MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Aug 23-Thu Aug 29



Pain and Glory (15)

Acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar reunites with his muse and frequent screen avatar Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mello, a Madrid-based filmmaker whose best days are behind him and who is afflicted  is by both physical ailments and crippling depression and anxiety that have left him no longer willing to write or able to direct, declaring “Without filming, my life is meaningless.”

Somewhat of a recluse, his only regular contacts being with his housemaid and his devoted assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas), he constantly turns down invitations to attend events or give talks. However, having seen the restoration of one of his classic films, Sabor, put back in touch through a chance meeting with an old actress friend (Cecilia Roth), he’s prompted to reach out to its lead actor, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) to whom he hasn’t spoken in 30 years having quarrelled over the way he enacted the character. Now, having reassessed his opinion (“It’s your eyes that have changed. The film is the same”, remarks Mercedes), he wants him to be part of a Q&A on the film.  Although unsurprisingly initially hostile at Salvador’s reappearance in his life, the pair are reconciled, Alberto introducing Salvador to his heroin habit (another cause of the earlier falling out), as a way to ease his pain. The drug also serves to prompt reflections on his past in a search for reasons to move forward.

As such, the ruminative film is regularly punctuated by flashbacks to his childhood (played by Asier Flores) with his mother (Penelope Cruz), initially introduced in a scene with other village women singing while washing clothes in a stream, before moving to a new home which turns out to be a cave dwelling in Paterna, which an aspiring young artist (César Vicente), she befriends helps to decorate in return for her son teaching him to read, inadvertently awakening the lad’s sexual desires in the process and serving to connect past and present in the final stretch.

Although Salvador and Alberto’s relationship hits another bump in the road during the Q&A (by telephone, high on heroin!), it does bring the director back into contact with his longtime former lover, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), himself an ex- heroin junkie who features in Salvador’s  abandoned autobiographical  one-man play Addiction, which Alberto persuade him to let him perform.

Clearly heavy on the autobiography and  often serving as  a love letter apology to his late mother (“I’m sorry I haven’t been the son you wanted”), who in the film admonishes Salvador for  taking inspiration from real life, declaring  in her dying older incarnation (Julieta Serrano) “I don’t like autofiction”  and insisting he never writes about her, it’s a warm and quietly moving work about memory, insecurity, reconciliation, self-acceptance  and redemption, beautifully shot and vibrantly designed (including several animated sequences), peppered with cinematic references and flawlessly acted by its entire cast, Banderas in particular giving one of the best performances of his career in a film that celebrates the power of cinema to connect with the soul. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

Angel Has Fallen (15)

The first film, Olympus Has Fallen, a knock off White House Down, the second essentially the same but in London, Gerard Butler returns for a third time as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, personal bodyguard to Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) who has moved up the political ladder to become President. Although still a one-man army, this time round, directed as by directed by ex-stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, Banning is feeling the effects of his close combat career, afflicted by an array of aches and pains (which he’s kept under wraps), and wondering whether he should take a desk job as the Secret Service Director, not that this seems to stop him racking up a small war bodycount as the film progresses.

While out on a fishing trip, along with numerous agents, the President is attacked by dozens of armed drones that leave everyone dead save for Banning (although targeted, the strike is cancelled); however, with Trumbull in a coma, having been saved by Banning, there’s no way to refute FBI  agent Thomson’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) assertion that he was responsible for the assassination attempt, especially given his DNA’s all over the van used for the launch and that he’s got millions in a secret offshore account, apparently funded by the Russians.

Escaping when his detail is ambushed en route to prison, the rest of the film sees him setting out to clear his name, take down those who’ve set him up, prevent a second attempt on Trumbull’s life and, in the process, reuniting with his estranged, conspiracy theory off the grid dad (a heavily bewhiskered scene-stealing Nick Nolte) from whom Banning clearly inherited an affinity or firearms and explosives.

Opening with a mock exercise testing out a training ground for best friend turned private contractor Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), you don’t need a degree in film analysis to know he’s going to be the bad guy (indeed, the film reveals as much early in), just as Tim Blake Nelson as the hawk-like acting President who, opposed Trumbull’s refusal to involve for-profit private contractors to supplement the military and wants to go to war with Russia is patently not to be trusted.

