying racist with a power complex, who’s already shot one looter in the back and is disgusted at what he assumes to be miscegenation,  seeks to torture and terrorise the others into giving up the shooter. Inevitably, either because they don’t know or are unwilling to talk, no one is saying anything. Also involved in this increasingly tense situation is Melvin Dismukes (a magnetically underplaying John Boyega), a black security guard who seeks to try and diffuse things, but  also wary of getting too involved.

Based on historical records, including news reports, eye-witness testimonies and the subsequent murder trials of  Krauss and his two fellow officers, albeit with a fair dose of dramatic licence, working from a  screenplay Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted an electrifying and often uncomfortable drama about racial divides and police terrorism that, adopting documentary style techniques, both turns a spotlight on largely forgotten events and the domestic terrorism power keg that is a divided America today.

Combining archival footage with dramatic recreation, Bigelow gradually ratchets up the claustrophobia and horror until it explodes in sudden harrowing violence before the judicial proceedings aftermath that made a mockery of justice. It will, no doubt, be held up as an example of the police brutality that has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, but, as a microcosm of racial violence and prejudices embracing the fears and attitudes of whites and blacks alike, it’s about far more than that.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Electric; Odeon Broadway Plaza)

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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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)

A Ghost Story (15)  

Reteaming Ain’t Them 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. (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. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

God’s Own Country (15)

Dubbed  a  Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain, first time writer-director as Francis Lee unfolds the relationship between teenager Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), who, forced to stay behind and look after the family farm while his friends take off  for pastures new when his hardened, seemingly joyless father (Ian Hart) suffers a stroke, numbs his pain and frustrations with  binge drinking and casual sex with women he picks up at the livestock auctions. But then, one day, along comes Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), a reserved, quietly soulful Romanian migrant who his dad  hires for the  lambing season and whose presence prompts unexpected feelings in Johnny and a questioning of his sexuality, as well as his own relationship to the land,  as they work together repairing walls up on the moors.

Driven by terrific  lead performances, with solid support from Hart and Gemma Jones as Johnny’s stoic grandmother, it confidently balances its unsentimental but tender coming out romantic drama narrative with a gritty, almost documentary style depiction of the tough and often brutal realities of farm life, not least Gheorghe’s skinning of a dead lamb  so he can put the pelt on another, tricking the dead animal’s mother into feeding it. However, learning that his father will never recover sufficiently to resume running the farm, brings an almost catastrophic pressure to bear. It’s slow, but absorbingly affecting. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (15)

Ryan Reynolds teams with Samuel L Jackson for an empty but thoroughly entertaining variation on the mismatched enemies turned buddies road trip  that involves the former’s bodyguard, Michael Bryce, and the latter’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, in a  race against the clock to travel from Manchester to The Hague. The purpose being that Kincaid has been persuaded to give testimony  at the war crimes trial of genocidal Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (a suitably evil Gary Oldman) in exchange for immunity and freedom for his imprisoned wife (Selma Hayek, marvellously foul-mouthed in her  few scenes). Since that means that, with the help of the inevitable Interpol traitor (revealed early as Joaquim de Almeid’s Assistant Director), Dukhovich’s thugs are out to ensure he never gets there, Bryce has been brought in to facilitate self-passage.

He’s less than enthusiastic since, as the prologue reveals, formerly Triple A-rated, he’s slipped considerably down the personal security food chain since one of his clients was popped after safely boarding a plane. He’s still good at his job, but he’s gone from top of the range Jags to battered jalopies and from top diplomats and arms dealers to Richard E Grant’s cameoing coke-dealing London businessman.  On top of which, Kincaid has tried to kill him 28 times and , following an assault on the convoy transporting him, the Interpol agent whose enlisted him is Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung), his former girlfriend whom he blames for selling him out on that airport job. The truth about which provides a particularly amusing reveal in a film that balances lethal and laughter in equal measure.

Essentially, it boils down to a series of  hops between cities (Coventry included) en route to the Amsterdam courtroom, including hitching  lift with a busload of nuns, punctuated by constant banter between the two, innumerable shoot outs and action sequences and some particularly thrilling high speeds chances, most notably one involving Amsterdam’s canals, vans, a motorbike and speedboat.

Jackson provides the larger than life side of the pairing, Kincaid regarding himself as one of the good guys and proving to be a hopeless romantic at heart (a flashback reveals how he and Sonia met and bonded when she slashed a guy’s carotid in a Cuban bar-fight) as he offers relationship advice to wounded soul Bryce, Reynolds handling the deadpan sarcasm and dry quips with Bryce’s plays safe approach constantly undermined by Kincaid’s street-smart bull by the horns attitude.

The whole romance element is, frankly, fairly superfluous to requirements other than as motivation drivers, and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the spark and interplay between the two stars, who are clearly having a  lot of fun, and the frenetic, action-crammed energy with which it unfolds. It’s infectious. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

It (15)

Originally adapted as a mini-series back in 1990, Stephen King’s mammoth novel gets a  feature-length outing with  director Andy Muschietti  making his English language debut.  Creepy without ever being as scary as it should, events spread over nine months, it’s been updated to the late 1980s and opens in smalltown Derry in Maine as young Georgie runs outside into the rain to float the paper boat made by his by his stutter-afflicted older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). When the boat drops into a culvert, he looks into it and is confronted by the face of a clown (Bill Skarsgarg), calling himself Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who lures him closer, bites off an arm and the drags the boy into the sewers.

A year later, Bill still believes his brother is alive, enlisting three  schoolfriends, know-it-all wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and sceptical Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), to explore the sewer system looking for him. Bullied at school by the psychotic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang, they’re the self-styled Losers Club, their number eventually swelled by shy chubby new kid Ben and homeschooled black kid Mike  (Chosen Jacobs), both of whom are also targeted by Bowers, and  the supposedly promiscuous tomboy  Beverly (Sophia Lillis), another bullied outsider.

All have their own terrifying encounters with It, as the film gradually reveals the shapeshifting monster preys on his victims’ fears and Ben’s research uncovers that it appears every 27 years, each period characterised by children going missing, something the town  seems unwilling to confront.

Naturally, all the kids (Bowers included) have their own torments, among them abusive or demanding fathers, an overprotective mother, guilt and, for Richie, a fear of clowns. But, while individually vulnerable, as Beverly points out, by staying together they may have a chance of surviving and destroying their nemesis.

Echoing the themes of friendship  and coming of age on which Stand By Me was founded (along with the cruelty of the adult world) with an added serving of horror, following various individual close calls, they all head to the decrepit old house they’ve identified as the clown’s lair.

The film makes effective use of its haunting imagery, most especially the red balloon while, although bereft of backstory,  Skarsgard’s white-faced monster, whispering “you’ll float too”, is a striking visual presence. However, while the opening is especially striking,  the more set pieces that are introduced to give each youngster a turn in the spotlight, the more repetitive  and the less effective they become. Likewise, the romantic rivalry between Bill and Ben over Beverly is never  developed.  Nevertheless, it’s an effective  piece of work and the young cast acquit themselves well, Lillis ably living up to the Molly Ringwald reference tossed her way by Richie. Of course, however, with the film closing on their vow to return in 27 years time to take on It once again, the best they can look forward to in Chapter Two are some fleeting flashbacks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Logan Lucky (12A)

The return of director Steven Soderbergh to feature filmmaking should be cause for celebration, but instead what you get is a rather lacklustre and flat blue collar  retread of his Oceans’s trilogy, one which may have a cleverly intricate plot mechanism to the heist, but lacks any of those previous films’ fluidity,  comedic spark and banter. For reasons never quite made clear (but presumably involve being able to afford to follow his ex-wife –Katie Holmes – from Virginia  to Pittsburgh so he can still see his young daughter),  recently let go from a construction company on account of his insurance risk dodgy knee, former high school football star Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), persuades his one-armed Iraq-veteran bar tender brother  Clyde (Adam Driver) to join him in a  plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, to which end, with their flaky hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) already onboard, they enlist the services of  celebrated safecracker Jo Bang (a scenery-chewing Daniel Craig with a white buzzcut); they just have to get him out of jail to do the job and back again before he’s missed. Which means they also need the assistance of his two dimwit brothers (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson).

Unfortunately, there’s a hiccup that means they have to bring the plan forward a week, which means that, instead of some low profile race meet, they’re hitting the NASCAR Coca -Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. And, on top of which, after they pull the job, Jimmy’s got to get to his daughter’s pageant show.

It’s the first screenplay by Rebecca Blunt and, as such, you can often hear the gears grinding while things like the running gags about the supposed Logan family curse, Clyde’s hand  and John Denver’s music feel like Blunt being consciously ‘eccentric’ rather than an organic part of the plot. Likewise scenes involving Seth McFarlane’s loudmouth British energy drink creator race driver Max Chilblain which could have been cut without any loss to the narrative.

Admittedly, the way it all falls into place is well-handled and ( as with the Oceans films), there’s the inevitable reveals of things you didn’t see in the main narrative, but even so the late arrival of Hilary Swank’s FBI agent means the film has to try and crank things up again just after they’ve wound down post heist, something it never quite manages to do.  The cast are game enough, but never quite sparks in the way that Clooney et al. did and, while there’s some amusing touches, not least an amusing Game of Thrones gag as part of a prison riot demands and a witty background reference to Ocean’s Eleven,  ultimately this is enjoyable but forgettable fare. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)

 

The Limehouse Golem (15)

Riding on the back of the popularity of Penny Dreadful, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Ripper Street, with Jane Goldman adapting Peter Ackroyd’s novel (and bringing a feminist note) director Juan Carlos Median’s thriller carefully blends historical fact with police procedural fiction, and a liberal helping of gore. Adopting the technique of starting at the end and then showing how matters arrived there, it’s set in 1880 London with Bill Nighy as Scotland Yard Inspector John Kildare, who’s assigned to investigate a series of brutal murders by a killer the press has dubbed the Limehouse Golem. A cautious,  methodical and reserved man who’s been passed over for promotion because of rumours about “not being the marrying kind”, he suspects he’s got the job as the force’s fall guy. None the less, taking on  constable  George Flood (Daniel Mays) as his assistant, linking the killings to an earlier slaughter of a family,  he sets about examining four potential suspects, all of whom visited the British Library Reading Room on a specific day, musical hall female impersonator comic Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), Karl Marx (Henry Goodman),  novelist George Gissing (Morgan Watkins), all three real life characters, and fictional journalist and aspiring playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). The problem is Cree has just been found poisoned  and his wife, music hall star Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), is being tried for his murder.

Persuaded that she’s innocent, Kildare makes it his mission to prove her husband was the Golem, eliminating the others by comparing their handwriting to the lurid  notes written by the killer in a Thomas de Quincey book as a diary of his self-styled acts of creation. These are staged as imagined  recreations of the murders with each of the suspects in turn embodying the Golem. Meanwhile, in the trial and interviews with the imprisoned Lizzie sequences, the film delivers flashbacks to her rise from abused street urchin to music hall star under Leno’s tutelage to her unhappy marriage to Cree, taking in the vindictive jealousy of romantic rival and fellow entertainer Aveline (Maria Valverde) and the deaths of two other members of the company, dwarf  Victor and theatre manager Uncle (a creepy Eddie Marsan), both of whom, it is suggested, were killed by Cree in response to the way they treated Lizzie.

Enfolded in fog and shadows and with some suitably saucy music hall humour and melodrama, the film eventually becomes a race against the clock to save Lizzie from the gallows. There’s any number of  twists and turns to divert audience suspicions, although the hide in plain sight approach won’t be missed by armchair detectives, building the tension along with the increasingly visceral flashbacks. Departing from his recent comedic roles, Nighy is terrific, as indeed are Cooke and Booth, both of whom afford their characters intriguing complexities in what is a clever, literate and hugely involving work.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric)

Patti Cake$ (15)

While there’s been several biopics centred around the genre, there hasn’t been a decent rap-based movie since Eminem’s 8-Mile, at least not one with a  heart in its narrative. Directed and written by Geremy Jaspar, making his feature debut, and who also wrote the original songs, this ably remedies that with his quasi-autobiographical story about the transformative power of music. It stars  Australian actress Danielle Macdonald as  Patricia Dombrowski, an overweight New Jersey (the film opens with Springsteen’s The Time That Never Was) bartender who dreams of becoming a rap star to escape the  dead-end life  and  home she shares with her brash, equally plus-sized  boozy mother, Barb (Bridgett Everett), herself a failed rock star, and her sick, cantankerous Nana (Cathy Moriarty).

Calling herself Killer P, but disparagingly dubbed  Dumbo by the local youths in her working-class North Jersey neighbourhood, she hangs out with loyal friend and supporter, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), who works the local pharmacy and fantasises of being feted by her rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), spending her days regularly creating her own self-driven raps, such as the sardonic “mylifesfuckinawesome”.

After a  failed attempt at making a demo, when she and Hareesh encounter self-styled but far from talkative anarchist guitarist  Bastered (Mamoudou Athie) during a  showcase night, she tracks him down to his shack near the graveyard (just beyond the subway tunnel named the Gates of Hell)  and persuades him to record her, and, joined by Hareesh and, unlikely as it seems, Nana , they make a CD and form a band called PBnJ, arranging  launch night at a local strip bar. Things do not, however, go as well as they do in the many surreal fantasy sequences,

Meanwhile, Patti’s working all hours in the local bar and with a  catering company to make the money she and the family desperately need,  her mother’s hooked up with a cop to front his  blues band (sporting a not entirely flattering orange jump suit), a  meeting with her idol crushes her dreams into the ground and the challenge of facing an audience at the launch night turns into a self-confidence meltdown that sees her  deciding to give it all up.

Naturally,  despite some bumps in the road, the film delivers the obligatory feelgood ending at a rap contest, one which, involving Barb and a power ballad from the one album she made, proves unexpectedly moving.

