Funny Cow (15)
A showcase turn for Maxine Peake, director Adrian Shergold’s film takes its influences from 60s British kitchen sink drama and gives them an art house makeover (you can’t miss the symbolic nod to 1956 French short The Red Balloon) in an acerbic comedy about a female stand-up comic that comes leavened with themes of domestic abuse, self-esteem and alcoholic despair. Divided into ‘bits’, it unfolds the life of a woman only ever known as Funny Cow (Peake), journeying from her northern childhood in the backstreets of post-war Britain where she learns to use humour to counter her abusive father (Stephen Graham who also plays Peake’s grown up brother) and the local bullies, through her impulsive teenage romance and subsequent marriage to Bob (Tony Pitts, who also wrote the screenplay), in which the cycle of marital abuse and controlling violence repeats itself, to a relationship with gentle but overly needy bookseller Angus (Paddy Considine) and her rise from playing seedy working men’s clubs with its racist and homophobic gags to comedy stardom in the 70s and 80s (emblemised by a red sports car and flashy clothes). In the latter part of the film, this is narrated with brutal honesty straight to camera through a televised monologue that feels like a far darker Dave Allen or Victoria Wood, herself a major influence on Peake.
It’s often unapologetically grim, most especially in the scenes of domestic violence and those involving Funny Cow’s now aged mother (Lindsay Coulson) who, following her husband’s death, took to the bottle, but also viciously funny, the humour aggressively crude, as in a potent sequence where she delivers put downs to a misogynistic heckler. At times Pitt’s screenplay indulges clichés and stereotypes even as it seeks to deconstruct them, but it never blunts its emotional heft even if it does rather stretch credibility that a bookseller in a northern town would be able to afford such a plush home as Angus owns.
There’s cameos from Vic Reeves as a crap ventriloquist, Corrine Bailey Rae and Richard Hawley (who also wrote the songs) as a singing duo and, in an early pub scene, you may even recognise Kevin Rowlands while Pitts does his writing full justice as the abusive Bob.
As a woman out of whom the ability to love has been beaten, Peake commands the majority of the film with her molten energy and magnetic presence, but the first section and a couple of subsequent flashbacks belong to Macy Shackleton who plays her younger self, Funny Calf, whileAlun Armstrong is terrific as Funny Cow’s world-weary mentor whose told the same tired jokes too often and to ever diminishing returns, a state of perpetual misery and unhappiness that also infects Funny Cow’s often defiantly self-destructive life. And yet, perversely, there’s moments, such as a scene in a pub where they sing Mule Train, with Funny Cow bashing herself and others over the head with a beer tray, where she and Bob actually seem to be happy together. In Funny Cow’s world, success and finding yourself doesn’t heal, it simply makes for a sharper punchline. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
120 Beats Per Minute (15)
Taking its title from the electronic music to which the characters dance as well as the measuring of heartbeats, French writer-director Robin Campillo’s subtitled film is compelling ensemble drama about the late 80s campaign by the Paris-based Act Up movement to raise awareness of AIDS, especially among a largely apathetic gay community, and to pressure the complacent government and pharmaceutical giants, here represented by Big Pharma, a company withholding results of trials until a major conference almost a year hence, into action.
The activists, mostly HIV-positive males, are an eclectic mixed group from different walks of life and social classes, the weekly gatherings, at which everyone gets the chance to speak, chaired by Thibault (Antoine Reinartz)l whose authority rankles with some, especially the militant Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), one never backward in challenging what he sees as the far too moderate and diplomatic actions favoured by the likes of Sophie (Adèle Haenel).
The film opens with a misjudgement involving fake blood and handcuffs during a protest disrupting a medical convention that results in Act Up being seen as a violent faction, something Thibault and some of the other organisers are anxious to rectify, and continues as they plan further actions to confront Big Pharma and get them to the table Running alongside this is the inevitably doomed love story between Sean and the more retiring, and HIV-negative, Nathan (Arnaud Valois), a sub-plot that provides the film’s emotional anchor and context.
Taking a resolutely unsentimental approach (though not without being emotionally affecting), it trades equally in anger, frustration, tenderness and acceptance, the protest and rally scenes such as the invasion of Big Pharma’s offices and the Gay Pride march, vividly enacted while, in contrast, Campillo brings a poignant low key tone to the final moments as Sean’s friends gather at his mother’s home to bid farewell following the inevitable. He also brings a distinct poetic visual resonance to certain moments, such as the transitions from the dust created by the dancers to the molecules reacting to the virus inside the body and the dreamlike coda of a Seine turned red. There’s also a particularly striking moment of defiance and tenderness as Nathan masturbates the hospitalised and dying Sean. At 140 minutes, it’s considerably overlong and there’s far too many characters to provide most of them with more than sketchy background and personality, but, even so, this is compelling and important stuff. (Electric; MAC)
Every Day (12A)
A novel spin on the body swap genre, and with an intelligence that belies its offbeat premise, based on David Levithan’s young-adult novel this entails a high school girl falling in love with a bodiless spirit that calls itself A who, every day, wakes up in a different person’s body, always of the same age and in the same area (most of them seem to go to the same school), but of different gender and race. However, Cinderella-like, at the stroke midnight, A has to leave ready to wake up in the next day’s body. A first shows up in the body of Justin (Justice Smith), the mixed-race boyfriend of Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who’s surprised to find he’s acting a lot nicer towards her as they skip school to spend the day together. The next day, however, he’s back to his old self and can’t remember anything about the previous 24 hours. A, however, has been smitten and, breaking his own rule to never leave a trace, over the course of the film and different bodies, among them a white cheerleader, a portly Asian boy (Jacob Batalon), a transgender student, a black boy (Rory McDonald) with a domineering mother and a dance happy guy at a party who turns out to be a devout Christian who subsequently believes he’s been possessed by the devil, he forms a friendship with an understandably initially sceptical Rhiannon. At one point, A even wakes up as Rhiannon. Having pushed himself (let’s assume A is male) to remain in the body of suicidal Asian girl long enough to get her (through ‘him’) to ask for help, he’s then able to extend his stay in the body of another of Rhiannon’s classmates, a shy but sensitive sort (Owen Teague) who is clearly a far more suitable match than Justin.