Although Banning’s wife is now played by Piper Perado rather than Rhada Mitchell (and rather shortchanged in the screenplay), pretty much everything else follows the template laid down in the previous films and as such delivers exactly what you expect, climaxing with an extended explosive hospital shoot out and  the bad guy’s wince-inducing last line. Generic nonsense, but Angel has sufficiently strong wings to keep it aloft.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Crawl (15)

Basically Lake Placid reinvented as a home invasion movie, or Jaws in the basement with alligators rather than a shark, although characters seem perfectly capable of surviving having limps mangled or ripped off by the swamp killers, this is a perfectly respectable and tension-packed thriller.  With a Category 5 hurricane on the way and everyone being evacuated, when he doesn’t answer his phone , collegiate swimmer (and yes, that proves a crucial plot element) Haley Keller (Kaya Scoledario) heads out to her demanding ex-coach dad Dave’s (Barry Pepper), southern Florida home and finds the neighbourhood deserted and him badly injured in the crawlspace.  She revives and patches him up but, bad news, the rising flood waters have not just swamped the town, but they’ve brought with them dozens of murderous gators, at least two of whom are in the cellar. So, somehow, she’s got to get herself, dad and the obligatory family dog, to safety before they’re either drowned or eaten.

Virtually, save for some gator fodder, a two-hander (and four paws), it’s a simple B-movie set-up, one which  director Alexandre Aja mines for maximum effect as he piles on the suspense and injury and still finds room to throw in some surprises and character background regarding the father-daughter relationship. It’s popcorn, but it’s well-buttered and salted.  And don’t worry about the dog. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Only You (15)

Meeting when they both hail  taxi on New Year’s Eve, Spanish arts administrator Elena (Laia Costa) takes English PhD student Jake (Josh O’Connor) back to her Glasgow flat where dancing to Elvis Costello’s I Want You leads to sex and a subsequent relationship, he moving in from his house share.  He’s 26 and, although she doesn’t initially admit it, she’s 35, the age at which Jake reckons women are at their sexual peak. But also, as she’s all too aware, when the biological clock starts counting down.  That her circle of friends are either expecting or already mothers, inevitably makes her broody, prompting Jake to suggest they have a baby. Which is where the problems start.  After six months, she’s still not conceived and, after some debate, they turn to IVF; however, that too proves unsuccessful which, in turn, puts a further train on the relationship with Elena feeling that being unable to fulfil the belief that having a  child is the key to happiness  makes her less of a person, less of a woman, and, as such, unworthy of Jake.

The debut feature by female writer-director Harry Wootliff, it’s very much a film driven by long stretches of dialogue between the two protagonists as they share or seek to disguise their confused feelings, although these are punctuated by scenes involving Elena’s friends (and their babies), from whose maternal happiness she feels increasingly isolated, and a visit to Jake’s dad (Peter Wight), widowed when his wife was 38, which adds further resonance to his son’s  search for the ideal romance. Dealing with disappointment, immaturity, self-loathing, insecurity but also the potential for an enduring love and partnership that, while Elena fears “this crazy gap in our future”, doesn’t have to – or can’t – conform to nuclear family stereotypes, honest, compassionate and deeply affecting, fuelled by two very natural  and engaging lead turns who handle the laughs and the anguish with genuine chemistry, drawing you into their relationship in the hope that it can survive. (Electric)

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (12)

Based on assorted tales in the young adult horror series of books by Alvin Schwartz, directed by Andre Ovredal and produced by Guillermo del Toro, who’s also one of the several  writers, set at  Halloween 1968  in the Pennsylvania town of Mill Valley against the backdrop of the Vietnam War (though any political point is never clear)  and opening to the strains of Donovan’s Season of the Witch, this sees three friends, Stella (Zoe Colletti), who feels she’s to blame for her mom leaving, Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur), along with Latino drifter in town Ramon (Michael Garza) who helps protect them from Tommy (Austin Abrams), the local bully, sneak into a creepy abandoned old house. The former home of a paper mill baron and his family, legend has it that the daughter, Sarah Bellows poisoned several of the town’s children and wrote scary stories in their blood, before hanging herself.

Exploring, they stumble upon  a secret room, where Sarah was kept confined, along with her book of stories, which Stella, herself as aspiring writer takes away with her. The creepiness begins when Tommy finds himself being stalked by Harold, the scarecrow on the farm, which he constantly batters with a baseball bat, and being transformed into a man of straw himself. Events which Stella witnesses being written in red in Sarah’s book as they unfold.  Tommy’s just the first. Next comes a story in which Auggie is beset by a female corpse looking for her missing toe (it’s in his stew), Chuck’s sister has an infestation of spiders grow inside her cheek and, during a visit to the hospital to research Sarah’ background,  her brother is cornered in the ‘Red Room’ by a white faced female ghoul.

This just leaves Ramon and Stella, the latter realising that the book reads them and writes their stories, and, naturally, the local cop refuses to believe a word. Until another creature turns up looking for Ramon. All of which means, Stella has to somehow put an end to things by telling the hidden truth of Sarah’s own story, although at this point the film seems rather confused as to the link between them.