Stylishly filmed by Jaspar with plenty of moody lighting and close-ups, while both Moriarty and Everett (who proves to have a powerful set of lungs) have scene stealing moments, the film would be nothing without  Macdonald’s charismatic personality and performance,  who uses her body shape to full advantage, but never for laughs or pity. Disappointingly, without any star names,  it’s failed to attract the multiplex audiences, so try and catch it while you still can . (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

Rough Night (12A)

While inevitably suffering in arriving in the wake of the far more outrageous and much cruder Girls Trip, this female buddy movie from director Lucia Aniello, who co-wrote the Paul Downs, still doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it.  The basic plot is much the same, a group of former college buddies who’ve not seen each for some years, reunite for a weekend away, the excuse being a bachelorette party for bride to be aspiring senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson) who, frankly, would rather stay home  with her fiancé (Downs) and try and salvage her failing campaign.

Nevertheless, she’s off to Miami with real estate agent Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who’s in the middle of a custody battle, her  activist former girlfriend Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and self-proclaimed best friend party organiser Alice (Jillian Bell), the obligatory needy, over-enthusiastic  outsize,  arrested development jealous loner with no social life.  They’re subsequently joined by another of Jess’s friends, Australian oddball Pippa (Kate McKinnon).

Where the plot (essentially a gender reversal of 1998’s Very Bad Things) diverges is that Alice accidentally ends up killing the stripper Blair has arranged and the subsequent attempts to get rid of the body and evidence of their involvement (something which entails Kravitz in a ménage a trois with beachside swinger neighbours Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), while, in a silly subplot contrived to facilitate the climax, Peter, fuelled by pills and Red Bull, is driving to Miami in the belief that Jess wants to call off the wedding.

Although there’s a twist to come regarding the dead man, the film takes its time getting there with a series of aborted attempts to dispose of the body that are never as amusing as they think they are. Johanssen handles the dramatic and emotional moments well enough, but it’s clear she’s not a  natural comic, standing even less chance than Kravitz and Glazer to withstand the primal force of Bell (essentially in the Melissa McCarthy Bridesmaids  role) or the scene-stealing off the wall delivery and humour of McKinnon. But, even so, while there are laughs to be had, it’s not a  night  to remember. (Cineworld  NEC)

 

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. (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.  (Vue Star City)

 

Wind River (15)

Jeremy Renner stars in Wind River
Photo: Fred Hayes
© 2017 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved

Having written Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan now makes an impressive bow behind the camera with another of his screenplays. Loosely based on real events, it’s set in a world of ‘snow and silence’, in the wintery landscape of the titular Native American reservation in Wyoming where, spending time with his young son while also out keeping predators  from the livestock,  in this case a mountain lion, divorced local game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) comes upon the  frozen body of an 18-year-old Native American. This is Natalie (Kelsey Asbille),  once the best friend of his own daughter, who died in similar  tragic circumstances for which he blames himself and which led  to the collapse of his marriage to his Native American ex-wife (Julia Jones). The fact that the dead girl, who died from inhaling sub-zero air,  also turns out to have been assaulted and raped compounds his determination to find those responsible and from whom she was running, barefoot. As it’s determined to be a homicide,  along comes no-nonsense, but inexperienced, FBI agent Jane Banner (a superbly nuanced Elizabeth Olsen) to take over from the tribal police chief   (Graham Greene) and, realising she’s in over her head, enlisting Lambert  to assist her.

Unfolding as a brooding procedural as the pair put the clues together, it would be unfair to real much more of the plot, but suffice to say the investigations lead to the dead girl’s druggie brother and subsequently her boyfriend, part of a local oil rig crew who were holed up for the winter and that, after long simmering tension, that film erupts into violence with both a harrowing flashback to what happened to Natalie, a bloody Peckinpah-like shoot-out and a final act of vengeance/justice.

But, as with his previous screenplays, hauntingly complemented by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave’s score, this is about troubled characters and troubled times rather than action, and Renner gives a magnetically compelling performance as the taciturn Lambert, a man of few, but meaningful words,  the  intimate scene between him and the dead girl’s father (Gil Birmingham) and the spare conversations with Olson weighed down with talk  of loss, grief and the hard path to recovery.  It may not have quite the same box office clout as his previous work, but this is quality filmmaking through and through. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Sept 8-Thu Sept 14

It (15)

Originally adapted as a mini-series back in 1990, Stephen King’s mammoth novel now gets a  feature-length outing under the auspices of  director Andy Muschietti  making his English language debut.  Creepy without ever being as chilling or as scary as it should, events spread over nine months, it’s been updated to the late 1980s and opens in smalltown Derry in Maine as young Georgie runs outside into the rain to float the paper boat made for his by his stutter-afflicted older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). When the boat drops into a culvert, he the kids looks into it and is confronted by the face of a clown (Bill Skarsgarg), calling himself Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who lures him closer, bites off an arm and the drags the boy into the sewers.

A year later, Bill still believes his brother is alive, enlisting three  schoolfriends, know-it-all wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and sceptical Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), to explore the sewer system looking for him. Bullied at school by the psychotic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang, they’re the self-styled Losers Club, their number eventually swelled by shy chubby new kid Ben and homeschooled Mike  (Chosen Jacobs), seemingly the only black kid in town, both of whom are also targeted by Bowers, and  the supposedly promiscuous tomboy  Beverly (Sophia Lillis), another bullied outsider.

All have their own terrifying encounters with It, as the film gradually reveals the shapeshifting monster preys on his victims’ fears and Ben’s research uncovers that it appears every 27 years, each period characterised by children going missing, but something the two seems unwilling to confront.

Naturally, all the kids (Bowers included) have their own torments, among them abusive or demanding fathers, an overprotective mother, guilt and, for Richie, a fear of clowns. But, while individually vulnerable, as Beverly points out, by staying together they may have a chance of surviving and destroying their nemesis.

Echoing the themes of friendship  and coming of age on which Stand By Me was founded (along with the cruelty of the adult world) with an added serving of horror as, following various individual close calls, they all head to the decrepit old house they’ve identified as the clown’s lair.

The film makes effective use of its haunting imagery, most especially the red balloon while, although bereft of backstory,  Skarsgard’s white-faced monster, whispering “you’ll float too”, is a striking visual presence, but. while the opening is especially striking  the more setpieces that are introduced to give each youngster a turn in the spotlight, the more repetitive  and the less effective they become. Likewise, the romantic rivalry between Bill and Ben over Beverly is never  developed.  Nevertheless, it’s an effective if slightly overlong piece of work and the young cast acquit themselves well, Lillis ably living up to the Molly Ringwald reference tossed her way by Richie. Of course, however, with the film closing on their vow to return in 27 years time to take on It once again, the best they can look forward to in the as yet unconfirmed Chapter Two are some fleeting flashbacks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Odyssey (PG)

In the early 60s, one of the must watch programmes on British TV was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, a documentary series in with the French star, inventor of the Aqua-Lung, explored the oceans. In 1965 he’d won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his feature documentary The Silent World and, sporting the iconic red work by himself and his ‘oceanauts’ had even proved the man could live in underwater cities. John Denver even wrote a song called Calypso after the boat that served for both his explorations and the family home.

A sort of marine version of David Attenborough, Cousteau was an international celebrity and when the moon lands  shifted attention to space rather than the sea, leading him to virtual bankruptcy, he reinvented himself as an environmentalist, dedicated to protecting the planet’s seas and oceans from mankind’s exploitation and pollution.

He also led a colourful behind the scenes life, with his inveterate womanising and blatant disregard for financial matters in pursuing his obsessions. All of which should make for a fascinating and rich biopic. Sadly, that’ proves not to be  the case with director Jérôme Salle’s rather workmanlike film that never really gets beneath the surface.

Framed by the 1979 plane crash death of his younger son, Phillipe (Pierre Niney),, reunited in the environmental crusade after a period of estrangement, it takes a chronological course following the driven determination of Cousteau (Lambert Wilson) to make the world more aware of the  blue in the blue planet, embracing securing funding to buy Calypso and finance his many projects, negotiating with the American TV network to back a series of documentaries, furthering his underwater living  concepts and much more. Meanwhile,  loyal wife Simone (Audrey Tautou) is sidelined and cheated on while, self-centred and single-minded in his quest for fame,  he proves as lousy a father to Phillipe and  Jean-Michel (Benjamin Lavernhe, largely reduced to a cipher) as he is a husband.

Certainly the film packs a lot into the thirty years it compresses into two hours , but much is just given a  surface treatment and, while it notes Cousteau’s flaws as well as his achievements, there’s not a  great deal of character development, either of him or those in his orbit, none of whom have much focus.  There’s some magnificent underwater photography, most notably  scene in which Phillipe and one of the crew are surrounded by sharks as he continues to film them, but, while Lambert hits all right the marks, unlike those documentaries, this lack any real sense of depth.. (MAC)

Wind River (15)

Having written Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan now makes an impressive bow behind the camera with another of his screenplays. Loosely based on real events, it’s set in a world of ‘snow and silence’, in the wintery landscape of the titular Native American reservation in Wyoming where, spending time with his young son while also out keeping predators  from the livestock,  in this case a mountain lion, divorced local game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) comes upon the  frozen body of 18-year-old Native American. This is Natalie (Kelsey Asbille),  once the best friend of his own daughter, who died in similar  tragic circumstances for which he blames himself and led  to the collapse of his marriage to his Native American ex-wife (Julia Jones). The fact that the dead girl, who died from inhaling sub-zero air,  also turns out to have been assaulted and raped compounds his determination to find those responsible and from whom she was running, barefoot. As it’s determined to be a homicide,  along comes no-nonsense but inexperienced FBI agent Jane Banner (a superbly nuanced Elizabeth Olsen) to take over from the tribal police chief   (Graham Greene) and, realising she’s in over her head, enlisting Lambert  to assist her.

Unfolding as a brooding procedural as the pair put the clues together, it would be unfair to real much more of the plot, but suffice to say the investigations lead to the dead girl’s druggie brother and subsequently her boyfriend, part of a local oil rig crew who were holed up for the winter and that, after long simmering tension that film erupts into violence with both a harrowing flashback to what happened to Natalie, a bloody Peckinpah-like shoot-out and a final act of vengeance/justice.

But, as with his previous screenplays, hauntingly complemented by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave’s score, this is about troubled characters and troubled times rather than action, and Renner gives a magnetically compelling performance as the taciturn Lambert, a man of few, but meaningful words,  the  intimate scene between him and the dead girl’s father (Gil Birmingham) and the spare conversations with Olson weighed down with talk  of loss, grief and the hard path to recovery.  It may not have quite the same box office clout as his previous work, but this is quality filmmaking through and through. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

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American Made (15)

In 1978, tapped for smuggling illegal Cuban cigars, TWA pilot Barry Seal was approached by the CIA to run secret surveillance missions over Colombia, a success that, through the early 80s,  led to him becoming a bag man between the CIA and Nicaragua’s General Noriega, delivering pay offs in return for information on Communist operations in South America. Then, he was approached by the Medelin Cartel, the biggest drugs operation in Colombia, headed up by Pablo Escobar, who recruited him to transport their cocaine to  the United States. Then, further concerned about the Communist-run Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the CIA got him to fly arms to the supposedly opposing Contras, except instead, he ended up flying the guns to the Cartel  who armed their forces and  then got the Contras to smuggle cocaine into America. Before long Seal, who by now had been relocated by the CIA from Louisiana to Mena in smalltown Arkansas  was making so much money he was having to set up any number of front businesses to launder it, and even then he was still burying it in the garden and stuffing it into cupboards. And even when it went pear-shaped, and he was being pursued variously by state police, the FBI, CIA  and the DEA, he was still able to come out on top.

Unfolding between 1985 top 1986, it was one of the biggest covert operations ever run by the US government. His story’s been told before, but, screenwriter Gary Spinelli taking a cue from GoodFellas,  never as well or as entertainingly as here by director Doug Liman (whose father investigated the Iran-Contra affair) with a permagrin Tom Cruise donning the aviator sunglasses as Seals. Played with an eye on the comedic element in the whole situation (rather akin to the recent similarly-themed War Dogs), it romps from one implausible but real scenario to the next as Seal’s ‘business’ empire continues to expand. Although initially wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) is oblivious to Barry’s double life, but when you’ve got wads of dollar bills all over the house, it’s hard to keep things that secret and she readily takes to the  wealth and the life, although things almost come crashing down thanks her to her self-serving slacker brother (Caleb Landry Jones) who reckons he can deal himself an easy hand in the cash flow.

Not until the final act when, now working for the White House and Colonel Oliver North, he’s inadvertently outed as betraying the Cartel and becomes a marked man, while the Iran-Contra scandal blows up in the government’s face does it really involve any real tension, and even then, as he moves from motel to motel, recording the videotapes that would eventually reveal his story (and provide the film’s to camera framing device), it still manages to play for  edgy laughs as, each morning, he wonders if his car will explode.

Following the disappointment of The Mummy and a series of autopilot Jack Reacher  turns, Cruise is on peak form here, bringing a winning charm and charisma to the film’s anti-hero embodiment of the American Dream on speed. Liman’s also well served by a solid supporting turn from Domhnall Gleeson as Seal’s CIA handler Monty Shafer who gets to bask in the reflected glory of his protégé’s successes while turning a knowing blind eye to extracurricular activities as long as they serve to further the political agenda, and burning any trail when compromised. There’s evidence of some edit room chops (Jesse Plemons’ local sheriff and his suspicious wife  seemingly the biggest victims), but even so the film flows at an exhilarating rush, making it easily Cruise’s best since Collateral.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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 farmhouse 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  a 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, things 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, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous instalments, 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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  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 an inevitable 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. (Mockingbird)

 

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. (Sat/Sun: MAC)

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.   (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; 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. (Reel; Showcase Walsall)

 

The Dark Tower (12A)

When Robert Browning wrote his epic ballad Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came he could have no idea that it, along with Arthurian legends, Lord of the Ring and Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,  would prove the inspiration for Stephen King’s eight part multi-genre series about  the struggle between Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers (read knights), whose sworn duty is to protect the Dark Tower, which stands at the middle of the multiverse  protecting it from the demons and darkness seeking to enter and destroy it.