The subplot involving the troubled marriage of Rhiannon’s parents (Maria Bello, Michael Cram) following her father’s manic episode’ and subsequent depressive funk where he spends his time painting faces feels somewhat redundant other than in allowing for an epiphany, while her snooty but caring sister, Jo (Debbie Ryan) seems to have no story at all.
However, despite this, what emerges is a sweet, funny, tender fantasy about diversity, sexuality and pure romantic love, one which encourages its teenage audiences to look beyond the externals and find the soul of the person within. Ultimately, a sort of two-legged version of A Dog’s Purpose by way of Groundhog Day, it ably compensate sin originality and heart for what it lacks in depth.
(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park)
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (12A)
Alexander McCall Smith arguably started the current trend for quirky titles with the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, finding further expression on the big screen with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Adapted from the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, this pitches for much the same audience with its bittersweet account of a tragedy that cast a shadow over the lives of the titular’s society’s members.
Director Mike Newell’s first film in almost six years, it’s set shortly after the end of WWI, as, a celebrated author with the publication of her wartime-set first novel (though her critical study of Anne Bronte sold just 29 copies worldwide), Juliet Ashton (Lily James), writing under the name of Izzy Biggerstaff, receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman with a somewhat free floating accent), a Guernsey pig farmer and society member, who, having found her name in a secondhand book and there being no bookshops on the island, wonders if she could secure him a copy of Charles Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.
Intrigued by mention of the oddly named society (the potato bit comes from the wartime food shortage), and looking to write something of a less frivolous nature for a commissioned Times article, she informs her supportive agent and friend Sidney (Matthew Goode) that she’s off to the island to find out more. Invited to read at a society meeting (from her Bronte work rather than the bestseller), on mentioning her planned article, one of the circle’s elderly members, Amelia (Penelope Wilson), pointedly refuses to give permission, inevitably setting Juliet on the path of unravelling the mystery and, in the process, just engaged to American officer Mark (Glenn Powell), her feelings about her life in London.
The film opens during the German occupation of the island as, drunkenly returning from a clandestine gathering revealed later, Amelia, Dawsey, postmaster Eben (Tom Courteney), gin-making herbalist wallflower Isola (Katherine Parkinson making the most of an undeveloped character) and firebrand Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findley) are stopped out by a German patrol and spontaneously come up with the name of the book club as an excuse for being out after curfew, thereby forcing them to actually form it.
Variously flashing back between the occupation and the present day, the circle now joined by Eben’s voracious reader young nephew Eli (Kit Connor) and with Dawsey caring for the absent Elizabeth’s four-year-old daughter, the film, which considerably reworks some of the novel’s elements, is, despite the second half reveal as to why Elizabeth is no longer on the island and narrative touching on the wartime scars of collaboration and betrayals, is as predictable as it is blandly charming. Wilton has a particularly potent moment as the emotionally wounded Amelia, but, dispensing with any ideas about the power of literature early on, the tone generally favours humour and romance rather than tragedy and years. The locations (ironically not in Guernsey) are attractive and the performances are amiable enough, even if the chemistry between Juliet and Dawsey never really fizzes as it should, but, overstretched at two hours, it’s ultimately pleasantly undemanding fare which, like that pie, could have done with considerably more seasoning. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Leisure Seeker (15)
The title refers to an ancient Winnebago camper van in which an elderly married Massachusetts couple, southern belle Ella and her distinguished husband John Spencer (Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland), he a retired English professor, she, well it’s never really clear what she did, take off for a nostalgic cross state road trip, much to the consternation of their son and daughter (Christian McKay, Janel Moloney). That’ll be because dad has advancing Alzheimer’s and mom is in the late stages of terminal cancer, and she wants them to take one last trip together to finally visit the Hemingway house (John’s an Ernest Hemingway obsessive) in Key West before it’s too late.
Making his English language debut, Italian director Paolo Virzi’s tragicomedy piles on the sentimentality and nostalgia (the soundtrack includes Dylan, Carol King and Joplin) while largely soft-pedalling the physical pain (Mirren spews on a couple of occasions) and anguished frustration of having your loved one’s memories of the kids or awareness of who you are come and go as lucid moments give way to the fog. Inevitably episodic as the pair have assorted encounters and incidents along the way (a Syrian couple running a gas station, a traffic cop, an ex-pupil, being held up by two chancers when they get a flat and, in a throwaway political comment, a Trump election rally by a bunch of rednecks calling to make America great again), John constantly returning to his nagging belief that Ellen still has a thing for an old boyfriend, the film delivering an ironic twist when he inadvertently reveals something during a dementia event. Mirren and Sutherland deliver decent enough performances that resist overplaying the drama, a particularly amusing moment coming when she, touting a shotgun, sends the two muggers packing and he tells them to take lessons in grammar, but as it winds its way to the fairly predictable finale, you feel yourself wishing they’d taken a much shorter route. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Liv Tyler may take top billing, but her’s is very much a supporting role in this involving if frustratingly uneven fairy tale-like horror. The star turn comes from Bel Powney as Anna, a young girl who has been raised from childhood in total isolation in a woodland cabin by the man she calls daddy (Brad Dourif) who warns her she cannot venture outside lest she be killed and eaten by creatures he calls the Wildlings. When Anna (played by Arlo Mertz and Aviva Winick as her younger selves) starts to menstruate, he gives her injections designed to slow down puberty. When that no longer seems to be working, he takes a gun and, rather than shooting her, blasts himself in the head (clearly a lousy shot, he’s later seen in hospital and is soon up and walking, going about his sinister intent).
