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MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 16-Thu Jun 22

 

 

Gifted (12A)

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

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

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

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

Churchill (PG)

Arriving a week late to mark the June 6 anniversary of D-Day, nonetheless Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky delivers a solid character story and meditation on the nature of leadership that goes behind the scenes of the preparations for Operation Overlord as, haunted by the slaughter at Gallipoli in WWI, for which he carries a sense of guilt, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) is having serious reservations about the plans to invade Normandy  drawn up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill reckons they are ill-advised and will cost the lives of thousands of young men, if not the war, and, in company with King George VI (James Purefoy, who gets a scene-stealing moment when he has to tell Churchill neither of them can be allowed to go with the troops) and, just a few days before the launch, announces to the allied commanders that he intends to draw up his own alternatives.

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

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

 

The Hippopotamus (15)

Adapted from Stephen Fry’s country house comedy of manners, Roger Allam stars as the foul-mouthed Ted Wallace, a once well respected poet who now slums as a journo for whom the free booze is far more important than the stories he covers. When his outburst at a homoerotic production of Titus Andronicus gets him sacked, rescue comes in the form of an offer of £100,000 from an old friend (Emily Berrington) who wants him to  go to Swafford Hole, the home of is former best friend, Lord Michael Logan (Matthew Modine), to investigate  a spate of alleged spiritual healings at the hands of his the sex-obsessed son and aspirant poet,Ted’s godson, David (Tommy Knight), hers included. Co-starring Tim McInnerny as an over-the-top theatre director and Fiona Shaw as David’s mother, it’s had decent reviews, but virtually no release to speak of and the distributors failed to respond to requests for a review screening, which pretty much sums up the prospects for small British independent films these days. (Mon-Thu: MAC)

 

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A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Vue Star City)

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

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

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

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

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with  a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

Jawbone (15)

There’s nothing particularly new in this story of a washed up boxer fighting his demons (almost obligatory alcoholism) and taking on one last fight that serves as both a reaffirmation of who he is and the springboard to face and seek help for his problems. However, in the hands of Thomas Napper, stepping up from second unit director and both starring and written by Johnny Harris, who brings a touch of Ken Loach to the film’s social issues, this really does deliver a punch.

Harris stars as Jimmy McCabe, a former South London child boxing champion who pissed it all away and who, between his addiction, unemployable nature and the recent death of his mother, finds himself facing eviction and without benefits, or dignity.  Although it’s clear old friends care about him, he’s too proud to ask for help, even when he’s hungry and homeless, as to do so would mean acknowledging how far he’s sunk. Hence, why he never speaks at the AA meetings he attends.  He does, however, fetch up at the local amateur boxing gym owned by gruff but warm-hearted former mentor Bill Carney (Ray Winston) where he learned to box and gets to do some training and occasionally help out  Bill and his partner Eddie (Michael Smiley) with the boys there to learn the craft. Evicted, he also ends up sleeping there.

Desperate for money, he turns to a shady promoter (a briefly cameoing Ian McShane) who sets him up with an unlicenced bout up north where he can at least earn £2,500 by getting beaten by the local bully boy hot shot. At which point Bill breaks some dark news.

It all unfolds in predictable underdog comeback fashion (albeit not in some stadium but a tiny back street ring), but Harris’ screenplay delivers a deeply felt character study on which melancholy and sadness hangs heavy while, looking a little like a battered and broken Jason Statham, his complex, brooding and nuanced performance is outstanding. Although his rage does explode at times, for the most he keeps the main and self-loathing internalised, a restraint that also extends to Winstone who gives his subtlest performance in years.

Landing emotional body blows every bit as powerful as the physical ones served up in the well-staged brutal match on which the film climaxes, downbeat yet ultimately optimistic it may lack the flash and brash of a Rocky, but it still delivers a knockout. (Mockingbird)

 
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

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

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

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

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

Mindhorn (15)

Hailed as the British comedy of the year, a title it might earn by default given the opposition so far, this big screen outing by the Mighty Boosh partnership of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay) is more accurately a second division Hot Fuzz that spoofs such naff 70s secret agent series as The Six Million Dollar Man. Indeed, that’s clearly the inspiration behind Mindhorn, both the name of the character and the TV show, in which the smugly arrogant Richard Thorncroft played the titular Isle of Man detective with a bionic eye that could reveal the truth.

Now, years after cancellation, he’s a bald washed-up has been with a paunch and a toupee reduced to doing commercials for male corsets and orthopaedic socks. Until, that is, his agent (Harriet Walter) sets him up with a job back on the Isle of Man where the police are trying to catch a killer (Russel Tovey), a mentally disturbed youth who calls himself Kestrel and will only talk to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The idea is that Thorncroft will talk to him on the phone in character while the cops, headed up by DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough), trace the call, while Thorncroft tries to milk the publicity with the help of his seedy old agent Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) and his former romantic interest co-star and old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) who now works for a local TV channel.

Naturally, nothing goes to plan, and as the plot thickens, Thorncroft discovers the suspect may not be the real killer, that his former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), is now married to Patricia and that he apparently has a daughter he knew nothing about.

There’s a high degree of silliness, some inspired, some not, as well as frankly embarrassing cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves while, as played by Steve Coogan,  the character of Peter Eastman who went on to mega success in the Windjammer spin-off series, just feels half-written. Coogan’s appearance also can’t help but prompt comparison with his own Alpha Papa, and not one that does this any favours.

Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (Mockingbird)

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Side of Hope (15)

It’s been six years since Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, and he returns with the second in a proposed trilogy, another droll serio-comic English language narrative built around a refugee  who escapes the authorities and is befriended by a friendly local. Here it’s Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who fled Syria with his sister, from whom he was separated along the way, and accidentally ends up in Helsinki after seeking shelter from some thugs aboard  freighter. He dutifully applies for asylum, but despite news reports of increasing fighting and atrocities in Aleppo he’s refused. On the day of his deportation, he’s helped to escape and winds up encountering Waldemar Wikstrom (Kaurismaki regular Sakari Kuosmanen), a grumpy, grizzled middle-aged travelling shirts saleseman who’s just left his alcoholic wife, sold business and, after increasing his pot playing poker,  bought a run down restaurant. The Golden Pint. He’s also inherited the three oddball staff  lugubrious doorman  Calaminius (Ilkka Koivula),  unenthusiastic waitress Mirja (Nuppu Koivu) and Nyrhinen (Janne Hyytiainen), a chef whose repertoire doesn’t extend beyond meatballs, herring and sardines, the latter served in the tin. Despite initial fisticuffs, Wikstrom takes Khaled in, makes him one of the staff and gets him fake papers.  There’s a doomed attempt to give the place a makeover serving sushi and, with the help of Mazdak (Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon), a fellow refugee, from Iraq, Khaled continues his search for his sister while encountering the less welcoming side of Finland in the shape of a bunch of far-right racists who, inexplicably (but typically Kaurismaki) call him Jewboy.

And that’s pretty much it. There is, naturally, a trademark dog and heavy use of twangsome rockabilly (performed, both solo and with band, by actor-composer Tuomari Nurmio) to complement the narrative,  the film deftly mixing serious social comment on the refugee crisis (asked how he made it to Finlandf Khaled replies, “Easily. No one wants to see me.”)  and melancholia with both poignant emotion and dry humour on route to its ambiguous open-ended conclusion. A Kaurismaki film, then. (MAC)

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

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

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

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

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

The Shack (12A)

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

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

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

Snatched (15

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 9-Thu Jun 15

NEW RELEASES

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

The Levelling (15)

The feature debut of writer-director Hope Dickenson Leach, and the second film this week to feature  Game of Thrones star Ellie Kendrick, this bleak, depressing drama is set in Somerset following the floods of 2014 as veterinary student Clover (Kendrick) returns to the family fairy farm after her younger brother Harry (Joe Blakemore in flashbacks) apparently accidentally killed himself after putting a shotgun in his mouth. There’s clearly history between her and her gruff widowed ex-army father (David Troughton), who didn’t invite her to the party to celebrate Harry taking over the farm and where the shooting too place, and, with the insurers unwilling to pay out after the floods, the mood isn’t exactly light. As the film unfolds, it explores why Clover, who’s as stubborn as her father,  who she only ever refers to by his first name, has distanced herself from a family almost literally struggling to keep its head above water, and the truths she comes to uncover about what led to Harry’s death. Although well reviewed and despite picking up an awards at last year’s LFF, it has had a very limited release with almost no profile. (Mon/Tue: MAC)

The Mummy (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (15)

It may well have been hailed as one of Richard Gere’s finest performances, but this somewhat cumbersomely-titled drama addressing themes of anti-Semitism and stereotypes  is getting a very limited and low key release. Gere plays Norrman Oppenheimer, the president of a New York consultancy agency mostly dealing with American-Israeli business and politics. It’s not as swish as it sounds, his office basically being his cell phone and his satchel and the connections he claims to have are usually non-existent Basically, he’s a liar, manipulator and bit of a con artist who relies on someone buying into his story so he can built the network he supposedly already has. When Eshel, an Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi), is elected Prime Minister, Norman finds his star elevated and moving in the same circle as others looking to also make the most of the opportunity, among them Eshel’s ambitious nephew (Michael Sheen), a rabbi (Steve Buscemi), a tycoon (Harris Yulin) and his assistant (Dan Stevens) and an embassy official (Charlotte Gainsbourg), not to mention Hank Azaria as another fixer. However, when a political scandal blows up, Norman’s career seems set to implode. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park)

The Shack (12A)

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

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

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

Whisky Galore (PG)

Starring James Robertson Justice, Joan Greenwood and Gordon Jackson, the comedic tale of a bunch  of Scottish islands who salvage a cargo of whisky froma  shipwreck under the noses of the customs officers during WWII,  Alexander Mackendrick’s 1949 film is one of the enduring Ealing classics. A rather twee story and very much of its time, remaking it seems something of a pointless exercise, but, even so, Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon has delivered a very enjoyable, amiably amusing piece of family fluff that’s a whole lot more fun than last year’s Dad’s Army.