Stories hurt and stories heal is the film’s motto and the episodic screenplay (structured much like Final Destination) doggedly unfolds how both work, playing rather like a Scooby-Doo yarn without the dog and, despite some chilling moments, and, unfortunately largely with about the same degree of scariness. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)



Balance, Not Symmetry (15)

One-off screening of  director Jamie Adams’ film in which Shirley (Laura Harrier) a Scottish-American art student in Glasgow has privileged life upended when her father unexpectedly dies and, torn between supporting her mother (Kate Dickie) and dealing with her sense of loss, she starts re-examining her life and friends, finding inspiration from provocative student Hannah (Bria Vinaite). Crafted in collaboration with Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro, who worked on both storyline and score, it’s been screened accompanied by an in concert performance. (Sat:MAC)


Transit (12A)

Adapted and pared down from Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel and part narrated by Matthias Brandt, German director Christian Petzold gives its story a contemporary feeling  that resonates with the rise of neo-Nazism and anti-refugee sentiments. Franz Rogowski plays Georg, a young Jewish audio-visual technician who escapes the Nazis and, adopting the identity of   a controversial communist author who committed suicide leaving behind a Mexican visa, flees to Marseille seeking passage to North America, falling in love with Marie (Paula Beer), the dead man’s wife, and forging a bond with a Northern African immigrant boy Driss (Lilien Batman) while he waits to leave.  (Electric)


The Angry Birds Movie 2 (U)

The game may have long since peaked, but with the first film having raked in $350 million, a sequel was inevitable. With erstwhile social outsider  Red (Jason Sudeikis) having become the local hero after having saved Bird Island from the pigs who wanted to steal their eggs, the two islands are now pretty much at peace, Red and his crew, superfast canary Chuck (Josh Gad) and the aptly named Bomb (Danny McBride) protecting the place from the occasional prank launched by oafish pig leader Leonard  (Bill Hader). However, when a giant ice-meteor comes crashing own on Pig Island and Leonard discovers there’s  a third island, populated by eagles,  birds and bacon have to join forces to prevent deranged purple-plumed tropical eagle Zeta (Leslie Jones) who, tired of life on a paradoxically ice-bound volcanic island with  molten lava core, is intending to  drive out her neighbours so she can rebuild their islands as her own twin paradises.

Rehashing the first film’s themes of  family, friendship, self-doubt, repressed feelings, isolationism and teamwork, the follow-up introduces a new character – and some female empowerment – into the mix in the form of Chuck’s science savvy genius sister  and amateur shrink Silver (Rachel Bloom),  she and Red (after meeting on speed dating session) naturally spend their time denying any mutual attraction. Meanwhile, making a return appearance is Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) who, in turns out, has history with Zeta, prompting an amusing  flashback to his days as  a sort of eagle Danny Zuko from Grease

As the birds and pigs, including Leonard’s female teen assistant Courtney (Awkafina)  and his nerdy gadget man Garry (Sterling K. Brown), team up to find a way into Eagle Island and Zeta’s supervillain lair, there’s also a subplot in which three fluffy hatchlings try to recover the unhatched eggs they borrowed for their dress up game which, joined by three piglets, eventually links into the climax as well as provides a mid-credits sequence.

Also featuring the voices of Tiffany Haddish , Nicki Minaj  and the assorted sprogs of Nicole Kidman, Gal Godot and Viola Davis, as well as such feathery puns as a Flockbusters video store and a book called Crazy Rich Avians, it flaps along  in suitably brightly coloured and sugar rush kiddie friendly fashion complete with poop and snot jokes (though parents might wonder where the urinals scene is going) and a knockabout breakdance battle involving Zeta’s guards and several team members hidden, Trojan Horse-style,  inside an eagle costume.  Coming in the wake of the Secret Life of Pets and Toy Story sequels, it’s decidedly featherweight, but even so, the plumage makes for an entertaining display. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Animals (15)

Adapted from her own novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, but relocated from Manchester to Dublin, director Sophie Hyde essentially offers up a female version of Withnail and I as, turning thirty and  marriage sees the bonds of a hitherto inseparable friendship between two party hard women start to unravel.

At 32, reluctant barista Laura (Holliday Grainger) isn’t so much a  failed writer as a stillborn one, constantly jotting down notes,  but not having written more than ten pages in ten years. None of which she’s kept. She shares a flat with her landlady and best friend, Tyler (Alia Shawkat), the Withnail of the two, a somewhat feckless American  come to Ireland to escape  an abusive father and always ready to accompany Laura on her booze-fuelled jaunts round the city’s clubs and bars, and then to push her further.