At this point, Anna’s rescued by kindly cop Ellen (Tyler), who takes her in while DNA tests are run to establish her parentage and, after initial hostility, is befriended by her younger brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), a relationship that gradually develops into something more intimate. Meanwhile, fish out of water Anna’s trying to adapt to her new environment, taking an instant liking to hamburgers, but also struggling with changes that seem to be taking place in her body. She also reveals hidden anger and strength when she thumps a fellow pupil who’s roughing up Lawrence, culminating in a bloody end for another bully who tries to rape her in the woods following a party.
At which point, it’s already pretty clear where the revelations about her true nature and the subject of Wildlings are going, the film looking to emulate similar body horror and hormonal parables as Carrie and Ginger Snaps as Anna and Lawrence go on the run, tracked by Emma and a rather less benevolent posse looking to finish what they started some years earlier.
The expressive Powney is excellent as, increasingly feral, she tries to come to terms with her confusion, fears and turbulent emotions, and first time director Fritz Böhm skilfully engineers the mounting tension, but he’s let down by night-time scenes that are so dark it’s virtually impossible to discern what’s going on as well as a sloppy screenplay that gives Tyler pretty much nothing to do and, out of nowhere, introduces an enigmatic mountain man (James Le Gros) who wears a wolf pelt, complete with head, with no explanation, connection or any real purpose other than facilitating a key moment towards the end. The more the horror overwhelms the narrative, the more incoherent it all becomes, the plot spending far too much time having Anna running barefoot through the woods and simply ignoring the multiple glaring plot holes and lack of real-world logic, but, when it’s good, it very good indeed. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
The Ice King (12A)
A documentary about 1970s ice skating star John Curry whose 1976 Olympic win not only transformed the sport into art form, but also served for his coming out as the first gay Olympian at a time before homosexuality had been decriminalised. The documentary offers both sides, his charm as well as his poisonous capabilities, his superior attitude and air of privilege that sat awkwardly alongside his rebellious nature, a man who was both emotionally aloof and yet ferociously needy. On the run from any number of ghosts and demons, but especially himself, he was driven by both ambition and self-destruction and the firm affords a fascinating portrait of athlete and artist who became a victim of his own political battleground. (Fri-Mon:MAC)
Black Panther (12A)
First seen in Captain America: Civil War, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is T’Challa, who became King of the African nation of Wakanda and took on the animal spirit powers passed down through the generations of its rulers when his father as killed during the attack on the Vienna International Centre. The world believes Wakanda to be Africa’s poorest nation, one of Trump’s shithole countries, but, hidden behind a veil of technological secrecy there exists a hugely advanced and prosperous country, a melding of the futuristic and the ancient dubbed Afrofuturism, complete with sonic-powered railways and insect-inspired aircraft, founded upon vibranium, the hardest metal known to man, from a comet that crashed to Earth millennia ago and gave birth to the purple flower from which the potion endowing the Black Panther’s strength and speed are derived. It’s also the metal that forged Captain America’s shield. However, like his father before him, T’Challa intends to keep all this secret, protecting Wakanda from incursion and subsequent chaos by the outside world.
However, others are of a different opinion. His gutsy sometime girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), first seen rescuing kidnapped girls from a Boku Haram-styled scenario, believes it is her responsibility to help less fortunate African countries, though nevertheless respects his wishes. But then there’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a CIA assassin from Brooklyn who, it is revealed, has personal ties to the Wakandan throne and wants to use vibranium to instigate a global race war to over throw those who have oppressed Blacks for centuries, to which end he’s struck a deal with Klaue (Andy Serkis), the rogue Afrikaner mercenary who stole a supply of vibranium way back, from which he’s crafted his weaponised artificial arm, and has been itching to get his hands on the rest.
As such, while the basic oppositions remain true, this isn’t your usual super-hero movie, playing out more in the manner of a Greek tragedy that involves fratricide, flawed fathers, misguided nobility and betrayal alongside issues that embrace isolationism vs internationalism, racism, colonialism, refugees and the opposing policies of passive resistance and militarism that pointedly evokes the contrast in thinking between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Following the historical prologue as to the origins of Wakanda, the film shifts to 1992 Oakland as two men, both of Wakandan origin, ready plans to carry out an armed assault, only to be interrupted by “two Grace Jones lookin’ chicks”, the spear-wielding bodyguards of King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa’s father, who, to protect one of the men kills the other, his own brother, thereby setting in motion a quest for vengeance that will lead to the present day narrative.
It’s directed by Ryan Coogler who made the true-life based Fruitvale Station and Creed, the one dealing with racial tension and prejudice the other about a young black man coming to terms with his heritage, themes which coalesce here in an Afrocentric fusion of the modern and folklore. Save for some minor extras, Serkis and Martin Freeman (returning as CIA agent Everett K. Ross), are the only white characters in a film heavy with black acting talent, which, in addition to those mentioned, includes Danai Gurira as General Okoye, commander of the all female elite bodyguards; Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya as T’Challa’s allegiance-shifting ally, W’Kabi; Winston Duke as M’Baku, the leader of a rival tribe who challenges T’Challa for the throne in traditional ritual combat on the edge of a steep waterfall; Forest Whitaker as Zuri, basically the Wakandan medicine man; Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda; and, especially, Letitia Wright as his wisecracking techno-whizz kid sister Shuri who’s designed the upgraded kinetic energy absorbing version of the Black Panther costume and is essentially Q to his 007.
Boseman provides the film’s gravitas, a conflicted leader faced with difficult decisions regarding the future of his people and, in scenes which involve two visits to a mystical afterlife to meet with T’Chaka, comes to learn his father, faced with similar choices, was not all he had assumed him to be. Naturally, balancing such heavyweight concerns, there’s a ready supply of blockbuster gadgetry and action, including a casino shoot-out, a remotely-driven car case through Busan, South Korea and a final all-out battle between T’Challa and Killmonger’s supporters that involves armour-plated rhinos, finally climaxing in the showdown between the two rivals for Wakanda’s future and its poignant coda.