When their rationed whisky supplies run out, the inhabitants of the remote Scottish isle of Todday are bereft, having to resort to drinking tea. Macroon (Gregor Fisher), the local Presbyterian widower postmaster has his hands full trying to deal with his two daughters, Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) and Peggy (Naomi Battrick) and their respective engagements to nervous school teacher George Campbell (Kevin Guthrie), much to the disapproval of his dour Calvinistic mother (Annie Louise Ross mother), and recently returned soldier Sgt. Odd (Sean Biggerstaff). The crux of the plot, however, centres around a ship running aground on the rocks, carring with a huge cargo of whisky meant for export to America and, as such, forbidden to be sold or consumed on UK shores. Not that that is going to deter the islanders who resolve to salvage the crates and hid them around the island before the ship sinks. The only problems they have to face is the fact that the minister (James Cosmo) is very strict about nobody labouring on the Sabbath and that Captain Waggett (Eddie Izzard),  the pompous leader of the home guard is, in tandem with the customs and excise,  determined to ensure the whisky remains out of the islanders’ hands.

A subplot involving a stash of government papers relating to the King’s romantic entanglements and which a Home Office agent is keen to recover never really goes anywhere, but otherwise this ambles along cosily enough, Izzard is dryly excellent form as a sort of variation on Captain Mainwaring as his Fenella Woolgar as his long suffering wife whose sympathies are more clearly with the locals. Undemanding stuff perhaps, but, played with tongues in cheeks, it’s a gentle, good-natured farce that makes a refreshing change from the  vulgar, hyperactive comedies currently foisted on audiences by the Hollyood machine, one that slips down nicely like a 12-year-old malt.  (Sun-Tue: MAC)

 

 

 

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A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Vue Star City)

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Baywatch (15)

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

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

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

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping  musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal  and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately,   when it isn’t, it falls rather short,  and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable.   (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with  a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

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

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

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

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

Mad To Be Normal (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Quiet Passion (12A)
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, when Emily Dickinson died, 56 years later, she left behind almost 1800 poems, only around a dozen of which had been published, and those often anonymous and altered by the publishers. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two obsessions that also informed much of her correspondence with friends. Today, Dickinson is regarded as one of the seminal American poets, and yet, while she was part of the inspiration being Jane Campion’s The Piano, her fascinating and often troubled life and career has never been the subject of a film.
Veteran British writer-director Terence Davies puts that to rights with one of the finest films of his illustrious career, featuring witty, sharp and barbed dialogue that’s probably the finest you will hear this year. Starring Cythia Dixon looking very much like the only existing authenticated portrait of Dickinson, it opens at the ladies seminary where, as a teenager  (played by Emma Bell) she’s been sent for education, exhibiting an early streak of independence and rejection of conformity, and ends with her death from Bright’s disease (she also suffered from epilepsy).
Rescued from the bullying at college, she returns to share the family home with sister Lavinia (Rose Williams), brother Austin (Benjamin Wainwright), her sickly mother (Joanna Bacon) and unfeeling patriarchal lawyer father (Keith Carradine). Dickinson’s burgeoning feminist streak, rapier wit and attitudes to religion and gender politics are established in a series of delicious confrontations, most notably with her staunchly conservative father and aunt (Annette Badland).
Using a series of portrait sittings, the characters ingeniously morph into their older selves as the film both reinforces what we have already seen but also explores how Dickinson’s romantic hopes are constrained by both her insecurity about her physical attraction and her determination not give up her independence, her desire for recognition and her gradual slide into reclusiveness, wearing mostly white and refusing to come down from her room to meet anyone.
As well as a continuing antagonistic relationship with her father and a falling out with the condescending Austin (Duncan Duff) when he’s found to be cheating on his wife (Jodhi May), it details her friendship with the irreverently unconventional Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey) and  the close if sometimes confrontational relationship with her devoted but long-suffering (and at times frustrated) younger sister (Jennifer Ehle) who insists in seeing good in people, even if it might not actually exist.
Embracing the outbreak of the Civil War, the deaths of her parents and what would become a lifelong friendship with Presbyterian Minister Charles Wadsworth (a cause of a clash between the sisters when Lavinia believes Emily to have romantic desires for the married man), it bristles with Wildean wit and aphorisms.  “If they wanted to be wholesome, I imagine they would crochet,” snaps back at Wadsworth’s starchy wife after she’s criticised the Bronte’s in an exchange about Longfellow’s Hiawatha, while Buffam scandalously observes that “To be shocked by a book you haven’t read is like going to Sodom and Gomorrah and being offended that neither is from Philadelphia.”
Coming thick and fast, there is a slight danger of feeling like a Monty Python sketch, but the direction and performances keep things on a solid even keel, not to mention accentuating the humour. Typically, Davies’ direction is measured and unfussy, and, while there may not be a trademark lengthy long camera pan, there are still many quite moments when it simply stands back and observes, while, as ever he makes effective use of light and colour, the brightness of the early years giving way to more autumnal shades as Dickinson retreats from the world. His choice of music too is again impeccable, reaching its peak in the final moments with Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question.
The performances throughout are exemplary, but its Dixon and Ehle who provide the real anchors, both dramatically and emotionally, although the  confessional scene between Dickinson and her frail mother is movingly devastating. Dickinson’s poetry, mostly written at night,  delivered by Nixon as voiceover is sublime, the context of her life giving it even deeper resonance. Perhaps inevitably, it’s had a very limited release and, yes, it is perhaps very much for a literary-minded art house audience, but it’s also on the year’s very best. (Wed/Thu: MAC)
The Red Turtle (PG)

Featuring absolutely no dialogue,  but rather natural sound and a sympathetic score,  this collaboration between Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Dudok de Wit is a stunning animated tale, part CGI, part hand-drawn, about a man shipwrecked on a desert island who determines to escape, but finds every attempt ruined by a mysterious red turtle. Why doesn’t it want him to  leave and what’s going on when, after his attempt to kill it, he takes pity, gives it water and  the creature transforms into a woman and they have a child together?

A poetic at times surreal allegory about time, nature, survival and companionship that relies more on tone and feel than narrative, and, even if there is a particularly powerful tsunami sequence and a tense moment when it seems the man might drown, this isn’t for those who prefer their animation to be fast and funny (which rather rules out the child audience, though they’ll be amused by the supporting crabs), but it’s a gorgeous looking, thoughtful and touching work that rewards patience.   (Electric)

Snatched (15

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

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

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

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

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

 

Unlocked (15)

It’s not going to win any awards, but, efficiently directed by Michael Apted, this terrorist-themed thriller does a watchable enough job despite its  convoluted plot’s twists and turns and unreliable characters.

Blaming herself for not cracking the code soon enough to prevent the deaths of numerous civilians during a terrorist bombing in Paris, former CIA agent Alice (Noomi Rapace) is working for an counselling agency in London’s East End, feeding back any hints of terrorist activity to the head of MI5 (Toni Collette).

Then she’s approached by a CIA agent who says she’s needed to interrogate a courier they’ve snatched who’s supposed to be delivering  message from a local Imam suspected of being behind terrorist attacks.  They need her to unlock his message so they can switch their man to meet the mastermind behind what they believe to be an upcoming biological attack. Which she duly does, only to get a call from MI5 at a crucial moment asking her to interrogate the self-same courier. Clocking that she’s been played, she escapes and seeks help from her former CIA mentor (Michael Douglas), only for him to be gunned down,  giving her the address of a safe house apartment. However, arriving there she finds it being burgled by Jack (Orlando Bloom) who says he’s a former marine who served in Iraq and, after rescuing her from a couple of armed officers sent to apprehend her (CIA station boss John Malkovich acting on the assumption she’s gone rogue), they set off to try and track down the guy the courier was supposed to meet, enlisting the help of one of her agency’s clients in the process.

Given it’s established early on that the CIA has been ‘penetrated’, Alice has no idea of who to trust, and the audience are pretty much in the same position as characters motivations and alliances seem to switch at the drop of a plot twist hat.

Riddled with heavy handed expositionary dialogue and preposterous set-ups, it rumbles along merrily enough, punching up the tension as it goes and slotting into the recent niche of thrillers adopting cynical view about the lengths to which government agencies will go to achieve their ends.

If it’s a little hard to take Bloom as an East End macho man, Rapace delivers an  intense performance worthier of a far better film while Collette plays things with a twinkle in her eye and Malkovich adds a wry sense of fun with his dry humour and comic timing. Ultimately, though., it feels a bit like a poor man’s Spooks and the sort of B movie opportunist zeigeist thriller you’d expect to go straight to DVD or on-demand when you can use the remote to switch between plot holes as you watch.   (Showcase Walsall)

 

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

Brum folk big band announce new album and Power Folk 4

Conservatoire Folk Ensemble

Birmingham’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble release their first full studio album on Sunday 11 June 2017.