Nor could he have imagined what a lumberingly uninvolving and incoherent 95 minute feature director Nikolaj Arcel would make of the first volume which, compressing elements from the entire series, pits Roland (Idris Elba) against evil sorcerer the Man in Black, who he knows by the not entirely scary name of Walter (Mathew McConaughey). For reasons never  properly explained, Walter (sniggerly surnamed o’Dim in the novel) is out to destroy the tower, to which end he’s using the Taheen, his rat-featured underlings, known as Skins because of their fake human faces, to abduct children from the other assorted worlds and use their latent psychic powers, termed ‘the shine’, as energy bolts.

On Earth, or keynote Earth, New York adolescent Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having troubling nightmares involving, well, all of the above, which, of course, no-one, especially loving mom (Katheryn Winnick), and not so loving step-dad, believe. Jake, apparently is pure shine, and just what Walter’s been looking for.  However, he manages to give his would-be captors the slip and discovers  a portal that enables him to cross to Mid-World, a sort of feudal post-apocalyptic version of Earth, only to find his would-be hero in a depressive funk after Walter killed his dad (Dennis Haysbert), resigned to having lost the battle and the inevitable doom of the universe. No longer in the Gunslinger creed that ““He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father,” he just wants to kill Walter.

Naturally, Jake reignites Roland’s spark, leading to a rambling fantasy western narrative that variously crosses between the two worlds as cosmic good takes on cosmic evil. Despite the deaths of any number of characters, there’s no emotional tug to be felt nor does the developing son and surrogate father bond between the two unlikely allies much convince. Elba looks nifty in his leathers and gun belt, his gun apparently forced from the steel of Excalibur, but his mind never seems to be much engaged with the narrative (given the clunky dialogue. that’s hardly surprising), though, sporting spiky black hair, long coat and smug icy smile,  McConaughey is clearly having a gleeful time, nonchalantly offing people by just telling them to stop breathing,. Despite being stuff with shine, Taylor, meanwhile, radiates almost no presence at all.

Indifferently directed and featuring equally indifferent CGI, there’s a couple of  zippy shoot’em up sequences, but nothing to get overly excited about and, clearly the result of some desperate cutting room surgery,  the film does pretty much nothing with the fleeting appearances of  a couple of demons and a red cloud, before finally hobbling to its anti-climax and the overly optimistic suggestion that this is just the start of a series. (Cineworld NEC;  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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Detroit (15)

In the early hours of Sunday, July 23, during the hot summer of 1967, the police raided an all-black after-hours club in Detroit. Unable to access the rear of the building, the  men and women were taken out the front to be loaded into the police wagons. A crowd gathered and, despite pleas by the local Congressman for calm, the already brittle racial tension swiftly escalated into riots and looting, setting the almost exclusively African-American neighbourhood ablaze. A curfew was imposed and members of Michigan’s National Guard were brought in to help restore order.

Across town, Larry Reed (Algee Smith), lead singer with aspiring unsigned R&B outfit The Dramatics, smarting at having the group’s big-break at a show featuring Martha & The Vandellas cut short on account of the riots, takes a room at the Algiers Motel, and he and his younger friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore), hook up with a couple of white girls (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) looking to experience the sexual revolution. They  all go up to a room for drinks where, illustrating a familiar white cop black guy scenario,  one of the guests Carl (Jason Mitchell) pulls a prank with a starting pistol and then thinks it might be fun to shoot it out of the window at the National Guard. At this point everything goes to shit, as, believing there to be a sniper in the motel, bigot cops Krauss (a terrifyingly chilling Will Poulter) and Demens (Jack Reynor), storm the place and line all the guests, among them a Vietnam veteran , (Anthony Mackie), against the wall demanding to know who fired the gun and where it is. Before long, Carl is lying dead and things are going from bad to worse as Krauss, a baby-faced  bullying racist with a power complex, who’s already shot one looter in the back and is disgusted at what he assumes to be miscegenation,  seeks to torture and terrorise the others into giving up the shooter. Inevitably, either because they don’t know or are unwilling to talk, no one is saying anything. Also involved in this increasingly tense situation is Melvin Dismukes (a magnetically underplaying John Boyega), a black security guard who seeks to try and diffuse things, but  also wary of getting too involved.

Based on historical records, including news reports, eye-witness testimonies and the subsequent murder trials of  Krauss and his two fellow officers, albeit with a fair dose of dramatic licence, working from a  screenplay Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted an electrifying and often uncomfortable drama about racial divides and police terrorism that, adopting documentary style techniques, both turns a spotlight on largely forgotten events and the domestic terrorism power keg that is a divided America today.

Combining archival footage with dramatic recreation, Bigelow gradually ratchets up the claustrophobia and horror until it explodes in sudden harrowing violence before the judicial proceedings aftermath that made a mockery of justice. It will, no doubt, be held up as an example of the police brutality that has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, but, as a microcosm of racial violence and prejudices embracing the fears and attitudes of whites and blacks alike, it’s about far more than that.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; 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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Everything Everything (12A)

Diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease as a todder, following the accident that killed her father and brother, African-American Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) has spent most  of her 18 years inside her home, cared for by her protective doctor mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) and longtime nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), having no contact with the outside world other than Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo), as she’s unable to venture outside less exposure prove fatal.

Then, one day, they get new neighbours, specifically Olly (Nick Robinson), a good-hearted white teenager who dresses in black (she, mostly in white) and has problems with an abusive father. The pair strike up a friendship from their windows and through texts and, without her mother’s knowledge,  Maddy persuades Carla to allow him into the house so they can meet in person. The idea is for them to keep their distance, but inevitably attraction leads to to a 4th of July kiss,  romance and further secret meetings. However, when an incident sees Maddy running outside to Olly’s aid, realising what’s been going on, her mother puts her foot down and bans further contact. Of course, love and concern for personal safety do not necessarily go hand in hand, determining that there’s no point being alive unless you’re actually living, Maddy embarks on a plan that will have life-changing consequences.

Adapted from Nicola Yoon’s fairy-tale inspired young-adult romantic novel and directed by Stella Meghie, who punctuates proceedings with several excursions into Maddy’s fantasies (based on the  architectural models she builds and including  a symbolic astronaut figure), this has its target audience firmly delineated. One which, seduces by  the likeability of the two leads and the naturalness of the  chemistry between them, is unlikely to pick apart the implausibilities or question the credibility of a twist that’s not exactly difficult to see coming.  (Empire Great Park)

A Ghost Story (15)  

Reteaming Ain’t Them 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. (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. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

God’s Own Country (15)

Dubbed  a  Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain, first time writer-director as Francis Lee unfolds the relationship between teenager Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), who, forced to stay behind and look after the family farm while his friends take off  for pastures new when his hardened, seemingly joyless father (Ian Hart) suffers a stroke, numbs his pain and frustrations with  binge drinking and casual sex with women he picks up at the livestock auctions. But then, one day, along comes Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), a reserved, quietly soulful Romanian migrant who his dad  hires for the  lambing season and whose presence prompts unexpected feelings in Johnny and a questioning of his sexuality, as well as his own relationship to the land,  as they work together repairing walls up on the moors.

Driven by terrific  lead performances, with solid support from Hart and Gemma Jones as Johnny’s stoic grandmother, it confidently balances its unsentimental but tender coming out romantic drama narrative with a gritty, almost documentary style depiction of the tough and often brutal realities of farm life, not least Gheorghe’s skinning of a dead lamb  so he can put the pelt on another, tricking the dead animal’s mother into feeding it. However, learning that his father will never recover sufficiently to resume running the farm, brings an almost catastrophic pressure to bear. It’s slow, but absorbingly affecting. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (15)

Ryan Reynolds teams with Samuel L Jackson for an empty but thoroughly entertaining variation on the mismatched enemies turned buddies road trip  that involves the former’s bodyguard, Michael Bryce, and the latter’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, in a  race against the clock to travel from Manchester to The Hague. The purpose being that Kincaid has been persuaded to give testimony  at the war crimes trial of genocidal Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (a suitably evil Gary Oldman) in exchange for immunity and freedom for his imprisoned wife (Selma Hayek, marvellously foul-mouthed in her  few scenes). Since that means that, with the help of the inevitable Interpol traitor (revealed early as Joaquim de Almeid’s Assistant Director), Dukhovich’s thugs are out to ensure he never gets there, Bryce has been brought in to facilitate self-passage.

He’s less than enthusiastic since, as the prologue reveals, formerly Triple A-rated, he’s slipped considerably down the personal security food chain since one of his clients was popped after safely boarding a plane. He’s still good at his job, but he’s gone from top of the range Jags to battered jalopies and from top diplomats and arms dealers to Richard E Grant’s cameoing coke-dealing London businessman.  On top of which, Kincaid has tried to kill him 28 times and , following an assault on the convoy transporting him, the Interpol agent whose enlisted him is Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung), his former girlfriend whom he blames for selling him out on that airport job. The truth about which provides a particularly amusing reveal in a film that balances lethal and laughter in equal measure.

Essentially, it boils down to a series of  hops between cities (Coventry included) en route to the Amsterdam courtroom, including hitching  lift with a busload of nuns, punctuated by constant banter between the two, innumerable shoot outs and action sequences and some particularly thrilling high speeds chances, most notably one involving Amsterdam’s canals, vans, a motorbike and speedboat.

Jackson provides the larger than life side of the pairing, Kincaid regarding himself as one of the good guys and proving to be a hopeless romantic at heart (a flashback reveals how he and Sonia met and bonded when she slashed a guy’s carotid in a Cuban bar-fight) as he offers relationship advice to wounded soul Bryce, Reynolds handling the deadpan sarcasm and dry quips with Bryce’s plays safe approach constantly undermined by Kincaid’s street-smart bull by the horns attitude.

The whole romance element is, frankly, fairly superfluous to requirements other than as motivation drivers, and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the spark and interplay between the two stars, who are clearly having a  lot of fun, and the frenetic, action-crammed energy with which it unfolds. It’s infectious. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power  (PG)

In 2006, An Inconvenient Truth saw former Vice President Al Gore essentially delivering a PowerPoint lecture, albeit a compelling one, about global warming and climate change. Eleve n years later, he return with an equally compelling and statistics-fuelled, but more documentary-like, look at the ongoing environmental crisis, travelling around the globe to meet and talk to those at the sharp end, including  trainees in his programmes to combat change, such as those in the Philippines, trainees dealing with the devastating 2013 typhoon, post-Katrina New Orleans and Florida where streets were flooded with fish.

The pivotal point is his successful attempt to get India to sign up to the 2016 Paris agreement. although, as it timely manages to include, Donald Trump has, of course, come along and jammed a very big spanner in the works with his advocacy of fossil fuels. Even so, despite the naysayers at home and abroad, the film feels more hopeful than its predecessor in its indication that political leaders can come together  and what the results can be.  (Sun-Tue:MAC)

 

The Limehouse Golem (15)

Riding on the back of the popularity of Penny Dreadful, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Ripper Street, with Jane Goldman adapting Peter Ackroyd’s novel (and bringing a feminist note) director Juan Carlos Median’s thriller carefully blends historical fact with police procedural fiction, and a liberal helping of gore. Adopting the technique of starting at the end and then showing how matters arrived there, it’s set in 1880 London with Bill Nighy as Scotland Yard Inspector John Kildare, who’s assigned to investigate a series of brutal murders by a killer the press has dubbed the Limehouse Golem. A cautious,  methodical and reserved man who’s been passed over for promotion because of rumours about “not being the marrying kind”, he suspects he’s got the job as the force’s fall guy. None the less, taking on  constable  George Flood (Daniel Mays) as his assistant, linking the killings to an earlier slaughter of a family,  he sets about examining four potential suspects, all of whom visited the British Library Reading Room on a specific day, musical hall female impersonator comic Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), Karl Marx (Henry Goodman),  novelist George Gissing (Morgan Watkins), all three real life characters, and fictional journalist and aspiring playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). The problem is Cree has just been found poisoned  and his wife, music hall star Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), is being tried for his murder.

Persuaded that she’s innocent, Kildare makes it his mission to prove her husband was the Golem, eliminating the others by comparing their handwriting to the lurid  notes written by the killer in a Thomas de Quincey book as a diary of his self-styled acts of creation. These are staged as imagined  recreations of the murders with each of the suspects in turn embodying the Golem. Meanwhile, in the trial and interviews with the imprisoned Lizzie sequences, the film delivers flashbacks to her rise from abused street urchin to music hall star under Leno’s tutelage to her unhappy marriage to Cree, taking in the vindictive jealousy of romantic rival and fellow entertainer Aveline (Maria Valverde) and the deaths of two other members of the company, dwarf  Victor and theatre manager Uncle (a creepy Eddie Marsan), both of whom, it is suggested, were killed by Cree in response to the way they treated Lizzie.

Enfolded in fog and shadows and with some suitably saucy music hall humour and melodrama, the film eventually becomes a race against the clock to save Lizzie from the gallows. There’s any number of  twists and turns to divert audience suspicions, although the hide in plain sight approach won’t be missed by armchair detectives, building the tension along with the increasingly visceral flashbacks. Departing from his recent comedic roles, Nighy is terrific, as indeed are Cooke and Booth, both of whom afford their characters intriguing complexities in what is a clever, literate and hugely involving work.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield)

Logan Lucky (12A)

The return of director Steven Soderbergh to feature filmmaking should be cause for celebration, but instead what you get is a rather lacklustre and flat blue collar  retread of his Oceans trilogy, one which may have a cleverly intricate plot mechanism to the heist, but lacks any of those previous films’ fluidity,  comedic spark and banter. For reasons never quite made clear (but presumably involve being able to afford to follow his ex-wife –Katie Holmes – from Virginia  to Pittsburgh so he can still see his young daughter),  recently let go from a construction company on account of his insurance risk dodgy knee, former high school football star Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), persuades his one-armed Iraq-veteran bar tender brother  Clyde (Adam Driver) to join him in a  plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, to which end, with their flaky hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) already onboard, they enlist the services of  celebrated safecracker Jo Bang (a scenery-chewing Daniel Craig with a white buzzcut); they just have to get him out of jail to do the job and back again before he’s missed. Which means they also need the assistance of his two dimwit brothers (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson).