The Black Panther isn’t Hollywood’s first black super-hero, but, ranking alongside the very best of the Marvel canon, he’s its most important. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The directorial debut of Pitch Perfect co-writer Kay Cannon, the title a cinema billboard friendly shortening of Cock Blockers, this slots comfortably into the same crude rude but funny box in a line that stretches back from Bridesmaid and Trainwreck to Porkys and American Pie. Meeting on their first day at a Chicago primary school, preppy Julie (Kathryn Newton), socially awkward Sam (Gideon Adlon) and acerbic athlete Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) become inseparable friends, although their respective parents, clingy single mom (Leslie Mann), ultra-sensitive overprotective jock Mitchell (John Cena) and disreputable absent father divorcee Hunter (Ike Barinholtz channelling Mark Whalberg) haven’t maintained the same bonds.
Prom Night is looming and Julie (who’s not told mom she’s moving to college in a different state) has determined to lose her virginity to nice guy boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips) and, having detailed how this is going to happen, Kayla decides she’s going to pop her cherry too, targeting the school’s gourmet drugs chemist Connor (Miles Robbins) as the lucky recipient. Despite being secretly gay, with a crush on Japanese lesbian, Sam signs up for the sex pact too, her prom date being her friend Chad (Jimmy Bellinger), a chubby dork in a pork pie hat.
Unfortunately, Julie accidentally leaves her message app running on her tablet and all their texts are read by her mother who immediately enlists Mitchell in her mission to prevent her daughter making a mistake she’ll regret (cue echoes of her own life). Mitchell’s wife (Sarayu Blue) tells them they should be ashamed of themselves while Hunter, who’s unexpectedly turned up for the get together to mark the girls’ graduations, also reckons this is a bad idea but, on learning Sam’s in on it, and aware that she’s gay, enthusiastically tags along to stop her doing something she doesn’t want to do.
Of course daughters and parents all get to learn life lessons about themselves and each other, about responsibility, trust and letting go, but not before a series of hilarious moments that range from the parents crashing a prom party and Mitchell chugging beer through his arse (don’t ask), a disastrous car chase and Lisa finding herself trapped in a hotel bedroom with Julie and Austin as they get frisky to Kayla getting out of her head on Connor’s concoctions and Mitchell and Hunter caught up in Connor’s parents naked, blindfold sex games.
Hopping between parents and daughters, there’s some unnecessary vulgarity, scrotum clutching included, barfing but also considerable more sweetness and observations about parents’ paranoia about their daughters’ sex lives and the need to let them make their own decisions. The leads are all terrific, Mann getting to show off her physical comedy skills. And there’s real chemistry between the three girls but, a combination of some of the best line, her delivery, timing and facial expressions, it’s Viswanathan who steals the film and clearly has a very bright comedy future ahead of her. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City)
Death Wish (15)
Given the current heightened debate about gun control in America with calls to arm teachers and protests about police ineffectuality, Eli Roth and screenwriter Joe Carnahan’s remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson vigilante thriller is either right on the zeitgeist button or incredibly ill-timed. Either way, it’s pretty rubbish. Updating the set up to contemporary Chicago it has Bruce Willis sleepwalking his way through the role of Paul Kersey, a trauma surgeon who, when his wife (Elizabeth Shue) is killed and his daughter (Camila Morrone) left in a coma after when a burglary goes wrong (they’re attacked at home while baking him a birthday cake, no less), frustrated at the lack of progress in the case, he decides to follow his father-in-law’s advice and, getting a gun (from a dead gangbanger) and a hoodie (from the hospital trash bins), take matters into his own hands.
Unlike Bronson’s pacifist, who had to persuade himself to take action, Kersley here has no qualms, indeed, he rather turned on by it judging by his smile after his first killing, foiling a carjacking by being in the right place at the right time. When a witness’s phone video of the incident goes viral, he’s dubbed the Grim Reaper and, when, during surgery, he gets a link to those involved in the bloody robbery, rather than share with the cops, he tools up and goes after them, one scene having him indulge in some graphic torture, utilising his surgeon skills, to get the name of the actual killer. Meanwhile, the cops, represented by Detective Rains (Dean Norris) aren’t overly concerned at the bad guy body count and seems almost reluctant to follow up when the clues point to Kersley.
If that’s what you want, the violence is well-handled, but there’s no soul and no sense of moral conflict about what Kersley does and, should you miss the irony of his two chosen career paths, the opening credits helpfully spell it out with a split screen featuring different shots showing his hands handling his twin power tools, a scalpel and bullets. There’s also a scene when Kersley visits a gun store and the gung ho female sales assistant runs him through the merchandise, assuring him everyone passes the safety checks, but it’s more about a joke than any pointed social satire, and, with the somewhat pointless addition of Vincent D’Onofrio as his screw-up brother and repetitive cutaways to assorted TV and radio debates about vigilante justice (“You got a white guy in a hoodie killing black people, you don’t have a problem with that?”), it feels unnecessarily padded out.
Willis, in his first proper lead role in ages, goes through the motions with his trademark smirk and dead-eyed routine, unaffected by the carnage he wreaks or inspired (when he sees a news report of a copycat family man being killed he has zero response), a description that could well apply to film itself. (Vue Star City)
Ghost Stories (15)
Adapted from the successful stage play by writer-directors Andy Nyman and The League of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson, the former reprising his stage role, this sits firmly in the anthology tradition of 60s British portmanteau horror movies, but comes with a connecting thread that culminates in a twist of a very different nature.
Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, a Jewish atheist, rationally-minded academic and TV celebrity debunker of the supposed paranormal, first seen here exposing a so-called medium’s tricks. Out of the blue he receives a message from his similarly styled 70sTV hero, Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), long vanished and presumed dead, who invites him to disprove three cases that have left him doubting his disbelief in the supernatural.
The first takes Goodman to Tony (Paul Whitehouse), who claims to have witnessed the ghost of a young girl while working as a night watchman at an deserted former psychiatric hospital, the second to Simon (Alex Lawther), a young man who had an encounter with some creature while driving home late one night (and who claims he’s alone in the house despite Goodman seeing his dysfunctional parents), and, thirdly, Mike (Martin Freeman), an ant-Semitic widowed ex-banker apparently haunted by the poltergeist of his unborn child after his wife died in childbirth who, takes Goodman out on the Yorkshire moors and then shoots himself.