Entitled Painted the album sees the 50-plus members mash traditional folk music with more global and eclectic influences, and will be officially launched at Power Folk 4 – the ensemble’s annual all-dayer, which takes place at The Spotted Dog, Digbeth on the same day.

Conservatoire Folk Ensemble: Painted - out 11 June 2017

Painted: Track-By-Track

Here’s ensemble founder and leader Joe Broughton’s run down of Painted.

  1. Banish Misfortune / Poll Ha’penny

“Banish Misfortune is one of my absolute favourite folk tunes. I’ve always loved it but it’s so good that it took me a long time to think of some riffs, to think of an approach that did the tune justice and didn’t ruin what’s good about the tune. There’s a big percussion break joining the two tunes together. When you have five percussionists in the band it is great to give them chance to let loose, you can imagine how this is developed live! Poll Ha’penny was never supposed to be on this album but when working on the live show the electric guitar section wrote a new section for it which I love, so it just had to be included.”

  1. The Graduate

“This is a piece written by guitarist and bass player Sal Broughton (yes he’s my little brother). It has very fast become a favourite of the ensemble. Sal is like me, very much into a good riff, and I think the one he’s put to his tune here is awesome, as well as the melody being a really inventive reel.”

  1. Cant de Batre (Threshing Song)

“Dani is a Spanish (Valencian) trumpet player who joined the band last year and he brought this song and tune, partly traditional and partly composed by him on the theme of the song, to the band. It’s a brand new one that I know is going to be a hit with audiences. The exploration of changing time signatures and feels in this one will keep you guessing, it does me! The song is sung by Samantha Oxborough who I have to say is an exceptional musician. Sam plays Euphonium on the instrumentals, is a first study opera singer, and is here doing a mighty job of singing a Catalan folk song…”

  1. Pimentons Torrats amb Oli i Sal

“This piece was written by our brilliant Valencian trumpet player Dani Blance Albert, it includes a frightening number of time signature changes and is influenced by the Threshing Song that comes before it. The song and this tune feel like you are out in the heat and make us all very thirsty… Dani is also an exceptional cook so no wonder he named this after food!”

  1. Fairy Dance / The Day That Changed Everything

Conservatoire Folk Ensemble“After 20 years of finding great folk music to do arrangements of for the band I thought I’d have a stab at Fairy Dance, just to see what happened. Fairy Dance is a tune I have always hated so it was really just an experiment! Before I knew it I was going down all kinds of crazy avenues looking for the right harmonies and in the end I like it, which probably means that if you liked the tune to start with you’re not going to like this. You get a more traditional version to start with then you get my version, which is a bit more ‘Birmingham’ than perhaps it should be. The second tune in the set is one that I wrote, and is as the title would suggest, about a specific day that changed everything. Perhaps you can think of a moment in your life after which nothing was ever the same again? That’s exactly what this one is about.”

  1. Rain and Snow

“Rosie Tunley arranged the really imaginative parts for this traditional song. The band is stripped down on this one but it’s still ‘power folk.’ It’s a great advantage to the band that amongst the 50-plus members we always have some great singers, and the lead vocals on this one are done by Rosie Tunley and Rosemary Wilkes. The feeling they bring to it combined with the harp motif and emotive strings makes for what could be one of the best cuts of the album.”

  1. The Butterfly / Kodo

“The Butterfly is another classic tune that I love when it’s done traditionally, but here we give it the full Folk Ensemble treatment with a monstrously unsubtle blues riff jammed in the middle – it shouldn’t work but somehow it does. Kodo is a Japanese tune brought to the band by Josh Wunderlich. Perhaps one of the hardest pieces to play, we have spent many, many hours rehearsing this as there are a lot of notes in it!”

  1. Tek bir güneşin altında yürüyoruz (We March Under One Sun)

“I composed this piece very recently to simply say that if you’re marching in protest or marching in celebration, if you’re marching to war or marching back from the pub, you’re all doing it in the same place, you are the same people, under one sun.”

  1. William Taylor / Shots Reel

“For me the greatest acoustic band in recent history is Whippersnapper. The great force of Dave Swarbrick, Kevin Dempsey, Martin Jenkins and Chris Leslie was really something that you had to hear in person to believe it. They gigged extensively in the 80s and 90s and I never missed an opportunity to see them. On their last studio album was this gem written by Kevin Dempsey (although the words are adapted from a traditional song). Kevin Dempesy is one of the most underrated musicians in the UK and so I take great delight in bringing out one of his songs to be heard again. I wrote the tune Shots Reel to add a bit of my own twist and the song is sung by Julie Claire, who perhaps sways slightly more towards a Beyonce than a Carthy in everyday life, but I think her version of this song is incredibly refined and beautiful.”

  1. Ruchenitsas / Lattinmore

“This pair of Ruchenitsas predates even my involvement with the ensemble. Back when the ensemble was just a college elective rather than a gigging band my very good friend Frank Moon taught this one to the group. We’ve recently revisited the tunes, and I’ve written a couple of riffs to go with them, so it’s nice to include them as a hark back over the 20 year history of the band. At a rehearsal a few years back the then bass player, Mike Lattimore, quipped that I should write him a tune to go on the end called Lattinmore – so that’s what I did. This does mean that we end up with a kind of South American section to the Bulgarian track but hey … let’s call it globalisation!”

LISTINGS

Sunday 11 June 2017
Power Folk 4
The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble’s annual all day power folk party. With special guests inc John McCusker, and Gilmore and Roberts.
Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B12 0NH
Doors 3pm, music from 4pm ‘til late
Folk Ensemble on at 6.30pm. Tickets £9 / £6 (conc) / £12 (inc album, if purchased in advance, before 9 Jun).
More details: www.folkensemble.co.uk

The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble feature musicians from Birmingham City University’s prestigious Conservatoire. Previous members have included Jim Morary and members of The Fair Rain/ Old Dance School.

Previous articles: Power Folk 3 (2016)

Supersonic 2017

Richard Dawson, Anna Von Hausswolff, Arbrouretum, Jenny Hval, The Space Lady and Zonal are just some of the acts set to appear at 2017’s Supersonic festival.

Dawson arrives on the back of his new album, Peasant, a song cycle created with several guests including harpist Rhodri Davies.

Dawson says his objective with his new album was to create “a panorama of a society which is at odds with itself and has great sickness in it, and perhaps doesn’t take responsibility – blame going in all the wrong directions”.

“I feel like shouting”, he continues. “I really believe in this album. It feels somehow different than before … that this can be something important, something of use.”

Supersonic – which took a year off in 2016 – runs from Friday 16 to Sunday 18 June 2017. Venues include Birmingham Town Hall and Boxxed, in Digbeth.

Day tickets from £20; three days £90; key events £5-£23. For more details, including tickets, see: supersonicfestival.com

Richard Dawson’s Peasant is out now on Domino.  He appears at Supersonic on Saturday 17 June 2017. For more information see: richarddawson.net

 

MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Releases, Fri Jun 2-Thu Jun 8

NEW RELEASES

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baywatch (15)

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

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

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

The Love Witch (15)

Written and directed by Anna Biller and filmed in 35mm with an ironic Technicolour gaudiness , this is a winking homage to the sexploitation horror films of the late ’60s and early ’70s.  Recently widowed after poisoning hubbie, sexy witch Elaine (Samantha Robinson), very much a woman in red,  moves to a picture postcard California town, apparently  a magnet for other dark arts practitioners, looking for new love,  where she bonds with her landlady, Trish (Laura Waddell) over afternoon tea at a quaint and very pink local café, complete with harpist. Happy to use her magic to get her man, she seduces bohemian college professor Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), spirits him off to a remote cabin and feed his dinner and a doctored drink that leads to a night of passionate lovemaking. The next day. however, he’s a weepy, emotional wreck and dies shortly after,  Elaine burying him in the backyard along with a jar of her urine and a used tampon. Enter suspicious cops, one of whom, classic 60s soap opera type Griff (Gian Keys) also falls under her spell, naturally ending up in her bed and refusing to believe she could have anything to do with the ongoing string of strange murders.

At two hours, it overextends its welcome, but, deliberately badly acted with knowing camp, it revels in its pastiche with everything from the obligatory naked witchcraft rituals to fantasy sequences and obvious backdrops as it serves up its wry feminist commentary on gender roles that’s as cynical about its women as it is its men. To be watched in the spirit intended. (Mon/Tue: MAC)

 

Monochrome (15)
Quite literally opening with a cliffhanger,  the debut dramatic feature by Electric Cinema owner Tom Lawes, following two acclaimed documentaries, then proceeds to detail events leading up to that moment.

Returning from shopping, Emma Rose (Land Girls’ Billie Piper lookalike Jo Woodcock,), sees her wealthy boyfriend Brendan Kelly (Steve Jackson) being taken away by the police, accused of hiding millions of pounds of stolen pension funds. Waiting until the coast’s clear, she grabs a few things, including a silver locket, and heads off on a journey north.

Her first stop is the Cotswolds where, offering to work for food and lodgings (she has no interest in money), she’s taken in by Roger Daniels (James Cosmo), a gay famous artist with a controlling streak who, recognising her from the newspapers, forces her to essentially become his slave in return for not calling the police. For reasons not explained until the end, Emma and control freaks are not a good mix and, eventually, enough’s enough and she kills him.