Unfortunately, there’s a hiccup that means they have to bring the plan forward a week, which means that, instead of some low profile race meet, they’re hitting the NASCAR Coca -Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. And, on top of which, after they pull the job, Jimmy’s got to get to his daughter’s pageant show.

It’s the first screenplay by Rebecca Blunt and, as such, you can often hear the gears grinding while things like the running gags about the supposed Logan family curse, Clyde’s hand  and John Denver’s music feel like Blunt being consciously ‘eccentric’ rather than an organic part of the plot. Likewise scenes involving Seth McFarlane’s loudmouth British energy drink creator race driver Max Chilblain which could have been cut without any loss to the narrative.

Admittedly, the way it all falls into place is well-handled and ( as with the Oceans films), there’s the inevitable reveals of things you didn’t see in the main narrative, but even so the late arrival of Hilary Swank’s FBI agent means the film has to try and crank things up again just after they’ve wound down post heist, something it never quite manages to do.  The cast are game enough, but never quite sparks in the way that Clooney et al. did and, while there’s some amusing touches, not least an amusing Game of Thrones gag as part of a prison riot demands and a witty background reference to Ocean’s Eleven,  ultimately this is enjoyable but forgettable fare. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)

 

 

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 it’s proven a box office disaster. 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 who leads an army of similarly garbed rodents who 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. (Empire Great Park)

Patti Cake$ (15)

While there’s been several biopics centred around the genre, there hasn’t been a decent rap-based movie since Eminem’s 8-Mile, at least not one with a  heart in its narrative. Directed and written by Geremy Jaspar, making his feature debut, and who also wrote the original songs, this ably remedies that with his quasi-autobiographical story about the transformative power of music. It stars  Australian actress Danielle Macdonald as  Patricia Dombrowski, an overweight New Jersey (the film opens with Springsteen’s The Time That Never Was) bartender who dreams of becoming a rap star to escape the  dead-end life  and  home she shares with her brash, equally plus-sized  boozy mother, Barb (Bridgett Everett), herself a failed rock star, and her sick, cantankerous Nana (Cathy Moriarty).

Calling herself Killer P, but disparagingly dubbed  Dumbo by the local youths in her working-class North Jersey neighbourhood, she hangs out with loyal friend and supporter, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), who works the local pharmacy and fantasises of being feted by her rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), spending her days regularly creating her own self-driven raps, such as the sardonic “mylifesfuckinawesome”.

After a  failed attempt at making a demo, when she and Hareesh encounter self-styled but far from talkative anarchist guitarist  Bastered (Mamoudou Athie) during a  showcase night, she tracks him down to his shack near the graveyard (just beyond the subway tunnel named the Gates of Hell)  and persuades him to record her, and, joined by Hareesh and, unlikely as it seems, Nana , they make a CD and form a band called PBnJ, arranging  launch night at a local strip bar. Things do not, however, go as well as they do in the many surreal fantasy sequences,

Meanwhile, Patti’s working all hours in the local bar and with a  catering company to make the money she and the family desperately need,  her mother’s hooked up with a cop to front his  blues band (sporting a not entirely flattering orange jump suit), a  meeting with her idol crushes her dreams into the ground and the challenge of facing an audience at the launch night turns into a self-confidence meltdown that sees her  deciding to give it all up.

Naturally,  despite some bumps in the road, the film delivers the obligatory feelgood ending at a rap contest, one which, involving Barb and a power ballad from the one album she made, proves unexpectedly moving.

Stylishly filmed by Jaspar with plenty of moody lighting and close-ups, while both Moriarty and Everett (who proves to have a powerful set of lungs) have scene stealing moments, the film would be nothing without  Macdonald’s charismatic personality and performance,  who uses her body shape to full advantage, but never for laughs or pity. Disappointingly, without any star names,  it’s failed to attract the multiplex audiences, so try and catch it while you still can . (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

Rough Night (12A)

While inevitably suffering in arriving in the wake of the far more outrageous and much cruder Girls Trip, this female buddy movie from director Lucia Aniello, who co-wrote the Paul Downs, still doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it.  The basic plot is much the same, a group of former college buddies who’ve not seen each for some years, reunite for a weekend away, the excuse being a bachelorette party for bride to be aspiring senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson) who, frankly, would rather stay home  with her fiancé (Downs) and try and salvage her failing campaign.

Nevertheless, she’s off to Miami with real estate agent Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who’s in the middle of a custody battle, her  activist former girlfriend Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and self-proclaimed best friend party organiser Alice (Jillian Bell), the obligatory needy, over-enthusiastic  outsize,  arrested development jealous loner with no social life.  They’re subsequently joined by another of Jess’s friends, Australian oddball Pippa (Kate McKinnon).

Where the plot (essentially a gender reversal of 1998’s Very Bad Things) diverges is that Alice accidentally ends up killing the stripper Blair has arranged and the subsequent attempts to get rid of the body and evidence of their involvement (something which entails Kravitz in a ménage a trois with beachside swinger neighbours Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), while, in a silly subplot contrived to facilitate the climax, Peter, fuelled by pills and Red Bull, is driving to Miami in the belief that Jess wants to call off the wedding.

Although there’s a twist to come regarding the dead man, the film takes its time getting there with a series of aborted attempts to dispose of the body that are never as amusing as they think they are. Johanssen handles the dramatic and emotional moments well enough, but it’s clear she’s not a  natural comic, standing even less chance than Kravitz and Glazer to withstand the primal force of Bell (essentially in the Melissa McCarthy Bridesmaids  role) or the scene-stealing off the wall delivery and humour of McKinnon. But, even so, while there are laughs to be had, it’s not a  night  to remember. (Cineworld  NEC)

 

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

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Q&A: Superfood

Superfood

2017 sees the triumphant return of B-Town survivors Superfood.

After releasing some tantalising tracks over the spring and summer, Dom Ganderton and Ryan Malcolm’s second album, the infectious and surprising Bambino, arrives on Friday 8 September 2017 via new label, Dirty Hit.

It’s followed by a trio of live appearances including Beyond The Tracks Festival (15-17 Sept) where the band appear alongside Editors, OCS, Orbital, Leftfield, Jagwar Ma, Wild Beasts, Nadine Shah, Peter Hook, Jaws, Carl Barat, Jesus and The Mary Chain, Maximo Park and The Twang.

But before then, Dom answers some quick Qs …

You were signed to Infectious, were pretty well everywhere in 2014, played some incredible gigs, picked up great reviews … but then, nothing! What happened?

I think when me and Ryan started the band it was a whirlwind from our first demo to getting signed and being on tour, and we never had a chance to stop and fully realise what it was that we wanted to do. The label was going through a takeover as well, so when our album came out the original team that signed us were not there anymore. We left in a position where we had no choice but to go back to the drawing board and go and create something we really loved and backed, even if it did take a few years.

You made Bambino without a label or financial support; were there any points when it became too much? Did you ever wonder if it would ever get finished or even released?

Because it was just me and Ryan throughout the whole process, there were definitely points where we would look at each other and think whether or not we were going mad? Why do we keep coming to the studio for 17 hour days when we don’t even know if this is ever going to see the light of day? We had problems paying rent and devoting the amount of time needed to finishing an album, but we stuck it out and things have worked out in the end.

It’s a stylistically varied album, but do you think there’s one track that perhaps sums up the vibe the most?

I think I Can’t See is a good anchor point for the whole record.

What are some of the other album highlights for you, and why?

There’s a genuine fax machine solo on the last track, Clo Park. We went to an office to record some ambient noise of keyboards clanking and paper shuffling, and when we got home and lay it over the track this fax machine or photocopier went off in the exact pitch of the song completely in time. It was a little spooky but amazing.

The reception to the record seems to be uniformly positive … what are your thoughts?

Buzzing.

Are Superfood just a duo now? No Emily and Carl …?

It has always just been me and Ryan who wrote everything but, yeah, they are no longer with us, but we do have some amazing players who are touring with us now.

It seems so long since the whole B-Town thing (Peace, Swim Deep, Jaws et al) which drew massive national attention, and which you guys got drawn into; what are your thoughts on all that now, in retrospect? Was it a good thing for the city’s scene?

Yeah, of course it was. There was a lot of media and industry looking at Birmingham for a brief period and I think without it we wouldn’t have got our foot in the door and be where we are now. They were very good times and I hope something like that happens again in the future for Brum.

When was your last Brum show and where? And how did it go?

It was at the Academy 3 [in March] and it was absolutely fantastic.

You’re also back in November with Wolf Alice, who you toured with back in 2014 – what are your memories of those shows? Any notable gigs / incidents / anecdotes?

We lost Ryan one night. We were supposed to leave at 10am but there was no sign of him. We waited until around 2pm but there was still no sign; everyone was stressing so I decided to go for a walk on the beach as we were in Brighton. I got to one of the piers, took a quick look around and there was Ryan snuggled up on the rocks with a bottle of Sprite.

What are your plans for the coming months? Any new tracks?

Yeah, in the downtime we’re going to be in the studio getting a head start on the new Superfood material. Can’t wait.

  • For more information on Beyond The Tracks and to book tickets, see: www.beyondthetracks.co.uk
  • Further Superfood dates include a headline show on 11 October 2017 at Digbeth’s Mama Roux’s, and a support slot with label-mates Wolf Alice at the O2 Academy Birmingham on 16 November 2017.

 

Comedy festival reveals Breaking Talent Award 2017 shortlist

Birmingham Comedy Festival Breaking Talent 2017

Five of the very best new and emerging comedians from the West Midlands region are in the running for the fourth Birmingham Comedy Festival Breaking Talent Award.

The prestigious annual competition aims to recognise and support ‘breaking talent’ from the region, offering the winner a vital step-up on the comedy career ladder.

A collaboration between Birmingham Comedy Festival and The Glee Club, the award officially kicks off the 10-day festival on Friday 6 October 2017.

The nominated acts are Alex Black, Rob Kemp, Gemma Layton, Eric Rushton and Kai Samra.

Having grown up in Huddersfield, Alex Black moved to the Midlands as a student and now resides in Hollywood, south Birmingham. He’s been doing stand-up for two years, having been inspired by the likes of The Fast Show, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan, Ross Noble and Bill Bailey. “I’m a musical comedian, telling stories about losing my youth set to the soundtrack of my long-gone teens,” he says.

Wednesbury-based examinations officer Rob Kemp started his stand-up journey nearly six years ago. His second one-man show, The Elvis Dead, mashed-up horror flick Evil Dead 2 and the hits of Elvis Presley, to become a runaway cult hit at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. An admirer of Eddie Izzard, the Pythons, Dylan Moran and Daniel Kitson, his comedic style has been described as “quite smart” and “fairly leftfield confused whimsy.”

A former member of sketch group FunBags Comedy, Gemma Layton is a character comedian whose creations include Mercedes Benson. But it’s her latest creation, Black Country cabaret singer Beverley Vegas, which has ensured her Breaking Talent Award nomination. Gemma cites The League Of Gentlemen, Victoria Wood, Julia Walters, Julia Davis and Steve Coogan as key inspirations.

Eric Rushton hails from Stone, Staffordshire, and made his stand-up debut with Warwick Comedy Society during his first year at the University Of Warwick. “Terminally unemployed” he reached the finals of the Chortle Student Comedy Award 2016 and So You Think You’re Funny? in 2017. “My material is quite self-deprecating and depressing, with a little a bit of silliness to compensate for all the moaning,” he says.

Born in Handsworth, Birmingham, Kai Samra grew up in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Though he only started stand-up in 2016, he’s already opened for such acts as Paul Chowdhry (in front of 2,000 people). Kai describes himself as “an observational comic who tackles issues such as class, race and modern culture from a fresh perspective.”

The five acts were nominated by a panel of comedy professionals based on live performances over the previous year.

A spokesperson for Birmingham Comedy Festival said: “The award features some of the very best talent from across the West Midlands, acts who are either in the early stages of their careers and show real promise, or who’ve seriously upped their game during the last 12 months.

“With observational, music and character comedy, this is our most varied Breaking Talent line-up, so it’s going to be a really fantastic show. We wish all the acts the very best of luck but, of course, there can only be one winner …”

The Glee Club’s Mark Tughan said: “The calibre of talent coming through in the last few years has been exceptional, and this year looks like another step up, both in quality and diversity of acts. It’s become a must-see event for anyone who likes home-grown talent and live comedy.”

Participating acts have been nominated by James Cook (comedian, comedy course tutor), Adam Jaremko (The Glee’s comedy promoter/ booker), Maureen Younger (comedian, MY Comedy), and Josh Pugh (Birmingham Comedy Festival Breaking Talent Award 2015 winner and English Comedian Of The Year 2016).

The Birmingham Comedy Festival Breaking Talent Award 2017, in association with Edinburgh Gin, takes place at The Glee Club, The Arcadian, Birmingham, on Friday 6 October 2017. The night is compered by James Cook and closes with a set from Lost Voice Guy. Tickets £11 (£7 NUS) from 0871 472 0400. For more information see: www.bhamcomfest.co.uk

 

L’Amourning Glory – Kez Handley On Club L’Amour Comeback

Club L’amour was a lovingly leathered night of obscure indie offcuts, a B-Town breakfast meeting of promoters and performers, and a selection of national and local bands gracing the squeezed-in, smoke-addled stage. A staple of the sesh era (i.e. 2015 – 2017), Club L’amour added further cultural credence to the dingy delights of Digbeth, boasting late-night sets from ovary-busting faves such as RAT BOY, Pale Waves and Pleasure House, as well as local bands-done-good like The Cosmics, Afterbloom and Riscas.

All good things must come to an end, and Club L’amour – which originally ran fortnightly at graffiti-riddled haven SUKI10C – closed its doors in February 2017. Since then, its stalwart, Kez Handley, has moved on to managing Riscas, and a generation raised on glittery memes and broken dreams tried to find a new hedonism hole. However, on Saturday 16th September, Club L’amour will make a hero’s return for one night only, perfectly dovetailing with the inaugural Beyond the Tracks festival. Sam Lambeth, who will be DJing, caught up with Handley to get the lowdown.