Their experiences are all replayed in flashbacks, during which Goodman, who had a harsh childhood and is haunted by an unexplained (and male) guilt and anxiety also experiences flashbacks of his own, gradually linking everything to his own troubles.
The three ghost stories play out with a knowing awareness of the genre clichés they involve, but there’s far more to them than these as, adopting the technique of the unreliable narrator, is eventually explained in the final stretch again involving Freeman’s character and a journey to a traumatic past and a clever if illogical final reveal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Electric; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)
The Greatest Showman (12A)
Closer to Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge than La La Land, whose Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also provide the songs here, first time director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon (who, having penned Chicago and Dreamgirls, knows his way around a musical) may take any number of liberties with the life of 19th century showman and legendary hoaxer Phineas T Barnum, but succeed in serving up a fabulous sugar rush, candy coloured helping of feelgood family entertainment about the man who pretty much invented modern day entertainment.
Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the real Barnum, who looked more like Mel Smith and didn’t get into show business until he was in his 60s, Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life, positively exploding with energy in the musical routines (and let’s not forget he first made his name in musical theatre and won a Tony for the Broadway production of The Boy From Oz), but also hitting the key emotional notes when needed.
It opens with a brief background prologue, introducing the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) as the son of a struggling tailor who falls for Charity (Skylar), the daughter of his dad’s stern and snobbish client who sends her away to put an end to the friendship. Barnum’s father dies and the kid’s reduced to stealing food on the streets, until befriended by a disfigured stranger, he’s inspired to become more than he is and chase his Million Dreams.
Fast forward and, having made something of himself as an office clerk, the now grown Barnum marries Charity (Michelle Williams, somewhat underused), again to her father’s disapproval, and they have two cute daughters, Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and, when the shipping company he works for goes belly-up, a flash of inspiration leads Barnum to open his American Museum, a collection of historical wax figures and stuffed exotic animals, in the hope of attracting the curious. A bedtime observation from one of the kids that it could do with an exhibit that’s not dead then prompts him to round up all manner of society’s freaks, among them bearded lady singer Lettie (Keala Settle), a 22-year old dwarf (Sam Humphrey) he dresses up as General Tom Thumb, a giant, Siamese twins, a fat man, the hairy Dog Boy and, brother and sister trapeze artists whose only ‘deformity’ is being African American, exaggerating their ‘freakishness’ for extra effect and nigger ‘humbug’.
Scamming the bank for a loan, he opens his theatre and, proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, transforms a scathing review into an audience magnet with the New York crowds flocking in, restyling his show as a circus with himself as the ringmaster. Looking to move beyond lowbrow audiences, he then forms a partnership with Philip Caryle (Zac Efron in his first musical role since High School Musical and very loosely based on James Bailey of the Barnum and Bailey Circus), a bored theatrical producer with a hefty trust fund and the sort of connections that can earn the troupe an audience with Queen Victoria.
It’s here Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the feted opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, and sees an opportunity to move from the peanut to the champagne market. Gambling both his reputation and his wealth, he signs her up for first a New York showcase and then a mammoth American tour. Suffice to say, things do not go well, resulting in a marriage threatening scandal while, back in New York, the bigot mob protests about the ‘freaks’ get out of hand and the tentative road to romance between Philip and Anne (Zendaya), one half of the trapeze act, is hitting some racial prejudice bumps.
Naturally, setbacks are just a spur to bigger and better success and, as such the film is very much a hymn to the underdogs chasing the American Dream, not to mention a clarion cry for diversity that strikes a far more right on contemporary note about those on the margins than would have been the case in Barnum’s day, even if none of the troupe are given anything like a backstory.
But social commentary is secondary to the spectacle and the songs, the rooftop dance routines, the lavish circus ring bombast, and the cast and film deliver with exuberant gusto, standout moments being Ferguson (albeit overdubbed by Loren Allred) singing out the pain of being the outsider with Never Enough, Settle leading the charge with the showstopper This Is Me, Jackman and Efron’s lithe shot glass shifting barroom negotiations dance routine and the literally soaring circus ring Rewrite the Stars sequence with Efron and Zendaya. Climaxing with Jackman leading the rousing cast finale of From Now On, this is a fabulous celebration of the power of unadulterated entertainment to raise the spirits and fill the heart and the transition from screen to the Broadway stage is surely a given. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Isle Of Dogs (PG)
Nine years on from Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson returns to stop motion animation for what is arguably his most ambitious film and very definitely among his very best. Despite the certificate, this is probably not for younger audiences (especially the hand-drawn kidney transplant), aimed more at the over 10s and adults, especially those with a high level of knowledge regarding Japanese cinema and culture, influences and references being abundant. Putting the pup into puppets and bookending with Taiko drumming, Anderson offers paws for thought about such themes as friendship, prejudice, social outcasts, refugees. (“Everyone is a stray in the last analysis”), government corruption, the environment and animal cruelty all tied up in what is basically a familiar boy and his dog story.
Following a Noh-theatre like prologue detailing the war between dogs and humans in the period before the Age of Obedience, the story unfolds in a future Japan where dog flu and snout fever threaten to cross species and infect humans,. With elections looming, Kobayashi (co-screenwriter Kunichi Nomura), the tyrannical and corrupt cat-loving mayor of Megasaki, has exiled all dogs to a rubbish dump island and plans to eventually exterminate the entire species, ruthlessly disposing of Science Party political rival Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) who is seeking a cure.
However, piloting stolen plane, the mayor’s orphaned young nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), bravely comes in search of his personal bodyguard pet, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and joins forces with a canny canine crew comprising Rex (Edward Norton), former baseball mascot Boss (Bill Murray), one-time pet food commercials star King (Bob Balaban), gossipy Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and, although initially reluctant, scrappy stray Chief (Bryan Cranston), in a search to find him and, ultimately, foil the mayor’s plot.