This then links with the film’s second plot strand involving the establishment of the British Crime Agency (BCA), a new national police division headed by Martha Walker (Liz May Brice) to which former detective Gabriel (a wonderfully vile Cosmo Jarvis) is recruited by HR officer Randall Grey (Patrice Naiambana) on account of his special skills set; suffering from synaesthesia, a neurological condition which means he can hear colours and see sounds. A fan of Daniels. having seen him at an exhibition the night before his assumed accidental or deliberate insulin overdose, he’s suspicious and it’s not long before, following a  subsequent double murder in Warwickshire, he’s got Emma pegged as serial killer.

He’s warned off the case by Wallcott (Lee Boardman), the guy leading the BSA investigation into Kelly, meanwhile Emma’s continuing on her bloody way and Gabriel’s identified that her next victim could well be a footballer’s wife in Cheshire.

Notwithstanding the speed at which people seem able to drive from one end of the country to the other, this is a solid psychological thriller which, although it could have made the application of Gabriel’s condition clearer, involves you in the gradually intensifying plot, the obnoxiousness of her victims making it hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for Emma. Jarvis and Woodcock anchor the narrative well while Boardman provides the intensity as it heads to, in the light of things like Bonnie & Clyde and Badlands,  a somewhat inevitable conclusion. A commendable first for Lawes, it would be interesting to see more of Gabriel and the BCA, if not as a film, then transferred to a small screen spin-off series. (Sun, Tue-Thu  Electric; Tue + director Q&A)

 

The Other Side of Hope (15)

It’s been six years since Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, and he returns with the second in a proposed trilogy, another droll serio-comic English language narrative built around a refugee  who escapes the authorities and is befriended by a friendly local. Here it’s Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who fled Syria with his sister, from whom he was separated along the way, and accidentally ends up in Helsinki after seeking shelter from some thugs aboard  freighter. He dutifully applies for asylum, but despite news reports of increasing fighting and atrocities in Aleppo he’s refused. On the day of his deportation, he’s helped to escape and winds up encountering Waldemar Wikstrom (Kaurismaki regular Sakari Kuosmanen), a grumpy, grizzled middle-aged travelling shirts saleseman who’s just left his alcoholic wife, sold business and, after increasing his pot playing poker,  bought a run down restaurant. The Golden Pint. He’s also inherited the three oddball staff  lugubrious doorman  Calaminius (Ilkka Koivula),  unenthusiastic waitress Mirja (Nuppu Koivu) and Nyrhinen (Janne Hyytiainen), a chef whose repertoire doesn’t extend beyond meatballs, herring and sardines, the latter served in the tin. Despite initial fisticuffs, Wikstrom takes Khaled in, makes him one of the staff and gets him fake papers.  There’s a doomed attempt to give the place a makeover serving sushi and, with the help of Mazdak (Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon), a fellow refugee, from Iraq, Khaled continues his search for his sister while encountering the less welcoming side of Finland in the shape of a bunch of far-right racists who, inexplicably (but typically Kaurismaki) call him Jewboy.

And that’s pretty much it. There is, naturally, a trademark dog and heavy use of twangsome rockabilly (performed, both solo and with band, by actor-composer Tuomari Nurmio) to complement the narrative,  the film deftly mixing serious social comment on the refugee crisis (asked how he made it to Finlandf Khaled replies, “Easily. No one wants to see me.”)  and melancholia with both poignant emotion and dry humour on route to its ambiguous open-ended conclusion. A Kaurismaki film, then. (Electric)

 

 

 

NOW PLAYING

A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with  a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Handmaiden (18)
Loosely adapted from Sarah Waters’ bestseller Fingersmith, co-written  by South Korean director Park Chan-Wook of Oldboy fame, this adopts a Rashomon structure, dividing the film into three chapters, the first two offering two different sides to the events with the third bringing them together for a convoluted but cleverly engineered payoff in the grand tradition of The Sting and other such con movies.

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

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

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

 
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

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

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

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

The narrative, almost overwhelmed by the CG blitzkrieg of  giant snakes, giant elephants, thousands of virtual extras, a sort of rubbery squid-sirens version of Macbeth’s three witches and, as the Holy Grail would have, some watery tart, rattles along through a series of extravagant set pieces in exuberant but almost incoherent fashion as it borrows cheerfully from any number of sources, Robin Hood and the New Testament among them. Hunnam makes for a game reluctant hero and the rest of the cast are nothing if not enthusiastic, a cameoing  David Beckham included, and you can’t say it lacks for energy or entertaining action. However, it seems set  to be this year’s biggest blockbuster bomb, meaning we’ll likely never get to see Merlin or the Mage become Guinevere, let alone see them finish assembling the Round Table that serves for some lame gags at the end. Which, is, actually, quite a pity. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

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

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

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

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

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

The Promise (12A)

Another film looking to illuminate  little known historical events, having previously made Hotel Rwanda, director Terry George now addresses another genocide, that conducted by Turkey against the Armenian people from 1915-1923 and for which the Turkish government has, to this day, never acknowledged responsibility.

However, unlike his previous film, where the genocide was the central focus, this  sets it as a backdrop to a clichéd romantic triangle  and takes forever in getting to the crux of the issue.

The local apothecary, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) wants to become a doctor but can’t afford the fees. So his parents arrange a  marriage to  Maral (Angela Sarafyan) and Mikael duly sets off to medical school in Constantinople using his 400 gold coins dowry to pay for his tuition. Taking lodgings with his wealthy businessman uncle, he meets Ana (Charlotte LeBon), a fellow Armenian who’s nanny to his two nieces, while, at  the Imperial Medical School, he becomes friends with Emre (Marwan Kenzari), the son of a high ranking Turk who has only enrolled so as to avoid military service.

Mikael is drawn to Ana, and she to him; however, he doesn’t mention his fiancée back home and she’s in a relationship with Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a reporter for the American Press Association who’s covering the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany. He’s also documenting the growing tensions between Turkey and Armenia and, as WWI hostilities break out., the systematic attempt by the former to wipe the latter from the face of the earth, which quickly leads to Mikael being rounded up for forced labour and Emre being forced into the army. Meanwhile, Chris is  attracting attention with his coverage of atrocities.

Unfortunately, while there are some harrowing moments along the way, until the last act, when fleeing Armenians take a stand against Turkish troops on a mountain outside Aleppo and a French warship steams into rescue them, the narrative focus is firmly on the relationships between Ana, Mikael and Chris, the three of them frequently separated by events.

It’s unfortunate – not to say offensive – enough that the genocide plays second narrative fiddle, even more so since the romantic drama is a rather  lifeless affair with no chemistry sparking between any of those involved.

It’s patently obvious that Bale is only really there for financing reasons, which no doubt also explains brief cameos by Tom Hollander, James Cromwell and Jean Reno in roles that could have been played by anyone. It runs through some familiar clichés and overused machinations in workmanlike fashion while the dialogue often creaks and the performances occasionally slip into melodrama. However, while wearily overlong and at times rather dull, it’s watchable enough and George’s earnest attempt to put the genocide back in the spotlight is admirable. But, save for one scene of slaughter, it says much that the most effective things here are the title cards detailing  how  1.5 million Armenians were killed, leaving any promise decidedly unfulfilled. (Fri-Mon, Thu;MAC)

The Red Turtle (PG)

Featuring absolutely no dialogue,  but rather natural sound and a sympathetic score,  this collaboration between Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Dudok de Wit is a stunning animated tale, part CGI, part hand-drawn, about a man shipwrecked on a desert island who determines to escape, but finds every attempt ruined by a mysterious red turtle. Why doesn’t it want him to  leave and what’s going on when, after his attempt to kill it, he takes pity, gives it water and  the creature transforms into a woman and they have a child together?

A poetic at times surreal allegory about time, nature, survival and companionship that relies more on tone and feel than narrative, and, even if there is a particularly powerful tsunami sequence and a tense moment when it seems the man might drown, this isn’t for those who prefer their animation to be fast and funny (which rather rules out the child audience, though they’ll be amused by the supporting crabs), but it’s a gorgeous looking, thoughtful and touching work that rewards patience.   (Electric)

The Sense of an Ending (15)

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

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

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

As Tony recounts past events  to Margaret, the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her  genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother  Jack (Edward Holcroft)  and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tony’s forced to  confront his actions.

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

Sleepless (15)

Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the  black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche,  in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.

Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down.  Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended  for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them.  To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.

So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a  stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Vue Star City)

Snatched (15

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

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

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

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

Hawn flaps around in trademark manner as the often  judgemental, scolding Linda while, fine comedienne though she may be, Schumer can’t make the tossed off lines or the lazy piecemeal plotting work,  although, to her credit,  she does dispense with any hint of vanity in her self-deprecating and deglamourised performance. And, although their attempt to help Emily rescue her mother does have an amusing payoff, the  equally cartoonish turns by fellow vacationers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic” ex-special ops  friend Barb (Joan Cusack) are essentially as pointless as they are unfunny. An accusation that can be firmly levelled at the film as a whole. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Spark: A Space Tail (U)

A teenage monkey living on the remnants of Bana, a planet that was torn to pieces by the power-mad ape General Zhong(voice hammed by Alan C. Peterson), who also  killed his ruler dad and abducted his mom (Hilary Swank), Spark (Jace Norman), learns Zhong now plans to unleash the Space Kraken, creating black holes and ruling the whole universe. So, even though he doesn’t believe he’s up to the job,  it’s up him and his friends, Vix (Jessica Biel), the martial artist fox and Chunk the tech-whiz warthog to stop him. Despite star voice turns thet also include Susan Sarandon as Spark’s robot nanny and Patrick Stewart as an eccentric army captain, this Canadian-South Korean hotchpotch is decidedly at the bottom end of the animation ladder that lacks any real charm and simply builds its plot and characters from other, better films. The only spark here is in the title. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)

 

 

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 Releases, Fri May 26-Thu Jun 1

 

NEW RELEASES

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with  a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Red Turtle (PG)

Featuring absolutely no dialogue,  but rather natural sound and a sympathetic score,  this collaboration between Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Dudok de Wit is a stunning animated tale, part CGI, part hand-drawn, about a man shipwrecked on a desert island who determines to escape, but finds every attempt ruined by a mysterious red turtle. Why doesn’t it want him to  leave and what’s going on when, after his attempt to kill it, he takes pity, gives it water and  the creature transforms into a woman and they have a child together?