However, when Laura’s younger sister Jean (Amy Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces she’s expecting, it sounds some sort of alarm bells and when she starts dating Jim (Fra Fee), a far more straitlaced, classical pianist on the rise, she’s the one who proposes.  Her nights she spends with Jim, who gives up drinking (for reasons of guilt revealed later), but still carries on her partying lifestyle. All of which  leaves confirmed caustic singleton and rebel Tyler not just bemused, but confused, resentful and angry, to the extent that, afraid of losing her,  she attempts to break them up by nudging Laura towards an affair with Marty (Dermot Murphy), a soulful poet professor. At the same time, Laura finds herself uncertain that she actually wants the settled and safe lives of Jim, Jean and her parents, yet nor is she sure she can continue down the same hedonistic path as Tyler.

Someone observes that Laura drinks “with a real sense of mortality”, and it’s very much this that the film explores, the search to find something to give life meaning when staring into the abyss, but always doubting if it really does, or if you’re going to go self-destructive  and ruin everything.  While they may be social animals, of a feral nature, Tyler and Laura have created their own hermetic world and are scared of leaving it, or, in Tyler’s case, of being left there on her own.  Liked Laura’s writing, both women’s lives are blocked and neither can move forward, always scribbling but never forming full paragraphs.

The supporting cast are solid and the two leads are terrific, both prickly and riddled with self-doubt, whether they acknowledge it or not, both fearful of being alone. The screenplay and the actresses make no attempt to render them especially likeable, indeed both can be cruelly hurtful and vindictive, ruthlessly selfish and manipulative, lashing out and yet at the same time are achingly vulnerable in their palpable hurt. The important thing is that they feel real and true,

Working with cinematographer Bryan Mason, Hyde and create an atmosphere so thick you can almost smell the streets and the bars, but equally overdoes her ‘animal’ symbolism  with shots of foxes prowling the alleyways looking for scraps to survive. Even so, this is up thre with Booksmart as one of the most  compelling, insightful and emotionally involving female friendship films in many a  year. (Electric)

Annabelle Comes Home (15)

Following the wake of Chucky’s revival,  the current devil doll de jour makes a return appearance for a third outing in her bangs and red-bowed pigtails glory that, this time features (albeit in largely bookending appearances), loosely real-life based Conjuring characters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson,Vera Farmiga) for a haunted-house thriller that pretty much entirely unfolds in their suburban home, where the electricity seems to be somewhat intermittent.  Relieving the  latest unfortunate owners of the doll’s influence, the drive home, when come to a halt by a graveyard, conveniently allows Lorrianne to muse that it’s not evil in itself (though it doesn’t exactly look beneficent, it serves as a conduit for evil. Back home, it’s duly locked away inside a sacred glass cabinet, it and the artefact store room, duly given one of  regular holy blessing. At which point, the devil hunters take their leave, handing the film over for the night to their 10-year daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) who’s spending it with her high-school babysitters, blonde good girl Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and tellingly dark-haired Daniela (Katie Sarife). Fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation and having dead daddy issues, the latter naturally ignores signs like keep out or you’ll die and  don’t touch this or everyone’s fucked, and sneaks into the museum and, naturally, searches for the key to unlock that cabinet.

From which point on, the film works its way through the familiar checklist of  ghostly figures, devils, werewolves, inanimate objects moving, typewriters typing by themselves, lights going out, people doing obviously stupid things, although the scariest moments come with the anticipation rather than the event, before the girls finally manage to get the damned doll back where she belongs. It’s formulaic, but decently acted and delivers pretty much everything you pay your money to see, though you can’t help feeling this and and its associated franchise have been milked until they’re positively dehydrated. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Blinded By The Light (12A)

Easily director Gurinder Chadha’s best work since Bend It Like Beckham, this may be predictable and clichéd, but its feelgood crowd pleaser vibe about the power of music to transform lives is impossible to resist. Co-penned by Chadha and husband Paul Mayeda Berges with British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, it’s based on his book about how the music of Bruce Springsteen spoke to him and as a Luton teenager and rescued him from the late 80s austerity and mass unemployment of Thatcher’s Britain with its riots in response to the rise of neo-Nazi National Front

Here, Javed (star in the making Viveik Kalra) is an Anglicised  Pakistani British teenager with no sense of purpose or direction, he’s never had a girlfriend, writes songs for his best mate neighbour Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) who is into the emergent synth pop (the soundtrack also features Pet Shop Boys and Cutting Crew) and politically-charged poetry for himself. He wants to be a writer, but his traditionalist factory worker father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) is determined he get a proper job as a doctor or lawyer while his mother Noor (Meera Ganatra) takes in piecework so the family, which also includes similarly-Anglicized older sister  Shazia (Nikita Mehta), can scrape by.