Club L’amour seemingly closed its doors for good earlier this year. Now it is back for one night only. Why now? Why ever?

Yeah, I guess we lied. I think deep down we knew it wouldn’t be the last one ever hence the ironic name of the last event! The real reason we’ve ‘brought it back’ is to support Beyond the Tracks festival, which is taking place at Eastside Park, Digbeth, a stone’s throw from where we were based at Suki10c.. It’s the biggest festival of its kind to ever take place in Birmingham, there’s a number of bands who are playing it who played for us so we got the old gang back together and thought ‘why not?’

Why did Club L’amour end in the first place? Do you feel that the Birmingham scene has struggled since its closure?

I don’t think we were the basis of the Birmingham scene, I think we certainly helped it but it’s always going to go on whether we’re there or not. If anything the indie scene is flourishing at the moment – bands like Riscas, Sugarthief, Ivory Wave, Social State, The Cosmics and Quinn (of course) have really expanded onto a national playing field, playing main stages at festivals, getting Radio 1 airplay and BBC introducing backing. Personally I haven’t seen it like this for a good few years and it’s great for Birmingham as a scene – more bands should definitely be linking in with each other. As for why we closed, it’s very time-consuming and with us all going onto other things we felt it best to end it at its peak rather than watch it decay into something shite.

Many bands, both national and local, have played Club L’amour and have credited it with helping their careers progress. How does that make you feel?

It blows my mind. Thank you to anyone who has ever said that! Knowing that we were a part of their journey is really special. For example, it’s crazy watching a band like The Cosmics play for us, then exactly a year later play Glastonbury. Incredible.

What can people expect from the returning night? And will you continue to bring it back sporadically, or is this the last high?

There’s three bands who I personally believe are on the cusp of greater things – Riscas, Sugarthief and a third act I can’t mention, although they’re riding a wave of success themselves. There’ll be DJ sets from our Club L’amour DJs, as well as This Feeling’s Harley Cassidy, Brum Radio man Tim Arstall and Jack Parker of BBC WM Introducing. We’re not too sure what’s going to happen with Club L’amour as of yet. We’re considering a number of options and talking to several promoters in and out of the city about it. I doubt it’ll be a regular thing but something sporadic sounds more like it.

Do you think Birmingham needs something similar to Club L’amour to keep local bands thriving, and give them a good place to network?

I believe venues like The Sunflower Lounge, The Flapper, Hare & Hounds and Promoters like Birmingham Promoters and Sonic Gun are already so linked in with each other, and for a city like Birmingham that’s key. It’d be nice to see an after-hours indie thing like ours establish itself and take off definitely. Too many promoters from outside Birmingham try to set something up in a huge venue thinking it’ll be a cash cow, put an event on once or twice and fail due to high costs and low turnout. Start small and build up, that was our strategy. That’s why It’s quite cool watching bands link up with each other to create something unique, for example Into the Void Festival at the 6/8 Kafe was a wicked idea. Again with Beyond the Tracks, I really believe this could be something to finally put Birmingham on the map. Kudos to John and the team!

What are your plans for the future, band and promoter-wise?

I’m currently managing Riscas and working with several other acts on the side under Hey Honey Records, we’re also looking at several events that we’re going to be putting on in 2018. Just watch this space.

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Sept 1-Thu Sept 7

NEW RELEASES

Patti Cake$ (15)

While there’s been several biopics centred around the genre, there hasn’t been a decent rap-based movie since Eminem’s 8-Mile, at least not one with a  heart in its narrative. Directed and written by Geremy Jaspar, making his feature debut, and who also wrote the original songs, this ably remedies that with his quasi-autobiographical story about the transformative power of music. It stars  Australian actress Danielle Macdonald as  Patricia Dombrowski, an overweight New Jersey (the film opens with Springsteen’s The Time That Never Was) bartender who dreams of becoming a rap star to escape the  dead-end life  and  home she shares with her brash, equally plus-sized  boozy mother, Barb (Bridgett Everett), herself a failed rock star, and her sick, cantankerous Nana (Cathy Moriarty).

Calling herself Killer P, but disparagingly dubbed  Dumbo by the local youths in her working-class North Jersey neighbourhood, she hangs out with loyal friend and supporter, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), who works the local pharmacy and fantasises of being feted by her rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), spending her days regularly creating her own self-driven raps, such as the sardonic “mylifesfuckinawesome”.

After a  failed attempt at making a demo, when she and Hareesh encounter self-styled but far from talkative anarchist guitarist  Bastered (Mamoudou Athie) during a  showcase night, she tracks him down to his shack near the graveyard (just beyond the subway tunnel named the Gates of Hell)  and persuades him to record her, and, joined by Hareesh and, unlikely as it seems, Nana , they make a CD and form a band called PBnJ, arranging  launch night at a local strip bar. Things do not, however, go as well as they do in the many surreal fantasy sequences,

Meanwhile, Patti’s working all hours in the local bar and with a  catering company to make the money she and the family desperately need,  her mother’s hooked up with a cop to front his  blues band (sporting a not entirely flattering orange jump suit), a  meeting with her idol crushes her dreams into the ground and the challenge of facing an audience at the launch night turns into a self-confidence meltdown that sees her  deciding to give it all up.

Naturally,  despite some bumps in the road, the film delivers the obligatory feelgood ending at a rap contest, one which, involving Barb and a power ballad from the one album she made, proves unexpectedly moving.

Stylishly filmed by Jaspar with plenty of moody lighting and close-ups, while both Moriarty and Everett (who proves to have a powerful set of lungs) have scene stealing moments, the film would be nothing without  Macdonald’s charismatic personality and performance,  who uses her body shape to full advantage, but never for laughs or pity, And she raps well too. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Eat Local (15)

Like many a first time director, actor Jason Flemyng has opted to make his debut behind the camera with a horror film. A horror comedy to be precise, one which essentially reverses the premise of Dog Soldiers in that, here, it’s the monsters trapped inside the house besieged by the soldiers. They’re a group of eight vampires who have come to an isolated English farmhouse for their regular half-century  meeting to discuss ‘farming’ quotas and territories (i.e. how many humans they can  feed on and where), among them the affable Henry (Charlie Cox of Dardevil fame), Angel (Freema Agyeman), silent type Chen (Lukaz Leong, essentially just there for some kung fu moves towards the end), seductress Vanessa (Eve Myles), wry old dear Alice (Annette Crosbie) and the aloof, arrogant Peter Boniface (Tony Curran) who’s keen to expand his hunting grounds.

An internal disagreement over one of the group’s activities, whittles the number down to seven, which means they need a new recruit. To which end Vanessa has brought along Essex wide boy Sebastian (Billy Cook) as a likely addition to the ranks. Peter, however, isn’t up for it, which means now they have to dispose of their unwanted guest.

However, before they can do that,  they’re made aware that the place  has been staked out by a  bunch of  vampire hunter soldiers led by Colonel Bingham (Robert Portal), but under the command of obsessed Vatican emissary Larrouse (Mackenzie Crook) who wants to wipe them all  from the face of the earth. Bingham, as it turns out has his own agenda which requires keeping at least one of them alive for commercial reasons  revealed in an  amusing coda. As the confrontation between both sides bloodily escalates, Sebastian also gets to meet the farm’s owners (Dexter Fletcher, Ruth Jones) who aren’t quite the unfortunate hostages they appear.

Wittily scripted by Danny King with some particularly memorable lines and flourishes (the image of Crosbie calmly rattling off  a souped-up machine gun is a particular joy), and confidently directed by Flemyng, who clearly picked up a few tricks from  Guy Ritchie when making Lock, Stock (from which Nick Moran makes a cameo), it deftly balances the action and the humour.  Pointedly set at Thatcher’s Farm,  it also takes some political swipes at EU regulations and contemporary Britain, including  Curran’s argument about not overfarming migrants, because they have rights too and, besides the NHS needs them. It’s not quite the vampire Shaun of the Dead to which it aspires, but it’s undeniably one of the most fun horror movies this year.  (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Final Portrait (15)

Directed by  Stanley Tucci, Geoffrey Rush stars in the true life story of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Set in  1964 Paris, Giacometti asks his friend, American writer and art-lover James Lord (Armie Hammer), who’s in town for a brief visit, to sit for a portrait. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees, expecting it to take just a couple of hours at most. But as the days drag on with the painter’s constant delays, Tucci’s Beckett-like film unfolds into the amusing story of an offbeat friendship between two very different men brought together through an act of creatiuon, but, also, as  seen from Lord’s perspective, an insight into artistic process with all its frustrations, profundity, beauty and chaos. Clémence Poesy co-stars as Caroline, a prostitute who also happens to be Giacometti’s muse, while Sylvie Testud  is his wife Annette, who has taken a lover in revenge for  his obsession. (Fri-Wed; MAC)

 

God’s Own Country (15)

Dubbed  a  Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain, first time writer-director as Francis Lee unfolds the relationship between teenager Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), who, forced to stay behind and look after the family farm while his friends take off  for pastures new when his hardened, seemingly joyless father (Ian Hart) suffers a stroke, numbs his pain and frustrations with  binge drinking and casual sex with women he picks up at the livestock auctions. But then, one day, along comes Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), a reserved, quietly soulful Romanian migrant who his dad  hires for the  lambing season and whose presence prompts unexpected feelings in Johnny and a questioning of his sexuality, as well as his own relationship to the land,  as they work together repairing walls up on the moors.

Driven by terrific  lead performances, with solid support from Hart and Gemma Jones as Johnny’s stoic grandmother, it confidently balances its unsentimental but tender coming out romantic drama narrative with a gritty, almost documentary style depiction of the tough and often brutal realities of farm life, not least Gheorghe’s skinning of a dead lamb  so he can put the pelt on another, tricking the dead animal’s mother into feeding it. However, learning that his father will never recover sufficiently to resume running the farm, brings an almost catastrophic pressure to bear. It’s slow, but absorbingly affecting. (Electric)

 

The Limehouse Golem (15)

Riding, perhaps, on the back of the popularity of Penny Dreadful, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Ripper Street, with Jane Goldman adapting Peter Ackroyd’s novel (and bringing  feminist note) director Juan Carlos Median’s thriller carefully blends historical fact with police procedural fiction, and a liberal helping of gore. Adopting the technique of starting at the end and then showing how matters arrived there, it’s set in 1880 London with Bill Nighy as Scotland Yard Inspector John Kildare, Nighy who’s assigned to investigate a series of brutal murders by a killer the press has dubbed the Limehouse Golem. A cautious,  methodical and reserved man who’s been passed over for promotion because of rumours about “not being the marrying kind”, he suspects he’s got the job as the fall guy so his superior’s reputation’s  not tarnished. None the less, taking on  constable  George Flood (Daniel Mays) as his assistant, linking the killings to an earlier slaughter of a family,  he sets about examining four potential suspects, all of whom visited the British Library Reading Room on a specific day, musical hall female impersonator comic Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), Karl Marx (Henry Goodman),  novelist George Gissing ( Morgan Watkins), all three real life characters, and fictional journalist and aspiring playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). The problem is Cree has just been found poisoned  and his wife, music hall star Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) is being tried for his murder.

Persuaded that she’s innocent, Kildare makes it his mission to prove her husband was the Golem, eliminating the others by comparing their handwriting to the lurid  diary notes written by the killer in a Thomas de Quincey book as a record of his self-styled acts of creation. These are staged as imagined  recreations of the murders with each of the suspects in turn embodying the Golem. Meanwhile, in the trial and interviews with the imprisoned Lizzie sequences, the film delivers flashbacks to her rise from abused street urchin to music hall star under Leno’s tutelage to her unhappy marriage to Cree, taking in the vindictive jealousy of romantic rival and fellow entertainer Aveline (Maria Valverde) and the deaths of two other members of the company, dwarf  Victor and theatre manager Uncle (a creepy Eddie Marsan), both of whom, it is suggested were killed by Cree in response to the way they treated Lizzie.

Enfolded in fog and shadows and with some suitably saucy music hall humour and melodrama, the film eventually becomes a race against the clock to save Lizzie from the gallows. There’s any number of  twists and turns to divert audience suspicions, although the hide in plain sight approach won’t be missed by armchair detectives, building the tension along with the increasingly visceral flashbacks. Departing from his recent comedic roles, Nighy (who stepped in when Alan Rickman fell ill) is terrific, as indeed are Cooke and Booth, both of whom afford their characters intriguing complexities in what is a celver, literate and hugely involving work.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Stratton (15)

Presumably knocked off by Dominic Cooper between episodes of Preacher, this finds Simon West still failing to recapture the spark of Con-Air in the tale of a Special Boat Service agent who,  based on the books by Duncan Falconer, is enlisted by MI6  when its discovered that, rather than being dead, a former Soviet operative Barovski (Thomas Kretschmann) has gone rogue and plans to use deadly chemical weapons stolen from his former paymasters to take revenge with an attack on London.  A low budget C grade stab at Bourne or Bond,  co-star Tom Felton, Dewrek Jacobi and Connie Nielsen wander around doing nothing much in particular as West delivers some routine action sequences while Cooper turns in a performance that suggests he checked in any charisma or interest at the dressing room. . (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

NOW PLAYING 

American Made (15)

In 1978, tapped for smuggling illegal Cuban cigars, TWA pilot Barry Seal was approached by the CIA to run secret surveillance missions over Colombia, a success that, through the early 80s,  led to him becoming a bag man between the CIA and Nicaragua’s General Noriega, delivering pay offs in return for information on Communist operations in South America. Then, he was approached by the Medelin Cartel, the biggest drugs operation in Colombia, headed up by Pablo Escobar, who recruited him to transport their cocaine to  the United States. Then, further concerned about the Communist-run Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the CIA got him to fly arms to the supposedly opposing Contras, except instead, he ended up flying the guns to the Cartel  who armed their forces and  then got the Contras to smuggle cocaine into America. Before long Seal, who by now had been relocated by the CIA from Louisiana to Mena in smalltown Arkansas  was making so much money he was having to set up any number of front businesses to launder it, and even then he was still burying it in the garden and stuffing it into cupboards. And even when it went pear-shaped, and he was being pursued variously by state police, the FBI, CIA  and the DEA, he was still able to come out on top.