A poetic at times surreal allegory about time, nature, survival and companionship that relies more on tone and feel than narrative, and, even if there is a particularly powerful tsunami sequence and a tense moment when it seems the man might drown, this isn’t for those who prefer their animation to be fast and funny (which rather rules out the child audience, though they’ll be amused by the supporting crabs), but it’s a gorgeous looking, thoughtful and touching work that rewards patience.   (Electric)

Spark: A Space Tail (U)

A teenage monkey living on the remnants of Bana, a planet that was torn to pieces by the power-mad ape General Zhong(voice hammed by Alan C. Peterson), who also  killed his ruler dad and abducted his mom (Hilary Swank), Spark (Jace Norman), learns Zhong now plans to unleash the Space Kraken, creating black holes and ruling the whole universe. So, even though he doesn’t believe he’s up to the job,  it’s up him and his friends, Vix (Jessica Biel), the martial artist fox and Chunk the tech-whiz warthog to stop him. Despite star voice turns thet also include Susan Sarandon as Spark’s robot nanny and Patrick Stewart as an eccentric army captain, this Canadian-South Korean hotchpotch is decidedly at the bottom end of the animation ladder that lacks any real charm and simply builds its plot and characters from other, better films. The only spark here is in the title. (Cineworld NEC;  Empire Great Park;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

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A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

A Bunch of Kunst (18)  

Whatever you may think of their music, and I have to say that, while finding some of the songs and observations powerful stuff, I’m not a huge fan of their musically primitive, raw, aggressive  proto-punk in your face rants in which seemingly every other line contains one obscenity or another, German music journalist turned filmmaker Christine Franz’s documentary, the play on words title referring to the German for art,  is compelling stuff.

Hailed, rather hyperbollocksally by Iggy Pop as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band”, the Sleaford Mods comprise 40something working class Nottingham duo Jason Williamson (who, of course shares his surname with Ig) and Andrew Fearn. The former sings, or rather shouts and spits, the lyrics while, bobbing up and down behind him on stage, Fearn provides the electronic beats. Married with a couple of kids, the gobby Williamson, a former chicken factory worker and more recently benefits officer, writes the words and is the more articulate of the two, Fearn remaining pretty much silent throughout the film, with no details of his background worth mention.

In the tradition of John Cooper Clarke, the Pistols, Angelic Upstarts and, to an extent Sham 69,  they give voice to  the country’s disaffected, disenfranchised working class, the songs chainsawing through any number of social issues, Williamson seeing themselves as something the country needs, although one suspects that a good many of the audience, who seem to be mostly male, are simply there to get aled up and mouth the words back of him, more in thrall to the trend than the movement.

The documentary follows their two year journey from playing the toilet circuit to selling out 2000 seater, a slot at Glastonbury, an appearance on Later With.. and, eventually, signing with Rough Trade, even if that caused their down to earth former bus driver manager, Steve Underwood, a few moments of moral quandary.  As such, it spends much of its time in shitty little venues and cramped studios, mirroring the frustration that explodes through Jason’s abrasive songs. Although some might take issue with his justification of the swearing as being just normal everyday words as well as the sweeping dismissal of pretty much everything in the album charts as shit, his arguments are undeniably well-grounded and he has a welcome self-deprecatory streak, amusingly taking himself to task for having referred to himself as a rock n roll star to wife, Claire.  She makes some significant contributions too, most notably in talking about her husband as someone who, prior to the spotlight the band has brought, would have been someone who fell off the radar and died without anyone being aware.  Given the passion Jason brings to his onstage delivery and his lyrics and their refusal to make a cleaned up version of the album for the BBC, it’s a little surprising to hear him talk about music being not that important to him and how he’d give it up  if  he had too,  likewise his request not to film the street where he lives because he’s had some weirdo fan letters. Very much one for the hardcore fans, but a potent insight into a social and musical UK culture rarely visited by the mainstream media. (Tue: Electric)

 

Colossal  (15)

Thrown out of their shared New York apartment by boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) who’s fed up with her coming home hung-over from all night drinking sessions, online journo Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her now-abandoned family home in the sticks. Here she runs into, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a good-natured friend from junior school, who offers her a job at the sprawling family bar he’s inherited where she gets to both serve the drinks and sample them,  hanging out after closing timer with Oscar and his loser buddies, the bitter Garth  (Tim Blake Nelson) and the dim but good-looking Joel (Austin Stowell), the latter of whom she eventually ends up bedding.

Waking from another alcoholic binge with no memories of the night before, she finds the TV buzzing with reports about a giant lizard-like monster that appeared from a lightning cloud in the South Korean capital of Seoul, made some odd gestures, and vanished, leaving a swathe of destruction behind. It happens again, the next night, at exactly the same time and, for all her alcohol fuddled thinking, it doesn’t take long for Gloria to realise that the appearances coincide exactly with her making her drunken way back home through the local kids’ playground. Or that it mirror her nervous tic of scratching her head.

So, she drags the three guys down to the sandbox and gets them to watch an app on their mobile phones while she runs through a series of gestures and actions, the monster again appearing in Seoul and doing the same movements. It also transpires that this isn’t the first time it appeared. That would have been 25 years ago, something connected to Gloria’s repressed memories of  an incident as a schoolgirl. Then it gets more complicated when the monster is joined by a giant robot as she realises that Oscar, who turns out to have quite a jealous streak, has the same abilities.

The latest by cult Spanish writer-director  Nacho Vigalondo, it centres on an intriguing conceit, the monster and the robot clearly metaphorical manifestations of  Gloria’s messed up psyche and Oscar’s pent-up  resentment and anger. Although the root cause of all this is eventually explained, Vigalondo makes no concerted attempt to detail why events should take place in Seoul, its suspension of disbelief extending to some basic logic in terms of character motivations and action. Nor does there seem more than a cursory concern on Gloria’s part for the hundreds of deaths her towering metaphor has caused.

The supporting characters, Tim especially, aren’t given much more than a one dimensional treatment, indeed, save for one scene as Oscar’s nasty side ignites,  both Garth and Joel are pretty much dispensable to the plot. That said, blending in some black comedy, there’s a compelling psychological intrigue that keeps you involved as the film evolves from rom com to Godzilla-like disaster  movie to  a potent character-driven self-absorption melodrama about two psychological trauma. Playing against type, the two leads are the core, Hathaway turning in a disarming self-mocking note while Sudeikis perfectly shades his character’s transition from ostensible nice guy to one consumed by his self-pity and inner demons. In many ways it echoes the recent A Monster Calls, although its climax, while equally cathartic, is rather less redemptive and decidedly unforgiving. And oddity, but one well worth puzzling over.  (Electric)

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Frantz (12A)

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

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

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

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

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

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

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

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

The narrative, almost overwhelmed by the CG blitzkrieg of  giant snakes, giant elephants, thousands of virtual extras, a sort of rubbery squid-sirens version of Macbeth’s three witches and, as the Holy Grail would have, some watery tart, rattles along through a series of extravagant set pieces in exuberant but almost incoherent fashion as it borrows cheerfully from any number of sources, Robin Hood and the New Testament among them. Hunnam makes for a game reluctant hero and the rest of the cast are nothing if not enthusiastic, a cameoing  David Beckham included, and you can’t say it lacks for energy or entertaining action. However, it seems set  to be this year’s biggest blockbuster bomb, meaning we’ll likely never get to see Merlin or the Mage become Guinevere, let alone see them finish assembling the Round Table that serves for some lame gags at the end. Which, is, actually, quite a pity. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Mindhorn (15)

Hailed as the British comedy of the year, a title it might earn by default given the opposition so far, this big screen outing by the Mighty Boosh partnership of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay) is more accurately a second division Hot Fuzz that spoofs such naff 70s secret agent series as The Six Million Dollar Man. Indeed, that’s clearly the inspiration behind Mindhorn, both the name of the character and the TV show, in which the smugly arrogant Richard Thorncroft played the titular Isle of Man detective with a bionic eye that could reveal the truth.

Now, years after cancellation, he’s a bald washed-up has been with a paunch and a toupee reduced to doing commercials for male corsets and orthopaedic socks. Until, that is, his agent (Harriet Walter) sets him up with a job back on the Isle of Man where the police are trying to catch a killer (Russel Tovey), a mentally disturbed youth who calls himself Kestrel and will only talk to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The idea is that Thorncroft will talk to him on the phone in character while the cops, headed up by DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough), trace the call, while Thorncroft tries to milk the publicity with the help of his seedy old agent Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) and his former romantic interest co-star and old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) who now works for a local TV channel.

Naturally, nothing goes to plan, and as the plot thickens, Thorncroft discovers the suspect may not be the real killer, that his former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), is now married to Patricia and that he apparently has a daughter he knew nothing about.