Three things happen that turn his life around. His supportive English teacher (Hayley Atwell) is taken with his writing and enters him for a competition. He starts dating activist classmate Eliza (Nell William). And, most importantly, Roops (Aaron Phagura), the only Sikh at his school, introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen by way of Born in the U.S.A and Darkness on the Edge of Town. While others, including Matt And the school’s amateur radio presenter, reckon the Boss is old news, it hits Javed like a thousand volts of electricity as he hears Springsteen expressing his own blue collar frustration and dreams (“I check my look in the mirror, I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face”).  Soon he’s wearing check shirts with torn sleeves and his room is full of Springsteen posters.

But then his dad gets laid off, and suddenly any hopes of becoming a writer, even though he’s given a chance to intern at the local newspaper (where he goes on write a front page lead about an attack on a mosque), seem even more remote.

In similar fashion to Sunshine on Leith and, to some extent, Sing Street (and, if you must, Mamma Mia), Chadha uses Springsteen’s songs often projecting the lyrics on screen, to both propel the narrative and mirror both Javed’s personal issues (such as Independence Day reflecting his relationship with his father) and the state of the nation, such as backdropping the 1987 riots to Jungleland. Naturally, they also serve as a romance booster as in both Prove It All Night and an obligatory crowd song and dance sequence where  he sings Thunder Road to Eliza in the local outdoor market, Matt’s dad (Rob Bryden) and everyone else  singing along. Rather inevitably, the highlight comes with Born To Run as Javed, Roos, and Eliza dance through the city streets and out into the fields.

Evoking thoughts of Nick Hornby and East Is East, it sets Javed’s struggle to claim his own identity against such familiar tropes as fractured friendships, immigrant generational clashes (those ties that bind!) and triumphing over the odds, giving the film an anthemic thematic and narrative quality that echoes the songs. The various narrative strands are deftly woven together, including a sequence where Shazia reveals an unexpected side to her dutiful daughter image and Javed and Roops stand up to a bunch of NF yobs, variously inducing laughter, tears and, above all, inspiration as it climaxes in speech about family, forgiveness and rock n roll that will have you reaching for the tissues and punching the air at the same time. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;Empire Great Park; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Dead Don’t Die  (15)

Inevitably already tagged an undeadpan comedy, Jim Jarmusch’s latest takes on the zombie genre in self-consciously mannered but disarmingly likeable manner. Driving back after having dutifully broached a recent case of chicken stealing with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) who lives in the woods, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver), a pair of cops from smalltown Centerville remark on how it’s still daylight despite the lateness of the hour and the radio and their watches are on the frizz. Something odd’s going on which, as Ronnie’s prone to remarking, will “all end badly”. The something turns out to be the result of polar fracking which has tilted the Earth’s axis, affecting the climate and, more importantly, bringing the dead back to life, initially just two (including Iggy Pop) who  turn two women at the local diner as snacks, and eventually the entire graveyard’s worth.

Variously involved in all this are obnoxious racist Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi, sporting a Keep America White Again baseball cap), gas station film/comic book nerd Bobby  (Caleb Landry Jones),  amiable diner regular Hank (Danny Glover), inept fellow cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny and the town’s enigmatic new Scottish accented, samurai sword-wielding mortician, Zelda (Tilda Swinton). There’s also three city hipsters (Selena Gomez among them) who make an unfortunate stop over at the town motel while Carol Kane cameos as the town’s lush who corpse revives in the police station cell. However, quite where the three kids in the juvenile correction facility fit into all this is anyone’s guess.

There’s no real plot as such, things just stumble along as the zombie situation just gets worse, the numbers occasionally thinned down by following the ‘kill the head’ mantra (also the name of the production company) while  throwing in a steady stream of references and in jokes. Bobby puts the hipsters right about the cabins in Bates Motel (Psycho having been written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote a short zombies story called The Dead Don’t Die),  George Romero naturally gets a mention, Adam Driver has a Star Wars key ring and makes frequent meta fiction comments, such as how the Sturgill Simpson country track is the theme song and that he’s knows it ends badly because he’s read the script.