Unfolding between 1985 top 1986, it was one of the biggest covert operations ever run by the US government. His story’s been told before, but, screenwriter Gary Spinelli taking a cue from GoodFellas,  never as well or as entertainingly as here by director Doug Liman (whose father investigated the Iran-Contra affair) with a permagrin Tom Cruise donning the aviator sunglasses as Seals. Played with an eye on the comedic element in the whole situation (rather akin to the recent similarly-themed War Dogs), it romps from one implausible but real scenario to the next as Seal’s ‘business’ empire continues to expand. Although initially wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) is oblivious to Barry’s double life, but when you’ve got wads of dollar bills all over the house, it’s hard to keep things that secret and she readily takes to the  wealth and the life, although things almost come crashing down thanks her to her self-serving slacker brother (Caleb Landry Jones) who reckons he can deal himself an easy hand in the cash flow.

Not until the final act when, now working for the White House and Colonel Oliver North, he’s inadvertently outed as betraying the Cartel and becomes a marked man, while the Iran-Contra scandal blows up in the government’s face does it really involve any real tension, and even then, as he moves from motel to motel, recording the videotapes that would eventually reveal his story (and provide the film’s to camera framing device), it still manages to play for  edgy laughs as, each morning, he wonders if his car will explode.

Following the disappointment of The Mummy and a series of autopilot Jack Reacher  turns, Cruise is on peak form here, bringing a winning charm and charisma to the film’s anti-hero embodiment of the American Dream on speed. Liman’s also well served by a solid supporting turn from Domhnall Gleeson as Seal’s CIA handler Monty Shafer who gets to bask in the reflected glory of his protégé’s successes while turning a knowing blind eye to extracurricular activities as long as they serve to further the political agenda, and burning any trail when compromised. There’s evidence of some edit room chops (Jesse Plemons’ local sheriff and his suspicious wife  seemingly the biggest victims), but even so the film flows at an exhilarating rush, making it easily Cruise’s best since Collateral.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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 farmhouse 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  a 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, things 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, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous instalments, 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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  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 an inevitable 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. (Empire Great Park;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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)

 

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

 

The Dark Tower (12A)

When Robert Browning wrote his epic ballad Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came he could have no idea that it, along with Arthurian legends, Lord of the Ring and Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,  would prove the inspiration for Stephen King’s eight part multi-genre series about  the struggle between Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers (read knights), whose sworn duty is to protect the Dark Tower, which stands at the middle of the multiverse  protecting it from the demons and darkness seeking to enter and destroy it.

Nor could he have imagined what a lumberingly uninvolving and incoherent 95 minute feature director Nikolaj Arcel would make of the first volume which, compressing elements from the entire series, pits Roland (Idris Elba) against evil sorcerer the Man in Black, who he knows by the not entirely scary name of Walter (Mathew McConaughey). For reasons never  properly explained, Walter (sniggerly surnamed o’Dim in the novel) is out to destroy the tower, to which end he’s using the Taheen, his rat-featured underlings, known as Skins because of their fake human faces, to abduct children from the other assorted worlds and use their latent psychic powers, termed ‘the shine’, as energy bolts.

On Earth, or keynote Earth, New York adolescent Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having troubling nightmares involving, well, all of the above, which, of course, no-one, especially loving mom (Katheryn Winnick), and not so loving step-dad, believe. Jake, apparently is pure shine, and just what Walter’s been looking for.  However, he manages to give his would-be captors the slip and discovers  a portal that enables him to cross to Mid-World, a sort of feudal post-apocalyptic version of Earth, only to find his would-be hero in a depressive funk after Walter killed his dad (Dennis Haysbert), resigned to having lost the battle and the inevitable doom of the universe. No longer in the Gunslinger creed that ““He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father,” he just wants to kill Walter.

Naturally, Jake reignites Roland’s spark, leading to a rambling fantasy western narrative that variously crosses between the two worlds as cosmic good takes on cosmic evil. Despite the deaths of any number of characters, there’s no emotional tug to be felt nor does the developing son and surrogate father bond between the two unlikely allies much convince. Elba looks nifty in his leathers and gun belt, his gun apparently forced from the steel of Excalibur, but his mind never seems to be much engaged with the narrative (given the clunky dialogue. that’s hardly surprising), though, sporting spiky black hair, long coat and smug icy smile,  McConaughey is clearly having a gleeful time, nonchalantly offing people by just telling them to stop breathing,. Despite being stuff with shine, Taylor, meanwhile, radiates almost no presence at all.

Indifferently directed and featuring equally indifferent CGI, there’s a couple of  zippy shoot’em up sequences, but nothing to get overly excited about and, clearly the result of some desperate cutting room surgery,  the film does pretty much nothing with the fleeting appearances of  a couple of demons and a red cloud, before finally hobbling to its anti-climax and the overly optimistic suggestion that this is just the start of a series. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; 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  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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Detroit (15)

In the early hours of Sunday, July 23, during the hot summer of 1967, the police raided an all-black after-hours club in Detroit. Unable to access the rear of the building, the  men and women were taken out the front to be loaded into the police wagons. A crowd gathered and, despite pleas by the local Congressman for calm, the already brittle racial tension swiftly escalated into riots and looting, setting the almost exclusively African-American neighbourhood ablaze. A curfew was imposed and members of Michigan’s National Guard were brought in to help restore order.

Across town, Larry Reed (Algee Smith), lead singer with aspiring unsigned R&B outfit The Dramatics, smarting at having the group’s big-break at a show featuring Martha & The Vandellas cut short on account of the riots, takes a room at the Algiers Motel, and he and his younger friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore), hook up with a couple of white girls (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) looking to experience the sexual revolution. They  all go up to a room for drinks where, illustrating a familiar white cop black guy scenario,  one of the guests Carl (Jason Mitchell) pulls a prank with a starting pistol and then thinks it might be fun to shoot it out of the window at the National Guard. At this point everything goes to shit, as, believing there to be a sniper in the motel, bigot cops Krauss (a terrifyingly chilling Will Poulter) and Demens (Jack Reynor), storm the place and line all the guests, among them a Vietnam veteran , (Anthony Mackie), against the wall demanding to know who fired the gun and where it is. Before long, Carl is lying dead and things are going from bad to worse as Krauss, a baby-faced  bullying racist with a power complex, who’s already shot one looter in the back and is disgusted at what he assumes to be miscegenation,  seeks to torture and terrorise the others into giving up the shooter. Inevitably, either because they don’t know or are unwilling to talk, no one is saying anything. Also involved in this increasingly tense situation is Melvin Dismukes (a magnetically underplaying John Boyega), a black security guard who seeks to try and diffuse things, but  also wary of getting too involved.

Based on historical records, including news reports, eye-witness testimonies and the subsequent murder trials of  Krauss and his two fellow officers, albeit with a fair dose of dramatic licence, working from a  screenplay Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted an electrifying and often uncomfortable drama about racial divides and police terrorism that, adopting documentary style techniques, both turns a spotlight on largely forgotten events and the domestic terrorism power keg that is a divided America today.

Combining archival footage with dramatic recreation, Bigelow gradually ratchets up the claustrophobia and horror until it explodes in sudden harrowing violence before the judicial proceedings aftermath that made a mockery of justice. It will, no doubt, be held up as an example of the police brutality that has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, but, as a microcosm of racial violence and prejudices embracing the fears and attitudes of whites and blacks alike, it’s about far more than that.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza, West Brom; 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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Everything Everything (12A)

Diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease as a todder, following the accident that killed her father and brother, African-American Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) has spent most  of her 18 years inside her home, cared for by her protective doctor mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) and longtime nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), having no contact with the outside world other than Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo), as she’s unable to venture outside less exposure prove fatal.

Then, one day, they get new neighbours, specifically Olly (Nick Robinson), a good-hearted white teenager who dresses in black (she, mostly in white) and has problems with an abusive father. The pair strike up a friendship from their windows and through texts and, without her mother’s knowledge,  Maddy persuades Carla to allow him into the house so they can meet in person. The idea is for them to keep their distance, but inevitably attraction leads to to a 4th of July kiss,  romance and further secret meetings. However, when an incident sees Maddy running outside to Olly’s aid, realising what’s been going on, her mother puts her foot down and bans further contact. Of course, love and concern for personal safety do not necessarily go hand in hand, determining that there’s no point being alive unless you’re actually living, Maddy embarks on a plan that will have life-changing consequences.

Adapted from Nicola Yoon’s fairy-tale inspired young-adult romantic novel and directed by Stella Meghie, who punctuates proceedings with several excursions into Maddy’s fantasies (based on the  architectural models she builds and including  a symbolic astronaut figure), this has its target audience firmly delineated. One which, seduces by  the likeability of the two leads and the naturalness of the  chemistry between them, is unlikely to pick apart the implausibilities or question the credibility of a twist that’s not exactly difficult to see coming.  (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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 Hangover  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;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (15)

Ryan Reynolds teams with Samuel L Jackson for an empty but thoroughly entertaining variation on the mismatched enemies turned buddies road trip  that involves the former’s bodyguard, Michael Bryce, and the latter’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, in a  race against the clock to travel from Manchester to The Hague. The purpose being that Kincaid has been persuaded to give testimony  at the war crimes trial of genocidal Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (a suitably evil Gary Oldman) in exchange for immunity and freedom for his imprisoned wife (Selma Hayek, marvellously foul-mouthed in her  few scenes). Since that means that, with the help of the inevitable Interpol traitor (revealed early as Joaquim de Almeid’s Assistant Director), Dukhovich’s thugs are out to ensure he never gets there, Bryce has been brought in to facilitate self-passage.

He’s less than enthusiastic since, as the prologue reveals, formerly Triple A-rated, he’s slipped considerably down the personal security food chain since one of his clients was popped after safely boarding a plane. He’s still good at his job, but he’s gone from top of the range Jags to battered jalopies and from top diplomats and arms dealers to Richard E Grant’s cameoing coke-dealing London businessman.  On top of which, Kincaid has tried to kill him 28 times and , following an assault on the convoy transporting him, the Interpol agent whose enlisted him is Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung), his former girlfriend whom he blames for selling him out on that airport job. The truth about which provides a particularly amusing reveal in a film that balances lethal and laughter in equal measure.

There is, naturally, an Interpol traitor (revealed Essentially, it boils down to a series of  hops between cities (Coventry included) en route to the Amsterdam courtroom, including hitching  lift with a busload of nuns, punctuated by constant banter between the two, innumerable shoot outs and action sequences and some particularly thrilling high speeds chances, most notably one involving Amsterdam’s canals, vans, a motorbike and speedboat.

Jackson provides the larger than life side of the pairing, Kincaid regarding himself as one of the good guys and proving to be a hopeless romantic at heart (a flashback reveals how he and Sonia met and bonded when she slashed a guy’s carotid in a Cuban bar-fight) as he offers relationship advice to wounded soul Bryce, Reynolds handling the deadpan sarcasm and dry quips with Bryce’s plays safe approach constantly undermined by Kincaid’s street-smart bull by the horns attitude.

The whole romance element is, frankly, fairly superfluous to requirements other than as motivation drivers, and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the spark and interplay between the two stars, who are clearly having a  lot of fun, and the frenetic, action-crammed energy with which it unfolds. It’s infectious. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Logan Lucky (12A)

The return of director Steven Soderbergh to feature filmmaking should be cause for celebration, but instead what you get is a rather lacklustre and flat blue collar  retread of his Oceans’s trilogy, one which may have a cleverly intricate plot mechanism to the heist, but lacks any of those previous films’ fluidity,  comedic spark and banter. For reasons never quite made clear (but presumably involve being able to afford to follow his ex-wife –Katie Holmes – from Virginia  to Pittsburgh so he can still see his young daughter),  recently let go from a construction company on account of his insurance risk dodgy knee, former high school football star Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), persuades his one-armed Iraq-veteran bar tender brother  Clyde (Adam Driver) to join him in a  plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, to which end, with their flaky hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) already onboard, they enlist the services of  celebrated safecracker Jo Bang (a scenery-chewing Daniel Craig with a white buzzcut); they just have to get him out of jail to do the job and back again before he’s missed. Which means they also need the assistance of his two dimwit brothers (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson).

Unfortunately, there’s a hiccup that means they have to bring the plan forward a week, which means that, instead of some low profile race meet, they’re hitting the NASCAR Coca -Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. And, on top of which, after they pull the job, Jimmy’s got to get to his daughter’s pageant show.

It’s the first screenplay by Rebecca Blunt and, as such, you can often hear the gears grinding while things like the running gags about the supposed Logan family curse, Clyde’s hand  and John Denver’s music feel like Blunt being consciously ‘eccentric’ rather than an organic part of the plot. Likewise scenes involving Seth McFarlane’s loudmouth British energy drink creator race driver Max Chilblain which could have been cut without any loss to the narrative.

Admittedly, the way it all falls into place is well-handled and ( as with the Oceans films), there’s the inevitable reveals of things you didn’t see in the main narrative, but even so the late arrival of Hilary Swank’s FBI agent means the film has to try and crank things up again just after they’ve wound down post heist, something it never quite manages to do.  The cast are game enough, but never quite sparks in the way that Clooney et al. did and, while there’s some amusing touches, not least an amusing Game of Thrones gag as part of a prison riot demands and a witty background reference to Ocean’s Eleven,  ultimately this is enjoyable but forgettable fare. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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 it’s proven a box office disaster. 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 who leads an army of similarly garbed rodents who 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 NEC;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)

Rough Night (12A)

While inevitably suffering in arriving in the wake of the far more outrageous and much cruder Girls Trip, this female buddy movie from director Lucia Aniello, who co-wrote with  Paul Downs, still doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it.  The basic plot is much the same, a group of former college buddies who’ve not seen each for some years, reunite for a weekend away, the excuse being a bachelorette party for bride to be aspiring senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson) who, frankly, would rather stay home  with her fiancé (Downs) and try and salvage her failing campaign.