There’s a high degree of silliness, some inspired, some not, as well as frankly embarrassing cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves while, as played by Steve Coogan,  the character of Peter Eastman who went on to mega success in the Windjammer spin-off series, just feels half-written. Coogan’s appearance also can’t help but prompt comparison with his own Alpha Papa, and not one that does this any favours.

Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (MAC)

 

Sleepless (15)

Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the  black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche,  in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.

Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down.  Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended  for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them.  To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.

So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a  stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Vue Star City)

Snatched (15

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

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

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

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

Hawn flaps around in trademark manner as the often  judgemental, scolding Linda while, fine comedienne though she may be, Schumer can’t make the tossed off lines or the lazy piecemeal plotting work,  although, to her credit,  she does dispense with any hint of vanity in her self-deprecating and deglamourised performance. And, although their attempt to help Emily rescue her mother does have an amusing payoff, the  equally cartoonish turns by fellow vacationers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic” ex-special ops  friend Barb (Joan Cusack) are essentially as pointless as they are unfunny. An accusation that can be firmly levelled at the film as a whole. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Their Finest (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Songs We Love: The bruised beauty of Evan Dando’s ‘All My Life’

Ever since ‘Stove’ showcased the everyday poignancy of kitchen appliance removal, Evan Dando has been the doleful master of melancholy. From the hazy, sun-drenched strums of It’s A Shame About Ray to the forlorn fuzz of Car Button Cloth, Dando had an unrivalled ability to mix brevity with bludgeoning emotion.

In 2017, Dando is currently on a jaunt across the globe in supporting of the Fire Records reissue of Baby I’m Bored, his debut solo record originally released in 2003. The album was suitably sobering, a country-flavoured collection of beautifully brittle tales of self-awareness that was the Bostonian’s most consistent batch of tracks since …Ray‘s universality.

Alongside the hymn to hedonism, ‘The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Part I Can Live Without’, and ‘My Idea’ and its crushing tale of a curtailed relationship, the album’s high-water mark was, and still is, the harrowing, heartfelt ‘All My Life’. A sombre strum reminiscent of The Lemonheads’ most naked, arresting moments – think ‘The Outdoor Type’ and ‘Being Around’ – Dando paints himself as the ne’er-do-well antagonist rallying against his previous dalliances as he laments “to be filled with hatred, for the time I’ve wasted.” This was a man who hadn’t, at this point, released a record for seven years.

“God knows how will I get through it, I bit my own sweet heart and blew it,” he sighs before it reaches the crushing chorus, where the celebrated sinner reaches the road to redemption. Simplistic yet strong, the line “all my life, I thought I wanted all the things I didn’t want at all” reaches an emotional apex through Dando’s cracked, contemplative cry.

Most surprising, though, was that despite the song seemingly being one of Dando’s finest druggy confessions, it was actually penned for the lank-haired troubadour by Australian singer Ben Lee, who also penned Baby I’m Bored’s atmospheric, transient chug of ‘Hard Drive’. Props to Lee for delicately, and fiercely accurately, crafting a snapshot of Dando’s past and present, but Dando’s performance remains, 14 years on, bruised and beautiful.

 

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

 

NEW RELEASES

Colossal  (15)

Thrown out of her shared New York apartment by boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) who’s fed up with her coming home hung-over from all night drinking sessions, online journo Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her now-abandoned family home on the sticks. Here she runs into, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a good-natured friend from junior school, who offers her a job at the sprawling family bar he’s inherited where she gets to both serve the drinks and sample them  hanging out after closing timer with Oscar and his loser buddies, the bitter Garth  (Tim Blake Nelson) and the dim but good-looking Joel (Austin Stowell), the latter of whom she eventually ends up bedding.

Waking from another alcoholic binge with no memories of the night before, she finds the TV buzzing with reports about a giant lizard-like monster that appeared from a lightning cloud in the South Korean capital of Seoul, made some odd gestures, and vanished, leaving a swathe of destruction behind. It happens again, the next night, at exactly the same time and, for all her alcohol fuddled thinking, it doesn’t take long for Gloria to realise that the appearances coincide exactly with her making her drunken way back home through the local kids playground. Or that it mirror her nervous tic of scratching her head.

So, she drags the three guys down to the sandbox and gets them to watch a TV app on their mobile phones while she runs through a series of gestures and actions, the monster again appearing in Seoul and doing the same movements. It also transpires that this isn’t the first time it appeared. That would have been 25 years ago something connected to Gloria’s repressed memories of  an incident as a schoolgirl. Then it gets more complicated when the monster is joined by a giant robot as she realises that Oscar,. Who turns out to have quite a jealous streak, has the same abilities.

The latest oddball  outing by cult Spanish writer-director  Nacho Vigalondo, it centres on an intriguing conceit, the monster and the robot clearly metaphorical manifestations of  makes Gloria’s messed up psyche and Oscar’s pent-up  resentment and anger. Although the root cause of all this is eventually explained, Vigalondo makes no concerted attempt to detail why events should take place in Seoul, its suspension of disbelief extending to some basic logic in terms of character motivations and action. Nor does there seem more than a cursory concern on Gloria’s part for the hundreds of deaths her towering metaphor has caused.

The supporting characters, Tim especially, aren’t given much more than a one dimensional treatment, indeed, save for one scene as Oscar’s nasty side ignites,  both Garth and Joel are pretty much dispensable to the plot.

That said, blending in some black comedy, there’s a compelling psychological intrigue that keeps you involved as the film evolves from rom com to Godzilla-like disaster  movie to  a potent character-driven self-absorption melodrama about two psychological trauma. Playing against type, the two leads are the core, Hathaway turning in a disarming self-mocking note while Sudeikis perfectly shades his character’s transition from ostensible nice guy to one consumed by his self-pity and inner demons. In many ways it echoes the recent A Monster Calls, although its climax, while equally cathartic, is rather less redemptive and decidedly unforgiving. And oddity then, but one well worth puzzling over.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Frantz (12A)

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

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

Loosely based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby, although the second half other narrative is original, this is director Francois Ozon’s first film to be shot in mostly German and on 35mm with large parts of it in black and white. However,  his meticulous craft and familiar themes remain firmly in evidence,  the film mirroring the similarities between the two countries and the bereaved after the war, with a  pacifist message of reaching out in reconciliation, forgiveness and how sometimes a lie is better than the truth.

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

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)

Forget Le Morte d’Arthur, forget Camelot, forget T.H. White’s classic novel, forget John Boorman’s Excalibur, this is Guy Ritchie’s vision of the Arthurian story, recast as a sort of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Broadswords, more rock n roll than troubadour. The gist of this revision is that, having defeated the evil mage Mordred, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is then betrayed by his power-thirsty brother  Vortigern (a camped up  Jude Law) who, sacrificing his own wife to do so, summons up a demon to kills both Uther and his queen, but not before they manage to send their infant son off in a boat, Moses style.

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

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

The narrative almost overwhelmed by the CG blitzkrieg of  giant snakes, giant elephants, thousands of virtual extras, a sort of rubbery squid-sirens version of Macbeth’s three witches and, as the Holy Grail would have, some watery tart, it rattles along through a series of extravagant set piece s in exuberant but almost incoherent fashion as it borrows cheerfully from any number of sources, Robin Hood and the New Testament among them. Hunnam makes for a game reluctant hero and the rest of the cast are nothing if not enthusiastic, among them a certain David Beckham as a Blackleg, and you can’t say it lacks for energy or entertaining action. However, following in the  wake of the disappointing performance of Ritchie’s last rework, the underrated Man From U.N.C.L.E., with its disastrous opening both in America and international markets, it’s set  to be this year’s biggest blockbuster bomb, meaning we’ll likely never get to see Merlin or the Mage become Guinevere, let alone see them finish assembling the Round Table that serves for some lame gags at the end. Which, is, actually, quite a shame. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Snatched (15)

Directed by Judd Apatow, Trainwreck, her first starring feature and which she also wrote, proved Amy Schumer could be  just as funny on the big screen as on the small one. However, the follow-up, directed by The Night Before Christmas’s Jonathan Levine  and penned by the Ghostbusters remake scribe, Katie Dippold, might have audiences revising that opinion.

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

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

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

Hawn flaps around in trademark manner as the often  judgemental, scolding Linda while, fine comedienne though she may be, Schumer can’t make the tossed off lines or the lazy piecemeal plotting work,  although, to her credit,  she does dispense with any hint of vanity in her self-deprecating and deglamourised performance. And, although their attempt to help Emily rescue her mother does have an amusing payoff, the  equally cartoonish turns by fellow vacationers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic” ex-special ops  friend Barb (Joan Cusack) are essentially as pointless as they are unfunny. An accusation that can be firmly levelled at the film as a whole. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

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A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Alien: Covenant (15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

The Belko Experiment (18)

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

At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.

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

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and  barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Mindhorn (15)

Hailed as the British comedy of the year, a title it might earn by default given the opposition so far, this big screen outing by the Mighty Boosh partnership of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay) is more accurately a second division Hot Fuzz that spoofs such naff 70s secret agent series as The Six Million Dollar Man. Indeed, that’s clearly the inspiration behind Mindhorn, both the name of the character and the TV show, in which the smugly arrogant Richard Thorncroft played the titular Isle of Man detective with a bionic eye that could reveal the truth.