Waits’ voice over narration at the end about zombies as a metaphor for consumerism (the teen zombies shuffle along mumbling wi-fi) and greed seems a tad redundant (genre fans know how these things work) and at one point it throws in a completely random and unexplained scene, but the  cast deliver their often witty lines as befits the film’s nature and clearly seem to be having as much fun as the audience. (Until Wed: MAC)

Dora And The Lost City Of Gold (PG)

Debuting in 2000, while probably unlikely to have been named for the Stackridge song, the first animation to star a female Latina protagonist, part adventure, part educational, Dora the Explorer, a sort of junior wide-eyed innocent Lara Croft,  ran on Nickelodeon for six years and is still screened as reruns. Now, directed by James Bobin, she makes her live action debut starring an indefatigably charismatic Isabela Moner, recently seen in Instant Family. Initially a seven year old, as in the TV series, after a brief set-up, this cuts to her as a young teen, living in the South American jungle with her archaeology professor explorer parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña), who are about to embark on a quest to find the fabled lost Inca city of Parapata. She’s hoping to join them, so is disappointed to find she’s being sent on a different adventure, exploring the world of American high school in Los Angeles where’s she’s reunited her cousin and childhood best friend Diego (Jeff Wahlberg).

Suffice to say, after a brief dalliance with familiar high school misfit sequences, during a trip to the local museum she’s abducted by a trio of mercenaries looking to track down her parents and seize the fabled treasure. She’s not alone, also taken captive are Diego and two classmates, nerdy outsider Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and bitchy, insecure queen bee Sammy (Madeleine Madden) who feels threatened by Dora’s intelligence. Arriving back in South America, they’re swiftly rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), an old friend of Dora’s parents and, joined by Dora’s pet monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo),  they set off to find Cole and Elena before the treasure hunters do.

Needless to say, the journey will involve an assortment of be yourself life lessons, a betrayal and,  inevitably, Dora’s penchant for bursting into spontaneous made up songs (including one about doing a poo in the jungle) before climaxing in the lost city as they’re confronted by its guardians, led by an ancient Inca princess (Q’orianka Kilcher).

Resolutely pitched at a young audience, there’s virtually no concessions for the grown ups, who may well find Dora’s resolutely irrepressible upbeat  nature and energy a tad irritating. Kids, on the other hand, should be swept up by what is, in essence, a return to the old days of Saturday matinees that also inspired the like of Indian Jones.  In addition the puzzles to be solved, there’s nods to the original series when the characters inhale an hallucinatory pollen and find themselves transformed into cartoons, Boots retains his far from realistic-looking appearance and,  along with early scenes of Dora talking to the camera, dispensing with any notions of reality, the bad guys are abetted by Swiper (voiced be Benicio Del Toro), the masked, talking fox from the cartoons. The film even sneaks in Dora’s talking backpack. Great fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12A)

The first of the Fast & Furious spin-offs, this reunites alpha male rivals Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who are forced to reluctantly team up when the latters’s MI6 agent sister,  Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), prevents Snowflake,  a deadly bio-engineered virus, from falling into the hands of dastardly multinational Eteon who want to unleash it on the world by injecting it into her own body. On the run after being framed for killing her own team, L.A.-based Diplomatic Security Service freelancer Hobbs  and London-based Cockney mercenary Shaw  are respectively recruited by agents Locke (Ryan Reynolds, reunited with Deadpool 2 director David Leitch), Hobbs’ former partner and self-appointed best-friend, and Loeb (Rob Delaney) to track her down. Though initially refusing to work together, they have no choice when Hattie’s abducted by Eteon’s bionically-enhanced supersoldier, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a veritable ‘black Superman’ with super strength, and bulletproofing,who has history with former partner  Shaw (as in being shot between the eyes when he tried to kill him), which, the pair now framed as international terrorists, means getting the Russian scientist who created Snowflake (Eddie Marsan) to remove it from Hattie’s body before the clock counts down and it goes live.

All of which essentially serves as an excuse from a series of insult trading, dick-measuring banter between the two muscle men, various high speed car/bike/truck chases, over the top fights and globe trotting locations (Chernobyl included) before climaxing back at Hobbs’ home in Samoa, which he’s not seen since leaving (for reasons later explained) 25 years earlier and the family his young daughter Sam (Eliana Sua) doesn’t even know exists. Indeed, family provides the running theme here, Hobbs and Shaw both reconnecting with their respective estranged brother, engineer-whizz Jonah (Cliff Curtis), and sister, while Helen Mirren pops up in a  cameo as the Shaw siblings’ now incarcerated mom (Queenie).