Nevertheless, she’s off to Miami with real estate agent Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who’s in the middle of a custody battle, her  activist former girlfriend Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and self-proclaimed best friend party organiser Alice (Jillian Bell), the obligatory needy, over-enthusiastic  outsize,  arrested development jealous loner with no social life.  They’re subsequently joined by another of Jess’s friends, Australian oddball Pippa (Kate McKinnon).

Where the plot (essentially a gender reversal of 1998’s Very Bad Things) diverges is that Alice accidentally ends up killing the stripper Blair has arranged and the subsequent attempts to get rid of the body and evidence of their involvement (something which entails Kravitz in a ménage a trois with beachside swinger neighbours Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), while, in a silly subplot contrived to facilitate the climax, Peter, fuelled by pills and Red Bull, is driving to Miami in the belief that Jess wants to call off the wedding.

Although there’s a twist to come regarding the dead man, the film takes its time getting there with a series of aborted attempts to dispose of the body that are never as amusing as they think they are. Johanssen handles the dramatic and emotional moments well enough, but it’s clear she’s not a  natural comic, standing even less chance than Kravitz and Glazer to withstand the primal force of Bell (essentially in the Melissa McCarthy Bridesmaids  role) or the scene-stealing off the wall delivery and humour of McKinnon. But, even so, while there are laughs to be had, it’s not a  night  to remember. (Cineworld  NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

The third actor to play the webslinger on the big screen, Tom Holland made his role 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. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon 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

 

 

 

MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Aug 25-Thu Aug 31

NEW RELEASES

Detroit (15)

In the early hours of Sunday, July 23, during the hot summer of 1967, the police raided an all-black after-hours club in Detroit. Unable to access the rear of the building, those inside, men and women, were taken out the front to be loaded into the police wagons. A crowd gathered and, despite pleas by the local Congressman for calm, the already brittle racial swiftly escalated into riots and looting, setting the almost exclusively African-American neighbourhood ablaze. A curfew was imposed and members of Michigan’s National Guard were brought in to help restore order.

Across town, Larry Reed (Algee Smith), lead singer with aspiring unsigned R&B outfit The Dramatics, smarting at having the group’s big-break at a show featuring Martha & The Vandellas cut short on account of the riots, takes a room at the Algiers Motel, and he and his younger friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) hook up with a couple of white girls (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) looking to experience the sexual revolution. They  all go up to a room for drinks where, illustrating a familiar scenario between white cop and black guy,  one of the guests Carl ( (Jason Mitchell) pulls a prank with a starting pistol and then thinks it might be fun to shoot it out of the window at the National Guard. At this point everything goes to shit, as, believing there to be a sniper in the motel, bigot cops Krauss (a terrifyingly chilling Will Poulter) and Demens (Jack Reynor), storm the place and line all the guests, among them Vietnam veteran , (Anthony Mackie), against the wall demanding to know who fired the gun and where it is. Before long, Carl is lying dead and things are going from bad to worse as Krauss, a baby-faced  bullying racist with a power complex, who’s already shot one looter in the back and is disgusted at what he assumes to be miscegenation,  seeks to torture and terrorise the others into giving up the shooter. Inevitably, either because they don’t know or are unwilling to talk, no one is saying anything. Also involved in this increasingly tense situation is Melvin Dismukes (a magnetically underplaying John Boyega), a black security guard who seeks to try and diffuse things, but I also wary of getting too involved.

Based on historical records, including news reports, eye-witness testimonies and the subsequent murder trials of  Krauss and his two fellow officers, albeit with a fair dose of dramatic licence, working from a  screenplay Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted an electrifying and often uncomfortable drama about racial divides and police terrorism that, adopting documentary style techniques, both turns a spotlight on both largely forgotten events and the domestic terrorism power keg that is a divided America today.

Combining archival footage with dramatic recreation, Bigelow gradually ratchets up the claustrophobia and horror until it explodes in sudden harrowing violence before the judicial proceedings aftermath that made a mockery of justice. It will, no doubt, be held up as an example of the police brutality that has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, but, as a microcosm of racial violence and prejudices embracing the fears and attitudes of whites and blacks alike, it’s about far more than that.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Vue Star City)

American Made (15)

In 1978, tapped for smuggling illegal Cuban cigars, TWA pilot Barry Seal was approached by the CIA to run secret surveillance missions over Colombia, a success that, through the early 80s. led to him becoming a bag man between the CIA and Nicaragua’s General Noriega, delivering pay offs in return for information on Communist operations in South America. Then he was approached by the Medelin Cartel, the biggest drugs operation in Colombia headed up by Pablo Escobar, who recruited him to transport their cocaine in the United States. Then, further concerned about the Communist run Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the CIA got him to fly arms to the supposedly opposing Contras in Nicaragua, except instead, he ended up flying the guns to the Cartel  who armed their forces and  then got the Contras to smuggle cocaine into America. Before long Seal, who by now had been relocated by the CIA from Louisiana to Mena in smalltown Arkansas  was making so much money he was having to set up any number of front businesses to launder it, and even then he was still burying it in the garden and stuffing it into cupboards. And even when it went pear-shaped, and was being pursued variously by state police, the FBI, CIA  and the DEA, he was still able to come out on top. Unfolding between 1985 top 1986, it was one of the biggest covert operations ever run by the US government.

His story’s been told before, but, screenwriter Gary Spinelli taking a cue from GoodFellas,  never as well or as entertainingly as here by director Doug Liman (whose father investigated the Iran-Contra affair) with a permagrin Tom Cruise donning the aviator sunglasses as Seals. Played with an eye on the comedic element in the whole situation (rather akin to the recent similarly-themed War Dogs), it romps from one implausible but real scenario to the next as Seal’s ‘business’ empire continues to expand. Although initially wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) is oblivious to Barry’s double life, but when you’ve got wads of dollar bills all over the house, it’s hard to keep things that secret and she readily takes to the  wealth and the life, although things almost come crashing down thanks her to her self-serving slacker brother (Caleb Landry Jones) who reckons he can deal himself an easy hand in the cash flow.

Not until the final act when, now working for the White House and Colonel Oliver North, he’s inadvertently outed as betraying the Cartel and becomes a marked man, while the Iran-Contra scandal blows up in the government’s face does it really involve any real tension, and even then, as he moves from motel to motel, recording the videotapes that would eventually reveal his story (and provide the film’s to camera framing device), it still manages to play for laughs as each morning he wonders if his car will explode.

Following the disappointment of The Mummy and a series of thrilling but autopilot Jack Reacher  turns Cruise is on peak form here, bringing a winning charm and charisma to the film’s anti-hero embodiment of the American Dream on speed. Liman’s also well served by a solid supporting turn from Domhnall Gleeson as Seal’s CIA handler Monty Shafer who gets to bask in the reflected glory of his protégé’s successes while turning a knowing blind eye to extracurricular activities as long as they serve to further the political agenda, and burning any trail when compromised. There’s evidence of some edit room chops (Jesse Plemons’ local sheriff and his suspicious wife  seemingly the biggest victims), but even so the film flows at an exhilarating rush, making it easily Cruise’s best since Collateral.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Logan Lucky (12A)

The return of director Steven Soderbergh to feature filmmaking should be cause for celebration, but instead what you get is a blue collar and rather lacklustre and flat retread of his Oceans’s trilogy, one which may have a cleverly intricate plot mechanism to the heist, but lack any of those previous films’ fluidity or comedic spark and banter. For reasons that are never quite made clear (but presumably involve being able to afford to follow his ex-wife –Katie Holmes – from Virginia  to Pittsburgh so he can still see his young daughter),  recently let go from a construction company on account of his insurance risk dodgy knee, former high school football star Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), persuades his one-armed Iraq-veteran bar tender brother  Clyde (Adam Driver) to join him in a  plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, to which end, with their flaky hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) already onboard, they enlist the services of  celebrated safecracker Jo Bang (a scenery-chewing Daniel Craig with a white buzzcut given an ‘introducing’ credit); they just have to get him out of jail to do the job and back again before he’s missed. Which means they also need the assistance  of his two dimwit brothers (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson), who, though loosely born again, agree to help on moral grounds (apparently someone connected to the sponsor made a pass at Mellie, so robbing them’s okay).

Unfortunately, there’s a hiccup that means they have to bring the plan forward a week, which means that instead of some low profile race meet, they’re hitting the NASCAR Coca -Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. And, on top of which, after they pull the job, Jimmy’s got to get to his daughter’s pageant show.

It’s the first screenplay by Rebecca Blunt and, as such, you can often hear the gears grinding while things like the running gags about the supposed Logan family curse, Clyde’s hand  and John Denver’s music feel like Blunt being consciously ‘eccentric’ rather than an organic part of the plot. Likewise scenes involving Seth McFarlane’s loudmouth British energy drink creator race driver Max Chilblain which could have been cut without any loss to the narrative.

Admittedly, the way it all falls into place is well-handled (and, as with the Oceans films), there’s the inevitable reveals of things you didn’t see in the main narrative, but even so the late arrival of Hilary Swank’s FBI agent means the film has to try and crank things up again just after they’ve wound down post heist, something it never quite manages to do.  The cast are game enough, but never quite spark in the way that Clooney et al. did and, while there’s some amusing touches, not least a very Game of Thrones gag as part of a prison riot demands (with Dwight Yoakam as the warden) and a witty background reference to Oceans Eleven,  ultimately this is enjoyable but forgettable fare. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Rough Night (12A)

While inevitably suffering in arriving in the wake of the far more outrageous and much cruder Girls Trip, this female buddy movie from director Lucia Aniello, who co-wrote the Paul Downs, still doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it.  The basic plot is much the same, a group of former college buddies who’ve not seen each for some years, reunite for a weekend away, the excuse being a bachelorette party for bride to be aspiring senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson) who, frankly, would rather stay home  with her fiancé (Downs) and try and salvage her failing campaign.

Nevertheless, she’s off to Miami with real estate agent Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who’s in the middle of a custody battle, her  activist former girlfriend Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and self-proclaimed best friend party organiser Alice (Jillian Bell), the obligatory needy, over-enthusiastic  outsize,  arrested development jealous loner with no social life.  They’re subsequently joined by another of Jess’s friends, Australian oddball Pippa (Kate McKinnon).

Where the plot (essentially a gender reversal of 1998’s Very Bad Things) diverges is that Alice accidentally ends up killing the stripper Blair has arranged and the subsequent attempts to get rid of the body and evidence of their involvement (something which entails Kravitz in a ménage a trois with beachside swinger neighbours Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), while, in a silly subplot contrived to facilitate the climax, Peter, fuelled by pills and Red Bull, is driving to Miami in the belief that Jess wants to call off the wedding.

Although there’s a twist to come regarding the dead man, the film takes its time getting there with a series of aborted attempts to dispose of the body that are never as amusing as they think they are. Johanssen handles the dramatic and emotional moments well enough, but it’s clear she’s not a  natural comic, standing even less chance than Kravitz and Glazer to withstand the primal force of Bell (essentially in the Melissa McCarthy Bridesmaids  role) or the scene-stealing off the wall delivery and humour of McKinnon. But, even so, while there are laughs to be had, it’s not a  night  to remember. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

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 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 farmhouse 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  a 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, things 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, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous instalments, 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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  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 an inevitable 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; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; 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.  (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. (Mockingbird)

 

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; 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Dark Tower (12A)

When Robert Browning wrote his epic ballad Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came he could have no idea that it, along with Arthurian legends, Lord of the Ring and Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,  would prove the inspiration for Stephen King’s eight part multi-genre series about  the struggle between Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers (read knights), whose sworn duty is to protect the Dark Tower, which stands at the middle of the multiverse  protecting it from the demons and darkness seeking to enter and destroy it.

Nor could he have imagined what a lumberingly uninvolving and incoherent 95 minute feature director Nikolaj Arcel would make of the first volume which, compressing elements from the entire series, pits Roland (Idris Elba) against evil sorcerer the Man in Black, who he knows by the not entirely scary name of Walter (Mathew McConaughey). For reasons never  properly explained, Walter (sniggerly surnamed o’Dim in the novel) is out to destroy the tower, to which end he’s using the Taheen, his rat-featured underlings, known as Skins because of their fake human faces, to abduct children from the other assorted worlds and use their latent psychic powers, termed ‘the shine’, as energy bolts.

On Earth, or keynote Earth, New York adolescent Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having troubling nightmares involving, well, all of the above, which, of course, no-one, especially loving mom (Katheryn Winnick), and not so loving step-dad, believe. Jake, apparently is pure shine, and just what Walter’s been looking for.  However, he manages to give his would-be captors the slip and discovers  a portal that enables him to cross to Mid-World, a sort of feudal post-apocalyptic version of Earth, only to find his would-be hero in a depressive funk after Walter killed his dad (Dennis Haysbert), resigned to having lost the battle and the inevitable doom of the universe. No longer in the Gunslinger creed that ““He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father,” he just wants to kill Walter.

Naturally, Jake reignites Roland’s spark, leading to a rambling fantasy western narrative that variously crosses between the two worlds as cosmic good takes on cosmic evil. Despite the deaths of any number of characters, there’s no emotional tug to be felt nor does the developing son and surrogate father bond between the two unlikely allies much convince. Elba looks nifty in his leathers and gun belt, his gun apparently forced from the steel of Excalibur, but his mind never seems to be much engaged with the narrative (given the clunky dialogue. that’s hardly surprising), though, sporting spiky black hair, long coat and smug icy smile,  McConaughey is clearly having a gleeful time, nonchalantly offing people by just telling them to stop breathing,. Despite being stuff with shine, Taylor, meanwhile, radiates almost no presence at all.