Now, years after cancellation, he’s a bald washed-up has been with a paunch and a toupee reduced to doing commercials for male corsets and orthopaedic socks. Until, that is, his agent (Harriet Walter) sets him up with a job back on the Isle of Man where the police are trying to catch a killer (Russel Tovey), a mentally disturbed youth who calls himself Kestrel and will only talk to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The idea is that Thorncroft will talk to him on the phone in character while the cops, headed up by DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough), trace the call, while Thorncroft tries to milk the publicity with the help of his seedy old agent Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) and his former romantic interest co-star and old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) who now works for a local TV channel.

Naturally, nothing goes to plan, and as the plot thickens, Thorncroft discovers the suspect may not be the real killer, that his former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), is now married to Patricia and that he apparently has a daughter he knew nothing about.

There’s a high degree of silliness, some inspired, some not, as well as frankly embarrassing cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves while, as played by Steve Coogan,  the character of Peter Eastman who went on to mega success in the Windjammer spin-off series, just feels half-written. Coogan’s appearance also can’t help but prompt comparison with his own Alpha Papa, and not one that does this any favours.

Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

Miss Sloan (12A)

When high-powered insomniac lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) goes to bed, she usually grabs a John Grisham courtroom thriller to read. The plot here wouldn’t be out of place, and, while there may not be a courtroom, there is a Senate hearing, chaired by Congressman Sperling (John Lithgow), to which Sloane has been summoned, accused of  violating ethics. It’s here that the film begins, but then rolls back in time to find Sloane, who’s employed by a top DC consulting film (headed by Sam Waterson), laughing down a Senator who wants her to campaign on behalf of the NRA and turn images of mothers crying for their shot children  into a women for guns  message to secure a vote against gun registration.

She duly quits on moral principle ground and, taking with her all of her team save for assistant Jane (Alison Pill) .who reckons her career’s better served staying put with top associate Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), sets up camp with a smalltime lobbying firm run by idealist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) who are trying to swing the  vote in favour of registration

Although you need a reasonable working knowledge of how lobbyists work, director John Madden sweeps you along, cutting back and forth between the hearing and the events leading up to it. A driven character who’s sacrificed private life for career (there’s never explored hints of a trouble childhood) and releases her tensions in hotel rooms with a hunky Southern male escort (Jake Lacy), Sloane is a compelling figure, but far from sympathetic. Determined to win, she’s willing to exploit anything and everyone to do so, something her gun violence survivor new colleague Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) learns to her cost, but, as a lobbyist, she believes the end justifies the means. She also operates on the principle that  “It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”, a credo which reveals itself in an implausible  third act which  that may well defy narrative  logic and require a credibility straining foresight that chess grandmasters would envy, but undeniably delivers a crowd pleasing sting.

While the supporting turns are solid, Mbatha-Raw in particular, this is firmly  Chastain’s film, her Elizabeth Sloane an obsessive,  coolly efficient Lady Macbeth without the guilty conscience who makes it her business to not  only know where all the bodies are buried, but who made the shovels, but yet still with flashes of humanity behind that implacable exterior. More likely to share the box office fate of Sandra Bullock’s political consultant  drama Our Brand Is Crisis than George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, both of which mined similar territory, even so, this is well worth voting for with your ticket money.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

The Sense of an Ending (15)

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

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

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

As Tony recounts past events  to Margaret, the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her  genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother  Jack (Edward Holcroft)  and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tony’s forced to  confront his actions.

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

 

Sleepless (15)

Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the  black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche,  in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.

Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down.  Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended  for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them.  To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.

So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a  stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Their Finest (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife (12A)

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

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

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

Another problem is that, while the film celebrates the couple’s bravery,  the Jews they shelter remain somewhat sketchy, emblematic characters. Tastefully done but ultimately perfunctorily told with only the faintest excursion into tension, it never rises to the heights of the recent similarly themed The Book Thief, far less Agnieska Holland’s Into Darkness, seemingly far more concerned with the visual details than the human ones, whose fates ultimately have less of an impact than those of the animals. (MAC)

 

 

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 May 12-Thu May 18

 

NEW RELEASES

Alien: Covenant (15)

Set 10 years after Prometheus (2012), Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the seemingly endless sci fi horror Alien saga offers further insights into the creatures’ origins, although the film itself feels more like a  bridging link to the next chapter rather than a self-contained narrative in its own right.  It’s 2104 and Covenant is taking a 2000 sleeping colonists and several trays of embryos to a new habitable world. The ship and its systems (Mother) are under the control of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the latest upgrade of the original David model from the last film, the latter seen as the film opens, talking with his creator (Guy Pearce) in an airless, sterile white room, naming himself after Michelangelo’s statue and already displaying a sense of superiority over his human ‘father’.

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

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

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

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

Given the franchise trajectory and the in-production sequel, none of this is much of a spoiler, the real disappointment is how generic it all becomes with the assorted gun battles, acid sprays, dismemberments, face huggers and running through  dark narrow spaces pausing only for a discussion between Walter and the cool but patently deranged David on their different natures and the purpose of creation, although the screenplay seems to use the latter more as a plot engine than any serious existential philosophising.

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

Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Jawbone (15)

There’s nothing particularly new in this story of a washed up boxer fighting his demons (almost obligatory alcoholism) and taking on one last fight that serves as both a reaffirmation of who he is and the springboard to face and seek help for his problems. However, in the hands of Thomas Napper, stepping up from second unit director and both starring and written by Johnny Harris, who brings a touch of Ken Loach to the film’s social issues, this really does deliver a punch.

Harris stars as Jimmy McCabe, a former South London child boxing champion who pissed it all away and who, between his addiction, unemployable nature and the recent death of his mother, finds himself facing eviction and without benefits, or dignity.  Although it’s clear old friends care about him, he’s too proud to ask for help, even when he’s hungry and homeless, as to do so would mean acknowledging how far he’s sunk. Hence, why he never speaks at the AA meetings he attends.  He does, however, fetch up at the local amateur boxing gym owned by gruff but warm-hearted former mentor Bill Carney (Ray Winston) where he learned to box and gets to do some training and occasionally help out  Bill and his partner Eddie (Michael Smiley) with the boys there to learn the craft. Evicted, he also ends up sleeping there.

Desperate for money, he turns to a shady promoter (a briefly cameoing Ian McShane) who sets him up with an unlicenced bout up north where he can at least earn £2,500 by getting beaten by the local bully boy hot shot. At which point Bill breaks some dark news.

It all unfolds in predictable underdog comeback fashion (albeit not in some stadium but a tiny back street ring), but Harris’ screenplay delivers a deeply felt character study on which melancholy and sadness hangs heavy while, looking a little like a battered and broken Jason Statham, his complex, brooding and nuanced performance is outstanding. Although his rage does explode at times, for the most he keeps the main and self-loathing internalised, a restraint that also extends to Winstone who gives his subtlest performance in years.

Landing emotional body blows every bit as powerful as the physical ones served up in the well-staged brutal match on which the film climaxes, downbeat yet ultimately optimistic it may lack the flash and brash of a Rocky, but it still delivers a knockout that deserves far more than its single screen showing. (Everyman)

The Journey (12A)

Held in Fife between October 11 to 13, 2006, the Northern Ireland peace talks concluded with the historic St. Andrews Agreement, with both sides in the Troubles agreeing to share power with prudist Protestant firebrand preacher Ian Paisley as First Minister and his sworn Catholic enemy Martin McGuiness, the alleged former IRA Chief of Staff turned Sinn Fein MP, as his deputy.

It seemed an almost impossible outcome, but, directed by Nick Hamm and written by Colin Bateman, this film speculates on how the rapprochement between the two (who went on to become great friends and were dubbed the Chuckle Brothers) came about during an imagined and wholly fictional car journey they share as, for political protocol, McGuiness (Colm Meaney) insists on accompanying Paisley (a pursed lips Timothy Spall) as he’s driven to Edinburgh to catch a plane home for his 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.

Their apparently naïve young driver (Freddie Highmore) is a covert security agent getting instructions from his MI5 boss (the late John Hurt) through an earpiece while, the car fitted out with security cameras, he and the others back at the hotel, among them Gerry Adams (Ian Beattie) and Tony Blair (Toby Stephens), watch what’s going on between the two men, hoping that, if they’re given enough time, they’ll somehow find common ground. As such, while there are diversions such as the pair wandering through the woods and into an abandoned church, when the car collides with a deer and has a puncture, the bulk of the film takes place in the back seats, the garrulous McGuiness trying to get the terse Paisley to talk to him, lend him his phone or simply crack a smile.

Naturally, there’s plenty of politically focused dialogue with the pair exchanging accusations about things done by both sides, but the tone is generally light with a considerable degree of comedic banter, mostly on McGuiness’s part, though Paisley reveals a dry wit too; a particular high note is a shared joke over Irish figures of speech, while a sequence when the latter confronts a recalcitrant petrol station cashier is as funny as any road trip comedy you might care to name.

The whole set-up is, of course, too fanciful to take seriously, the film’s comic sensibilities underscored by Stephens playing Blair as his caricature rather than his character. But, thanks to the two splendidly offset lead performances that brilliantly channel the two rivals capturing the humanity behind the public image, McGuiness’s explanation of his change of heart after the Enniskillen bombings especially effective. It never happened like this of course, but the film makes you wish it had. (Electric)

Mindhorn (15)

Hailed as the British comedy of the year, a title it might earn by default given the opposition so far, this big screen outing by the Mighty Boosh partnership of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay) is more accurately a second division Hot Fuzz that spoofs such naff 70s secret agent series as The Six Million Dollar Man. Indeed, that’s clearly the inspiration behind Mindhorn, both the name of the character and the TV show, in which the smugly arrogant Richard Thorncroft played the titular Isle of Man detective with a bionic eye that could reveal the truth.