Forever winking at the camera, Johnson and Shaw make for hugely entertaining mismatched buddies, each with their own personal fighting styles (basically bludgeon/martial arts), the latter returning to his roots for the final showdown Samoan style, while Elba strides through with charismatic bad guy cool and Kirby suggests she could handle a franchise of her own., With a Reynolds end credits sequence setting up the sequel, Mirren, Eiza Gonzalez as Russian merc Madame M and a cameoing Chris Tucker as an air marshall keen to get back into the thick of things, all clearly lined up to join the team,  the only question is will there be a popcorn bucket big enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Good Boys (15)

Far better than you might expect from a film touted as being from the people who brought you Superbad and Bad Neighbours, this is essentially a tweenage coming of age cocktail of Stand By Me, South Park and, well, Superbad.  Twelve-year olds Max (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) are the Bean Bag Boys, best buddies since kindergarten who, while they may regularly drop the f word and talk up how sussed they are about sex and beer, are in fact clueless as to the ways of the world, as evidenced by their disgust and horror at seeing a porno and thinking the sex toys found in Thor’s parents’ bedroom are weapons. An innocence that throws up multiple amusing misinterpretations of the grown up world.

As in all good movies of its kind, they have a mission. Well, two actually. First, they have to recover Max’s dad’s drone which is being held to ransom by two high-schoolers (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) on whom they were spying. The reason they were spying links to the other mission, they need to learn how to kiss before they can go to one of the cool kids’  kissing party, not so much Thor and Lucas, but Max wants to plant lips on his crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis, and doesn’t want to mess up. Especially since he’s not yet even summoned up the courage to talk to her.

Somehow these two objectives end up with them having to score sex drug MDMA, much to the earnest Lucas’s horror, to replace the bottle (which they can’t unscrew) they stole from the girls and wound up leaving in the hands of a cop. Which means entering a frat house to hook up with the dealer, and ends up in a mass battle with the resident slackers. And, by way of a comic sidebar, Max gets the money he needs to buy a new drone/replace the drugs by selling Thor’s parents’  blow up sex doll to the guy (Stephen Merchant) who just turned up to buy a collectable gaming card off  Lucas.

Needless to say, the screenplay’s peppered with sex and drug gags, machismo challenges and, but there’s also a sweetness and poignancy to the trio, Thor has given up singing, which he loves, because he thinks it makes him seen uncool and the target of the class bully, Lucas has discovered that his folks are divorcing and Max, well he’s struggling to come to terms with nascent puberty and first love inarticulacy. Friendships are tested, bonds renewed, life lessons learnt and, almost inevitably, the ending includes a school musical.

Ultimately, the amusement in kids swearing is overworked and begins to wear out its welcome, but by then the film is on track for its big emotional finish about growing up and all that means. The boys done good.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (PG)

Terry Deary’s hugely successful book series first translated into  television and then the stage, presenting an irreverent but educationally grounded approach to history, and now takes the inevitable next step (2016’s Bill was never an official spin-off) to the big screen. More Black Adder than Monty Python (though there a sly nod to Life of Brian), this pitched at younger audiences while still slipping in amusing references for the grown-ups and, in the I’m Farticus scene managing to combine both

Opening with Derek Jacobi reprising his iconic role as the stuttering Emperor Claudius, before being poisoned by his wife Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) to enable her buffoon son Nero ( Craig Roberts to take his place, albeit with her as the power behind, and indded on, the throne, it has teenage Roman Atti (Sebastian Croft) finding himself consigned to join the legion in Britain – aka The Stain – as punishment for having passed off a vial of horse urine as gladiator sweat which the British envoy bought as a birthday present for the Emperor.

Over in Britian, where, despite constant references to rain, it seems permanently sunny, he taken prisoner by Orla (EmmaWatson lookalike Emilia Jones), the feisty daughter of Cetic chieftain Arghus (Nick Frost) who, despite dad’s protestations, is desperate to prove herself a warrior, and winds up helping rescue her kleptomaniac gran (Joanna Bacon) from a rival tribe.

Meanwhile, Celtic warrior queen Boudicca (Kate Nash) is  leading a rebellion against the Romans which the incumbent governor, the pompous, prevaricating Paulinus (Rupert Graves), who always refers to himself in the third person, is ordered to crush.

Historical facts and observations are neatly enfolded into the amiable star-crossed lovers narrative that also amusingly involves the lyre-playing Nero’s attempts to kill his mother, his toadying adviser Sycophantus (Alex Macqueen), Legion Commander Decimus (Lee Mack) constantly pining for Rome, an over-stretched don’t shoot the messenger joke, a Roman Legion dubbed the IX Men  and, of course, various toilet-related gags. All interspersed with musical numbers, including a rap battle between Bouidicca and the Romans. In all honesty, it’s probably a bit overstretched as a movie, but the fun is never diluted.  (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City; Until Mon; MAC)

The Lion King (PG)