Narrated by Courtney B Vance, the voice cast that also includes Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg, a former show dog and Lauren Bacall-like romantic interest to Chief’s Humphrey Bogart, who is instrumental in prompting his eventual bond with Atari, alongside Greta Gerwig as Tracy, a human American exchange student heading up the protestors, Tilda Swinton as psychic pug Oracle, Harvey Keitel as the leader of a pack of supposedly cannibal dogs, and even Yoko Ono as a lab assistant called, er, Yoko Ono. Save for the parts translated by official news commentator Frances McDormand, the human dialogue is all in unsubtitled Japanese, although the dogs’ barks are translated to English. With a fine score by Alexander Desplat and music that also includes Prokofiev’s Troika (which Greg Lake also borrowed for I Believe in Father Christmas), it’s playful (the end credits list Anjelica Huston as Mute Poodle), waggishly witty, brilliantly animated, hugely detailed (stop-motion sushi making!), thrilling and at times very touching, this is an absolute mutts see (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman)
Love, Simon (12A)
The first teenage gay coming out movie for mainstream audience, adapted from a young adult novel, director Greg Berlanti strikes a pioneering moment for cinema. And, even if it lacks the emotional nuances of something like Call Me By Your Name it also happens to be very good. As the opening voice over (subsequently revisited later in the film) announces, Simon (Nick Robinson) is your average all round decent high school teenage son of white liberal middle-class professionals (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel) and supportive brother to his younger sister. The only person he’s told is another anonymous gay classmate calling himself Blue, who’s been posting on a school blog and with whom he he’s virtually fallen in love, except, of course, he’s not used his real name either, calling himself Jacques. Intrigued and looking for clues, Simon starts fantasising who Blue might be – school jock Bram (Kelynan Lonsdale), soulful Cal (Miles Heizer) or perhaps Lyle (Joey Pollari), the ex-student who now works down the local burger joint, but ultimately none seem to fit the bill.
Simon’s also one of a quartet of best buddies that includes Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), feisty recent school transfer Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and doting childhood chum Leah (Katherine Langford). It’s pretty clear from the start that she has a secret crush on him, while Nick would like his relationship with Abby to be more than platonic. However, she’s also the object of affection for opportunistic show-off weirdo, Martin (Logan Miller), who discovers Simon’s secret when he forgets to log out of his email on a school computer and threatens to out him unless he helps him get close to her. Naturally, when that doesn’t work out (in a gloriously romantic but excruciatingly embarrassing public declaration of his feelings), in a fit of pique he posts Simon’s and Blue’s emails, leading the latter to block communication and Simon’s lies to and manipulations of his friends to be exposed. And, while his folks are hugely supportive, it does of course, make him a target to the school’s resident homophobes.
Since this is a standard high school romcom feelgood funny and poignant crowd pleaser but given a gay slant, it’ll be no surprise that it all ends happily, gently massaging in messages about friendship and having the courage to be who you are along the way. Robinson is slightly bland for a central character, but nevertheless endearingly likeable while the supporting cast are solid, and, if a little of Tony Hale goes a long way as the wannabe down with the kids cool Vice Principal, Clark Moore as Ethan, the only openly out student, a flamboyant cross dresser with a sharp line in put downs, and Natasha Rothwell as the no bullshit drama teacher in charge of the school’s production of Cabaret are both scene stealers. The film’s been previewed to death, but, with its strong repeat watch factor (even when you know who Blue actually is), this should easily pull in both new and returning audiences, of all sexual orientations, to prove one of the year’s biggest hits. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)
Pacific Rim Uprising (12A)
Having notched up some $400 million, it was inevitable that there’d be a sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s giant robots (Jaegers) battle giant monsters (Kaiju) movie featuring the pilots linked by, er, a neural handshake. This time round he takes the producer’s role leaving Netflix director Steven S. DeKnight to cobble the clichés into shape.
Set ten years after the original, when Idris Elba’s General Pentecost sacrificed himself to seal the breach through which the monsters were coming, we find his son Jake (John Boyega, who wasn’t in the first film), having washed out of giant-robot pilot school, making a living on the black market for stolen Jaeger parts. On his latest thieving expedition, he runs into scrappy teenage orphan urchin Amara (Cailee Spaany), who’s actually built and pilots her own mini-robot, Scrapper, the incident seeing his adoptive sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) offering him the chance to either go to jail or help train new Jaeger cadets for the Pan Pacific Defense Force, including Amara, This reunites him with his former partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood, also not in the first film), with whom he apparently parted on bad terms.
The film coasts along on some formula training wheels for a while before getting down the main thrust, this being the drone Jaegers being developed by Mrs. Shao (Tian Jing), head of the Shao Corporation, and her right-hand man Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day, to replace the Jaeger pilots, suddenly going rogue and revealing a link to the Kaiju, forcing the stalwart Jaegers out of dry dock to take them on, crewed by Jake, Nate and the newbies, and a race against the clock battle to prevent a gargantuan Kaiju making it to Mt. Fuji and precipitating the end of mankind.