Now, years after cancellation, he’s a bald washed-up has been with a paunch and a toupee reduced to doing commercials for male corsets and orthopaedic socks. Until, that is, his agent (Harriet Walter) sets him up with a job back on the Isle of Man where the police are trying to catch a killer (Russel Tovey), a mentally disturbed youth who calls himself Kestrel and will only talk to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The idea is that Thorncroft will talk to him on the phone in character while the cops, headed up by DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough), trace the call, while Thorncroft tries to milk the publicity with the help of his seedy old agent Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) and his former romantic interest co-star and old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) who now works for a local TV channel.

Naturally, nothing goes to plan, and as the plot thickens, Thorncroft discovers the suspect may not be the real killer, that his former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), is now married to Patricia and that he apparently has a daughter he knew nothing about.

There’s a high degree of silliness, some inspired, some not, as well as frankly embarrassing cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves while, as played by Steve Coogan,  the character of Peter Eastman who went on to mega success in the Windjammer spin-off series, just feels half-written. Coogan’s appearance also can’t help but prompt comparison with his own Alpha Papa, and not one that does this any favours.

Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman)

Miss Sloan (12A)

An insomniac, unable to sleep, when high-powered lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) goes to bed, she usually grabs a John Grisham courtroom thriller to read. The plot here wouldn’t be out of place, and, while there may not be a courtroom, there is a Senate hearing, chaired by Congressman Sperling (John Lithgow), to which Sloane has been summoned accused of  violating ethics. It’s here that the film begins, but then rolls back in time to find Sloane, who’s employed by Cole, Kravitz & Waterman, a top DC consulting film (headed by Sam Waterson), laughing down a Senator who wants her to campaign on behalf of the NRA and turn images of mothers crying for their shot children  into a women for guns  message to secure a vote against gun registration.

She duly quits on moral principle ground and, taking with her all of her team save for assistant Jane (Alison Pill) .who reckons her career’s better served staying put with top associate Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), sets up camp with the a smalltime boutique lobbying firm run by idealist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong in an underwritten role) who are trying to swing the  vote in favour of registration

Although you need a reasonable working knowledge of how lobbyists work (especially in America), director John Madden sweeps you along, cutting back and forth between the hearing and the events leading up to it, with Sloane’s attorney  (David Wilson Barnes) bemused and frustrated at her tactics. A driven character whose sacrificed private life for career (there’s never explored hints of a trouble childhood) who releases her tensions in hotel rooms with a hunky Southern male escort (Jake Lacy), Sloane is a compelling figure, but far from sympathetic. Determined to win, she’s willing to exploit anything and everyone to do so, something her gun violence survivor new colleague Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) learns to her cost, but, as a lobbyist, she believes the end justifies the means. She also operates on the principle that  “It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”, a credo which reveals itself in an implausible  third act which  that may well defy narrative  logic and require a credibility straining foresight that chess grandmasters would envy, but undeniably delivers a crowd pleasing sting.

While the supporting turns are solid, Mbatha-Raw in particular, this is firmly  Chastain’s film, her Elizabeth Sloane an obsessive,  coolly efficient Lady Macbeth without the guilty conscience who makes it her business to not  only know where all the bodies are buried, but who made the shovels, but yet still with flashes of humanity behind that implacable exterior. More likely to share the box office fate of Sandra Bullock’s political consultant  drama Our Brand Is Crisis than George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, both of which mined similar territory, even so, this is well worth voting for with your ticket money.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

 

NOW PLAYING

A Dog’s Purpose (PG)

Directed by  Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a  dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.

This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who  becomes the police dog  partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.

As you’ll have worked out the meaning of  canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.

There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a  total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

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

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

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

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

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

The Belko Experiment (18)

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

At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.

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

 

The Boss Baby (U)

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

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

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

 

Fast And Furious 8 (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get Out (15)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Going In Style (12A)

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

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

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

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)

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

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

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

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

Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette  and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered  judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan lee appearance, this time in  the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Lady Macbeth  (15)

Adapted from Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s 1860 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and relocated to the bleak County Durham moors of Victorian England , while its titular character may have the single-minded ruthlessness of Shakespeare’s schemer, there’s also a strong touch of Lady Chatterley too, along with the gothic sensibilities of  Emily Bronte.

The feature debut of theatre director William Oldroyd, there’s some effective theatrical touches to his period piece in the use of still moments in which the camera simply focuses on the character as she sits staring out of the screen that compound the unease that permeates this bleak and emotionally brutal work.

Bought as domestic property by elderly and sadistic  wealthy miner Boris (a loathsome Christopher Fairbank) as a bride for his hard-drinking obnoxious and ineffectual son Alexander (Paul Hilton),  who runs their  large farm, the young Katherine (Florence Pugh) quickly finds her life is not one she relishes, her husband showing no hint of affection (he never consummates the marriage) and even the servants treating her with disdain. Often left alone  save for her black maid Anna (Naomie Ackie), a virtual prisoner in her own home,  she’s bored and restless, until she meets mixed race stable-hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) whose  sexual magnetism quickly brings out her wild side as they embark on frenzied and frequent sex while Alexander is off dealing with some colliery incident and his father’s in London.

When Boris returns and sniffs out what’s been going on, Katherine disposes of him with poison mushrooms and then, when his son returns and confronts her with the same accusations, he too meets a bloody fate. However, Katherine and Sebastian’s murderous lustful union then faces another setback with the arrival of a refined black woman and her child claiming a connection to the family. Clearly further obstacles need to be removed.

Oppressed by a patriarchal tyranny, initially a figure of sympathy whose actions could be argued as justifiable, her subsequent crime, with Sebastian as accomplice, and her manipulation of blame in her power games are decidedly less so, the film confronting audiences with one especially hard to watch sequence. Rarely off screen, Pugh is mesmerising while, creating the sense of oppressive claustrophobia, both physically and psychology, Oldroyd delivers a very different sort of period piece from the usual heritage cinema that also touches on questions of class and race. Stunning.  (MAC)

 

Sleepless (15)

Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the  black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche,  in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.

Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down.  Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended  for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them.  To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.

So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a  stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?

The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran  bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a  sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Their Finest (12A)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Unlocked (15)

It’s not going to win any awards, but, efficiently directed by Michael Apted, this terrorist-themed thriller does a watchable enough job despite its  convoluted plot’s twists and turns and unreliable characters.

Blaming herself for not cracking the code soon enough to prevent the deaths of numerous civilians during a terrorist bombing in Paris, former CIA agent Alice (Noomi Rapace) is working for an counselling agency in London’s East End, feeding back any hints of terrorist activity to the head of MI5 (Toni Collette).

Then she’s approached by a CIA agent who says she’s needed to interrogate a courier they’ve snatched who’s supposed to be delivering  message from a local Imam suspected of being behind terrorist attacks.  They need her to unlock his message so they can switch their man to meet the mastermind behind what they believe to be an upcoming biological attack. Which she duly does, only to get a call from MI5 at a crucial moment asking her to interrogate the self-same courier. Clocking that she’s been played, she escapes and seeks help from her former CIA mentor (Michael Douglas), only for him to be gunned down,  giving her the address of a safe house apartment. However, arriving there she finds it being burgled by Jack (Orlando Bloom) who says he’s a former marine who served in Iraq and, after rescuing her from a couple of armed officers sent to apprehend her (CIA station boss John Malkovich acting on the assumption she’s gone rogue), they set off to try and track down the guy the courier was supposed to meet, enlisting the help of one of her agency’s clients in the process.

Given it’s established early on that the CIA has been ‘penetrated’, Alice has no idea of who to trust, and the audience are pretty much in the same position as characters motivations and alliances seem to switch at the drop of a plot twist hat.

Riddled with heavy handed expositionary dialogue and preposterous set-ups, it rumbles along merrily enough, punching up the tension as it goes and slotting into the recent niche of thrillers adopting cynical view about the lengths to which government agencies will go to achieve their ends.

If it’s a little hard to take Bloom as an East End macho man, Rapace delivers an  intense performance worthier of a far better film while Collette plays things with a twinkle in her eye and Malkovich adds a wry sense of fun with his dry humour and comic timing. Ultimately, though., it feels a bit like a poor man’s Spooks and the sort of B movie opportunist zeigeist thriller you’d expect to go straight to DVD or on-demand when you can use the remote to switch between plot holes as you watch.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; 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

Alex Ohm to release debut EP this month with sold-out Birmingham show

Birmingham-born singer-songwriter Alex Ohm is set to release his debut solo EP, At First a Drop, Then a Flood, on Friday 19 May, and will showcase its content at a sold-out show at Birmingham’s Victoria the night after.

Ohm had previously enjoyed considerable success with The Lines, who had ticked off a range of support slots with their peers (The Charlatans and Ian Brown, to name just two), but now ploughs a more introspective furrow as a solo artist. His debut EP is a contemplative collection that’s vibrant and unpredictable, from Every Ocean”s cascading rhythms and gentle fiddle, to ‘Days Like These’ and its fragile finger picking.

Ohm recorded the EP with Wolverhampton-based producer Ryan Pinson, who has worked with a raft of local talent (most notably God Damn), and the polished mix from U2 and Killers knob-twiddler Pete Maher has ensured it has a stately shimmer.

To celebrate the EP’s release, Ohm is returning to Birmingham for a sold-out gig at the Victoria on Saturday 20th. For more details, head to Alex’s website. You can hear ‘Another Ocean’ on his Soundcloud.

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