Indifferently directed and featuring equally indifferent CGI, there’s a couple of  zippy shoot’em up sequences, but nothing to get overly excited about and, clearly the result of some desperate cutting room surgery,  the film does pretty much nothing with the fleeting appearances of  a couple of demons and a red cloud, before finally hobbling to its anti-climax and the overly optimistic suggestion that this is just the start of a series. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; 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  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; 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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Everything Everything (12A)

Diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease as a todder, following the accident that killed her father and brother, African-American Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) has spent most  of her 18 years inside her home, cared for by her protective doctor mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) and longtime nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), having no contact with the outside world other than Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo), as she’s unable to venture outside less exposure prove fatal.

Then, one day, they get new neighbours, specifically Olly (Nick Robinson), a good-hearted white teenager who dresses in black (she, mostly in white) and has problems with an abusive father. The pair strike up a friendship from their windows and through texts and, without her mother’s knowledge,  Maddy persuades Carla to allow him into the house so they can meet in person. The idea is for them to keep their distance, but inevitably attraction leads to to a 4th of July kiss,  romance and further secret meetings. However, when an incident sees Maddy running outside to Olly’s aid, realising what’s been going on, her mother puts her foot down and bans further contact. Of course, love and concern for personal safety do not necessarily go hand in hand, determining that there’s no point being alive unless you’re actually living, Maddy embarks on a plan that will have life-changing consequences.

Adapted from Nicola Yoon’s fairy-tale inspired young-adult romantic novel and directed by Stella Meghie, who punctuates proceedings with several excursions into Maddy’s fantasies (based on the  architectural models she builds and including  a symbolic astronaut figure), this has its target audience firmly delineated. One which, seduces by  the likeability of the two leads and the naturalness of the  chemistry between them, is unlikely to pick apart the implausibilities or question the credibility of a twist that’s not exactly difficult to see coming.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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; 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 almost 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. (Electric; MAC)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (15)

Ryan Reynolds teams with Samuel L Jackson for an empty but thoroughly entertaining variation on the mismatched enemies turned buddies road trip  that involves the former’s bodyguard, Michael Bryce, and the latter’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, in a  race against the clock to travel from Manchester to The Hague. The purpose being that Kincaid has been persuaded to give testimony  at the war crimes trial of genocidal Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (a suitably evil Gary Oldman) in exchange for immunity and freedom for his imprisoned wife (Selma Hayek, marvellously foul-mouthed in her  few scenes). Since that means that, with the help of the inevitable Interpol traitor (revealed early as Joaquim de Almeid’s Assistant Director), Dukhovich’s thugs are out to ensure he never gets there, Bryce has been brought in to facilitate self-passage.

He’s less than enthusiastic since, as the prologue reveals, formerly Triple A-rated, he’s slipped considerably down the personal security food chain since one of his clients was popped after safely boarding a plane. He’s still good at his job, but he’s gone from top of the range Jags to battered jalopies and from top diplomats and arms dealers to Richard E Grant’s cameoing coke-dealing London businessman.  On top of which, Kincaid has tried to kill him 28 times and , following an assault on the convoy transporting him, the Interpol agent whose enlisted him is Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung), his former girlfriend whom he blames for selling him out on that airport job. The truth about which provides a particularly amusing reveal in a film that balances lethal and laughter in equal measure.

There is, naturally, an Interpol traitor (revealed Essentially, it boils down to a series of  hops between cities (Coventry included) en route to the Amsterdam courtroom, including hitching  lift with a busload of nuns, punctuated by constant banter between the two, innumerable shoot outs and action sequences and some particularly thrilling high speeds chances, most notably one involving Amsterdam’s canals, vans, a motorbike and speedboat.

Jackson provides the larger than life side of the pairing, Kincaid regarding himself as one of the good guys and proving to be a hopeless romantic at heart (a flashback reveals how he and Sonia met and bonded when she slashed a guy’s carotid in a Cuban bar-fight) as he offers relationship advice to wounded soul Bryce, Reynolds handling the deadpan sarcasm and dry quips with Bryce’s plays safe approach constantly undermined by Kincaid’s street-smart bull by the horns attitude.

The whole romance element is, frankly, fairly superfluous to requirements other than as motivation drivers, and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the spark and interplay between the two stars, who are clearly having a  lot of fun, and the frenetic, action-crammed energy with which it unfolds. It’s infectious. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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 it’s proven a box office disaster. 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 who leads an army of similarly garbed rodents who 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; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; 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. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

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.  (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon 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

DHP announce plans to open new music venue in Birmingham

John Bright Street, Birmingham. Credit: Google

National music promoter and venue operator DHP Family is to open a new music venue in Birmingham in 2018, according to plans announced today.

The proposed 400 capacity premises will deliver, “food, a quality bar offer and a full programme of live music and club nights”, according to the company, which currently runs eight live music venues across the UK.

The Grade II-listed John Bright Street building acquired by DHP was formerly home to the Birmingham and Midland Skin Hospital, and more recently Rosie O’Brien’s nightclub, before remaining vacant for a number of years.

The premises was listed for sale at £1.2m earlier this year.

DHP Family owner George Akins said: “Opening the venue in Birmingham is part of a strategic move to develop the DHP brand in this key region. We think it’s an area that’s very strong at arena level, but presents an opportunity for growth at the small to medium end of the market.”

George added: “Birmingham is the UK’s second city, and has a rich musical heritage – but the city centre has lacked a characterful and creative venue for a long time. We believe with the revitalisation of the area around New Street Station that the time is right to create a place that the music fans of Birmingham will welcome.”

Anton Lockwood, DHP Director of Promotions, said, “We plan to use the skills and knowledge we’ve gained from award-winning venues like Rock City, Oslo, Thekla and Rescue Rooms to deliver something exciting that echoes the DHP values and standards, but is also a unique experience to Birmingham.”

Plans are now being drawn up for a complete refurbishment of the premises, due for completion in 2018.

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Aug 18-Thu Aug 24

NEW RELEASES

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (15)

Directed by Patrick Hughes, this brings together Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson for an empty but thoroughly entertaining variation on the mismatched enemies turned buddies road trip  that involves the former’s bodyguard, Michael Bryce, and the latter’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, in a  race against the clock to travel from Manchester to The Hague. The purpose being that Kincaid has been persuaded to give testimony  at the war crimes trial of genocidal Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (a suitably evil Gary Oldman) in exchange for immunity and freedom for his imprisoned wife (Selma Hayek, marvellously ferocious and foul-mouthed in her  few scenes). Since that means that, with the help of the inevitable Interpol traitor (revealed early as Joaquim de Almeid’s Assistant Director), Dukhovich’s thugs are out to ensure he never gets there, Bryce has been brought in to facilitate self-passage.

He’s less than enthusiastic since, as the prologue reveals, formerly Triple A-rated, he’s slipped considerably down the personal security food chain since one of his clients was popped after safely boarding a plane. He’s still good at his job, but he’s gone from top of the range Jags to battered jalopies and from top diplomats and arms dealers to Richard E Grant’s cameoing coke-dealing London businessman.  On top of which, Kincaid has tried to kill him 28 times and , following an assault on the convoy transporting him, the Interpol agent whose enlisted him is Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung), his former girlfriend whom he blames for selling him out on that airport job. The truth about which provides a particularly amusing reveal in a film that balances lethal and laughter in equal measure.

There is, naturally, an Interpol traitor (revealed Essentially, it boils down to a series of  hops between cities (Coventry included) en route to the Amsterdam courtroom, including hitching  lift with a busload of nuns, punctuated by constant banter between the two, innumerable shoot outs and action sequences and some particularly thrilling high speeds chances, most notably one involving Amsterdam’s canals, vans, a motorbike and speedboat.

Jackson provides the larger than life side of the pairing, Kincaid regarding himself as one of the good guys and proving to be a hopeless romantic at heart (a flashback reveals how he and Sonia met and bonded when she slashed a guy’s carotid in a Cuban bar-fight) as he offers relationship advice to wounded soul Bryce, Reynolds handling the deadpan sarcasm and dry quips (a particular gem being  “This guy single-handedly ruined the word ‘motherfucker’”). His plays safe approach constantly undermined by Kincaid’s street-smart bull by the horns attitude.

The whole romance element is, frankly, fairly superfluous to requirements other than as motivation drivers, and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the spark and interplay between the two stars, who are clearly having a  lot of fun, and the frenetic, action-crammed energy with which it unfolds. It’s infectious. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Dark Tower (12A)

When Robert Browning wrote his epic ballad Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came he could have no idea that it, along with Arthurian legends, Lord of the Ring and Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,  would prove the inspiration for Stephen King’s eight part multi-genre series about  the struggle between Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers (read knights), whose sworn duty is to protect the Dark Tower, which stands at the middle of the multiverse  protecting it from the demons and darkness seeking to enter and destroy it.

Nor could he have imagined what a lumberingly uninvolving and incoherent 95 minute feature director Nikolaj Arcel would make of the first volume which, compressing elements from the entire series, pits Roland (Idris Elba) against evil sorcerer the Man in Black, who he knows by the not entirely scary name of Walter (Mathew McConaughey). For reasons never  properly explained, Walter (sniggerly surnamed o’Dim in the novel) is out to destroy the tower, to which end he’s using the Taheen, his rat-featured underlings, known as Skins because of their fake human faces, to abduct children from the other assorted worlds and use their latent psychic powers, termed ‘the shine’, as energy bolts.

On Earth, or keynote Earth, New York adolescent Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having troubling nightmares involving, well, all of the above, which, of course, no-one, especially loving mom (Katheryn Winnick), and not so loving step-dad, believe. Jake, apparently is pure shine, and just what Walter’s been looking for.  However, he manages to give his would-be captors the slip and discovers  a portal that enables him to cross to Mid-World, a sort of feudal post-apocalyptic version of Earth, only to find his would-be hero in a depressive funk after Walter killed his dad (Dennis Haysbert), resigned to having lost the battle and the inevitable doom of the universe. No longer in the Gunslinger creed that ““He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father,” he just wants to kill Walter.

Naturally, Jake reignites Roland’s spark, leading to a rambling fantasy western narrative that variously crosses between the two worlds as cosmic good takes on cosmic evil. Despite the deaths of any number of characters, there’s no emotional tug to be felt nor does the developing son and surrogate father bond between the two unlikely allies much convince. Elba looks nifty in his leathers and gun belt, his gun apparently forced from the steel of Excalibur, but his mind never seems to be much engaged with the narrative (given the clunky dialogue. that’s hardly surprising), though, sporting spiky black hair, long coat and smug icy smile,  McConaughey is clearly having a gleeful time, nonchalantly offing people by just telling them to stop breathing,. Despite being stuff with shine, Taylor, meanwhile, radiates almost no presence at all.

Indifferently directed and featuring equally indifferent CGI, there’s a couple of  zippy shoot’em up sequences, but nothing to get overly excited about and, clearly the result of some desperate cutting room surgery,  the film does pretty much nothing with the fleeting appearances of  a couple of demons and a red cloud, before finally hobbling to its anti-climax and the overly optimistic suggestion that this is just the start of a series. If you really feel the need to see a King adaptation, wait for It. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Everything Everything (12A)

Diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease as a todder, following the accident that killed her father and brother, African-American Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) has spent most  of her 18 years inside her home, cared for by her protective doctor mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) and longtime nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), having no contact with the outside world other than Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo), as she’s unable to venture outside less exposure prove fatal.

Then, one day, they get new neighbours, specifically Olly (Nick Robinson), a good-hearted white teenager who dresses in black (she, mostly in white) and has problems with an abusive father. The pair strike up a friendship from their windows and through texts and, without her mother’s knowledge,  Maddy persuades Carla to allow him into the house so they can meet in person. The idea is for them to keep their distance, but inevitably attraction leads to to a 4th of July kiss,  romance and further secret meetings. However, when an incident sees Maddy running outside to Olly’s aid, realising what’s been going on, her mother puts her foot down and bans further contact. Of course, love and concern for personal safety do not necessarily go hand in hand, determining that there’s no point being alive unless you’re actually living, Maddy embarks on a plan that will have life-changing consequences.

Adapted from Nicola Yoon’s fairy-tale inspired young-adult romantic novel and directed by Stella Meghie, who punctuates proceedings with several excursions into Maddy’s fantasies (based on the  architectural models she builds and including  a symbolic astronaut figure), this has its target audience firmly delineated. One which, seduces by  the likeability of the two leads and the naturalness of the  chemistry between them, is unlikely to pick apart the implausibilities or question the credibility of a twist that’s not exactly difficult to see coming.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power  (PG)

In 2006, An Inconvenient Truth saw former Vic President Al Gore essentially delivering a Powerpoint lecture, albeit a compelling one, about global warming and climate change. Eleven years later, he returns with an equally compelling and statistics-fuelled, but more documentary-like, look at the ongoing environmental crisis, travelling around the globe to meet and talk to those at the sharp end, including  trainees in his programmes to combat change, such as those in the Philippines trainees dealing with the devastating 2013 typhoon, post-Katrina New Orleans and Florida where streets were flooded with fish.

The pivotal point is his successful attempt to get India to sign up to the 2016 Paris agreement. although, as it timely manages to include, Donald Trump has, of course, come along and jammed a very big spanner in the works with his advocacy of fossil fuels. Even so, despite the naysayers at home and abroad, the film feels more hopeful than its predecessor in its indication that political leaders can come together  and what the results can be.  (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Vue Star City)

 

 

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. (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)

 

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 farmhouse 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  a 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, things 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, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous instalments, 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

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 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 an inevitable 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; 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.  (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. (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; MAC; 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; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

A Ghost Story (15)  

It’s a fickle world. One minute you’re winning Oscars, BAFTAs and whatever else for a slow moving meditation on grief and the next your latest film, a slow moving meditation on grief, is being dumped with a limited release and almost 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. (Electric; Vue Star City)

 

Maudie (12A)

Director Aisling Walsh’s biopic of Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis, unfolds in 1930’s rural Nova Scotia to tell 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. (MAC)

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 it’s proven a box office disaster. 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 who leads an army of similarly garbed rodents who 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; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Overdrive (15)

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,  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, thought not. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park)

 

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; 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; Mockingbird; 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.  (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

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

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