It’s all written in broad action movie shorthand about finding your true hero, overcoming hopeless odds, bickering and bonding, etc, etc, a betrayal twist thrown in for good measure and also the return of Newton’s former lab partner Gottleib (Burn Gorman). It still comes on like a Transformers wannabe, without the transforming bit, but the cast are game enough to take it all seriously, although it has to be said Eastwood Jr has none of his dad’s screen charisma, and the huge set piece heavy metal scraps are suitably loud and kinetic. But it misses del Toro’s imagination and ability to invest depth into banality and never fails to escape the obvious influences, from Transformers to Godzilla and winds up being essentially a rehash of Independence Day: Resurgence, right down to the now we take the fight to them last line. The chances of a third incarnation of either film seeing the inside of a cinema seems highly remote. (Vue Star City)
Peter Rabbit (PG)
It’s difficult to know which was the more ludicrous, calls to boycott the film for its scene involving someone with blackberry allergies being pelted with the fruit or director Will Cluck apologising for it. Especially when the real cause for complaint, at least from purists, for whom this will be a case of Myxomatosis , is the way it’s taken Beatrix Potter’s gentle tales about Peter, the flopsy rabbits and the other assorted Windermere wildlife that populated her books and delivered this brash, energetic live action and CGI version looking to put hip into the hop. Here, voiced by James Corden, Peter is a bunny with attitude (and who resents being referred to as a rodent) leading his fellow flop-ears on daring raids into Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden until one day, just as it seems he’s destined to become pie after finally being caught, the old man keels over and dies. In celebration the animals run free over the land once more and take over the house. But then along comes McGregor’s nephew, Thomas (Domhall Gleeson) who, recently let go from his toy department managers job at Harrods, has inherited the place and intends to fix it up and sell it so he can open his own toy store. He also has an aversion to rabbits, though he’s at pains to keep this from his aspiring artist neighbour, Bea (Rose Byrne who also voices Jemima Puddle-Duck), to whom he’s taken a shine, and who regards Peter and the other bunnies as almost family. What follows is Peter and the other rabbits’ attempt to rid themselves of the new McGregor and then, try and get him to come back when they realise it’s threatened Bea’s happiness and future.
Joined by the voices of Margot Robbie (Flopsy and narrator), Elizabeth Debicki (Mopsy), Daisy Ridley (Cotton-Tail) and Colin Moody (Benjamin) as the other rabbits with Sia as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, it would love to be a countryside answer to Paddington, but it lacks the same innocent charm and humour, the rabbits’ antics often verging on the cruel (the rabbits wire the house to give Thomas electric shocks).
Even so, if you can put aside thoughts of Potter’s originals (not easy since the flashbacks are in the style of her drawings) , this has enough knockabout fun for the youngsters and several in-jokes (including a Babe reference, a literal deer in the headlights moment and a self-aware nod to movie cliches) even socialist class commentary (Pigling Bland as an actual aristocratic swine gobbling up everything) for the grown-ups to earn its carrots, and comes with an underlying message about the English countryside belonging to those who actually live there. (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 Place (15)
After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.
Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.
There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.
Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.
Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Everyman; Walsall; Vue Star City)
Dwayne Johnson scores two family friendly popcorn triumphs in a row, following Jumanji with this giant monsters destroy cities entry loosely based on the 80s arcade game but also clearly inspired by the likes of King Kong and mutated beast B-movies such as Godzilla. Godzilla and Reuniting with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a San Diego Wildlife Preserve primatologist (and conveniently former military action man) who has a special bond with George, an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers and with whom he converses in sign language. That bond is put to the test, however, when a case containing samples from a covert genetics experiment in a spacelab comes crashing to earth near his compound at the zoo. The experiment, which got out of hand, leading to the destruction of both the spacelab and the escape pod containing the samples, was all about weaponising genetic editing, basically combining aspects of different species, and promoting rapid growth and strength in the subjects.
The morning after inhaling the fumes, George is found in the bears’ compound where he’s not only killed a grizzly but grown several feet and piled on the weight. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one affected. Out in Wyoming, a wolf has also become a giant predator and, although not putting in an appearance until later, so has an alligator in the Everglades. All of this is down to ruthless Clare Wyden (Malin Ackerman), who heads up a genetic corporate along with her brother/husband? Brett (Jake Lacy) and also just happens to have a Rampage game (which featured, that’s right a gorilla, wolf and croc) in her office. They’re out to make a bundle regardless of who gets hurt, so naturally would like to get their hands on one of the creatures to extract the formula, so, when an attempt to bring down the wolf by a bunch of heavily tooled-up mercenaries ends in a bloody mess, she decides to engage a homing beacon atop their Chicago HQ to send out painful sonic signals that will draw the creatures there to shut them down.
On the side of the good guys, you also have Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the geneticist whose work was perverted by the Wydens and who ended up doing time in trying to stop them, plus Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a good’ ole Texas boy from one of those secret government agencies that don’t even have a name, who sums up his role as “When science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.”
So, there you have it. Driven by a beserker spirit, George, wolf and the alligator all start tearing apart Chicago, Davis and Kate have to try and get their hands on the antidote while avoiding falling buildings (blink and you’ll miss how it gets delivered) and get George back on side before the hard hat military commander calls in the mother of all bombs to level the city.
The CGI is, perhaps, not all it could be (the scene of the wolf leaping through the air to bring down a helicopter is particularly hokey), but in terms of mass destruction the film ably lives up to its title for a third act that is essentially one long set piece. Johnson does his familiar sensitive muscle man routine, also flexing his comic biceps to amusing effect, even if Morgan, a sort of cross between Robert Downey Jr and Jack Nicholson, steals every scene with his droll one liners. Akerman and Lacy play their cartoonish villains with a sly wink at how silly it all is and Harris holds her own as more than just the female sidekick. However, the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of George’s signed insults, making you root even more for the big guy when the army’s hitting him with all it has. And if you’re wondering about Rampage 2, just ask yourself what happened to that rat in the glass cage. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Ready Player One (12A)
Partly filmed in Digbeth (the car chase scenes), Steven Spielberg plunges into the world of virtual reality in this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s bestseller set in 2044, a future world on the brink of chaos and collapse. Here the only escape lies in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the nerdily eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his erstwhile partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) where the only limits are your imagination. When Halliday dies, Willy Wonka-style he leaves his wealth to the first person to find a digital Easter Egg he (in his Anorak avatar) has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, and which requires three keys to unlock, sparking a contest that grips the entire world.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a young gamer , or Gunter, who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend in an Oklahoma city shanty town built of high-rise stacked trailer homes and, via his VR headset, a regular Oasis visitor in his Parzival avatar guise, where he hangs out with mechanical genius mechanoid best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), although neither have ever met in their real lives. He decides he wants in on the challenge (his avatar’s name refers to the Arthurian Knight who found the Holy Grail) , which brings him into contact with romantic interest feisty motorbike riding Art3mis (Olivia Cook), who, in the real world, as Samantha, is part of a resistance group against IOI, the corrupt corporate run by the ruthless Sorrento (Ben Mendelssohn) who’ll stop at nothing to take them out and gain control of the Oasis for himself. At which point, it all turns into a David and Goliath story with Wade seeking clues in the museum holding Halliday’s memories and the trio, augmented by Japanese players Daito (Win Morisaki) and Shoto (Philip Zhao) as the High Five, battling Sorrento and his forces, which include amusing and somewhat neurotic bounty hunter I-Rok (T.J. Miller) with a deadpan dry delivery, both within and without the virtual reality.
An eye-popping hyperkinetic crowd-pleaser rush that’s stuffed to overflowing with often blink and you’ll miss it pop culture references (among them a raft of DC superheroes, Back to the Future, Spider-Man, King Kong, Freddy Krueger, Lord of the Rings, Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park, Chucky and, playing a key narrative function, Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant ) not to mention an extended riff on The Shining, this may not have much by way of a soul or character depth (although it does, ultimately, have Spielberg’s trademark sentimentality), but it’s unquestionably a video game adrenaline addict’s dream. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Disappointingly, the distributor declined to provide access to a screening, but first time director Cory Finley’s adaptation of his stage play arrives as a highly acclaimed black comedy noir thriller in which estranged former schoolfriends, the psychologically troubled Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and the tight-laced Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), are reunited when the former’s mother pays the latter to come and tutor her daughter at their palatial mansion. Both sharing a lack of empathy (at one point Amada shows Lily how to fake it), as they re-establish whatever friendship they once had, Lily begins to open up about her hatred for her emotionally abusive macho stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), prompting Amanda to suggest they arrange to have him killed, to which end they bully local drug-dealing fuck-up Tim (the late Anton Yelchin’s final role) to help them pull it off.
Taking visual cues from The Shining alongside a blackly comic sensibility that evokes the teen nihilism of Heathers by way of Bret Easton Ellis, with all the razor sharp one-liners that implies, it reportedly builds to a jaw-dropping climax. (Electric)
Truth Or Dare (15)
A conceptual cousin to the Final Destination series, this brings together a cast of unknowns as a clique of houses sharing college kids, BFFs do-gooder Olivia (Lucy Hale) and philandering Markie (Violett Beane), thelatter’s boyfriend Lucas ((Tyler Posey), who secretly fancies the former, Brad (Hayden Szeto), who hasn’t come out to his cop father, prescription-forging wannabe med student Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) and his vanilla girlfriend, Penelope (Sophia Ali). Taking a final Spring Break in Mexico, Carter (Landon Liboiron), a guy Olivia meets in a bar, lures them to an abandoned hilltop mission that’s been well and truly trashed, where, joined by obnoxious party crasher fellow student Ronnie ((Sam Lerner), he gets them to play a midnight game of truth or dare, and, when his turn comes round, admits he only got them there because he has no problem with strangers dying so he can live.
Apparently, the rules of the game are that if you cop out, you die, something that, back at college, manifests itself when Ronnie, refusing a dare, immediately falls from a pool table and breaks his neck. One by one the group’s whittled down as they first try to find the girl at the start of the film who set fire to a woman in a Mexican store, then an old hermit ex-nun who was the only survivor of a massacre at the mission and, finally, Carter who is the only one who can make the necessary sacrifice to end the game. And while all this is going on, truths are revealed that threaten to destroy Olivia and Markie’s friendship, especially a big secret about the suicide of the latter’s dad.
Curse movies are usually founded on a fairly silly premise, but this really pushes the boat out, subsequently explaining the game as having been possessed by a demon, changing the rules so two truths in a row must be followed by a dare and having the challenge delivered by possessing people and making them give an evil grin like someone doing a bad impression of the Joker. None of the characters have any personality depths and, although the film is sufficiently workmanlike in setting things up, ultimately frankly, you couldn’t give a toss who lives or dies, as the screenplay flounders around, building to a finale that rather optimistically (and ripping off The Ring) seems to set itself up as franchise that cannot die. Given it arrives stillborn, that seems unlikely. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Shot entirely on an iPhone, Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a smart psychological thriller that would have been considerably smarter had it not tipped its hand so early on. Claire Foy is Sawyer Valentini, a take no shit data analyst who now works in Pennsylvania having recently moved from Boston. Although she’s told no one why, the reason was because she had a stalker. Now, following a Tinder hook-up that triggers a trauma, she thinks she’s hallucinating him and takes herself along to see a counsellor at the Highland Creek therapy clinic. Having admitted that she’s sometimes had a suicidal though, she unknowingly signs up for voluntary admission and treatment. It’s supposed to be just 24 hours but her understandable response seen sees this extended to seven days and increased medication as she tries to convince the staff that she’s not mentally unstable, something the doctor and administrator are not persuaded off given that she’s accusing George (Joshua Leonard), one of the volunteer nurses on her ward, of being her stalker, Daniel, who’s followed her here.
The cops aren’t interested and when, thanks to helpful, more rational, fellow patient (Jay Pharoah) who lends Sawyer his secret phone, mom (Amy Irving) turns up she’s given the brush off and run-around, leaving promising to return with her lawyers. However, by this point, the entire Gaslighting set-up (is she imaging it or is it all real) has been brushed aside and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest has been replaced by Sleeping With The Enemy.
Even so, the film, which was largely inspired by news reports of how a chain of American psychiatric hospitals was running a scam by keeping patients unnecessarily until their insurance ran out, works efficiently enough as a trashy b-movie woman in peril thriller, Foy and Pharaoh’s solid work complemented by a suitably unhinged turn from Juno Temple as Sawyer’s bed neighbour as well as an uncredited A-list flashback cameo as Sawyer’s security assessor. It may be pushing it to tag its ‘woman’s claims disbelieved’ thread as the first psychothriller of the #MeToo era, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have you biting the nails. (Sat-Wed:MAC)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
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