Given, there being no human characters unlike director Jon Favreau’s previous revamp of The Jungle Book, the fact that this is all CGI  makes it a little disingenuous to call it a live action remake. However, such is the degree of photorealism as regards both the landscapes and animals, that it would be easy to believe this is actual flesh and fur, earth and water. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t familiar with the 1994 animated original, itself a riff on Hamlet,  so, again opening with the Circle of Life gathering at Pride Rock,  this virtual shot by shot, line by line update  won’t hold any narrative surprises surprises, indeed the main difference lies in ditching the annoying Morning Report song, rendered here as dialogue from Zazu, the red-billed hornbill factotum. The thrill comes, instead, from seeing the characters in such three-dimensional  form, the hyenas even more scary-looking while the CGI incarnations of warthog Puumba Seith Rogan) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) are a delight, especially in the way the former, all bristles and tusk, trots along like  dainty ballerina. They still sing Hakuna Matata and even get to make a filmic in joke about how, having fled the Pridelands believing himself responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones reprising his role), in stampede, the young Simba (JD McCrary) grows into the adult lion (Donald Glover) in the course of the song while they still look the same. They also sing a snatch of Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast.

There’s no new additions (though a couple of hyenas are renamed), but all the familiar characters are present and correct with an impressive array of appropriately African-American vocal talent that includes Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Simba’s mother, John Kani as mandrill shaman Rafiki, Beyoncé, in a slightly expanded role, as Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest who not only gets to duet on Can You Feel The Love Tonight but has her own all new song, Spirit, while Shahadi Wright Joseph from the original Broadway cast is the young cub and Chiwetol Ejiofor is superbly sly as Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar. Whether the revamp has any point beyond the technical accomplishments is open to debate, but it certainly deserves to be a  roaring success. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (18)          

Reuniting with both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, and teaming them together (in masterclass performances steeped in gleeful self-irony) on screen for the first time, Quentin Tarantino’s  ninth film is again awash with 60s pop culture references, from the music of the era to spaghetti Westerns and vintage American TV shows.   Some are obvious, others, such as a brief glimpse of a Kid Colt comic are throwaways while others let savvy audiences draw the dots, such as a Playboy Mansion party that (aside from a cameo by Damien Lewis as Steve McQueen) captions Michelle Phillips from the Mamas and Papas knowing that viewers will automatically know her more amply proportioned friend is Mama Cass.

A revisionist take on Hollywood lore and history, the loose plot pivots around Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), the this functioning alcoholic faded star of a TV Western called Bounty Law  whose action movie career never took off and is now reduced to playing the bad guy opposite the new rising names, and his long-time stunt-double, driver, general gofer and best buddy Cliff Booth (Pitt) an easy going,  self-assured war hero (and, echoes of Natalie Wood, wife killing) who lives in a crappy trailer next to a drive-in with his Rottweiler, Brandy.

Currently being directed by Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) as the guest villain to Timothy Olyphant’s hero in a Western series called Lancer (which also features Scoot McNairy and the late Luke Perry), although initially reluctant, an opportunity for Rick to reinvent himself comes via fan and agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) who hooks him up with the second best director of Spaghetti Westerns to make things like Kill Me Quick, Ringo, Said the Gringo and Bond knockoff Operazione Dyn-o-mite, and from which he returns a married man.

Running parallel to this is a storyline involving Rick’s new neighbours on Cielo Drive, hot new director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) the latter of whom was murdered (while heavily pregnant) along with four friends (including ex-fiance, Jay Sebring, here played by Emile Hirsch) by four of Charlie Manson’s followers on, as the Neil Diamond song presages, a hot August night which was regarded as the end of an era. The narratives are further interlinked when (as allegedly did Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys) Cliff gives Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) a toke-dealing hippie a lift to her commune on the disused Spahn Movie Ranch where he has a run-in with her fellow cult members, notably the intimidating Squeaky (Dakota Fanning), and a brief cameo with Bruce Dern.

Littered with vintage clips, pastiches, billboards, posters, cinema marquees (at one point Tate goes to watch herself in a Dean Martin Matt Helm movie) and punctuated with a wealth of songs from the era, as the film builds nail-bitingly to its climax, Tarantino, brilliantly abetted by  cinematographer Robbie Richardson, production designer Barbara Ling and costumer Arianne Phillips, delivers one knockout sequence after another. Notable standouts among these include a fight between Cliff and a smug Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet (which also features a Kurt Russell cameo) and a backlot moment involving Rick and  a precocious eight-year-old method actor (Julia Butters) on the set of Lancer, which, after he flubs his lines due to too much booze, results in a gripping take which she tells him was the best acting she’s ever seen. You’re inclined to agree.

In a breathtakingly audacious move only Tarantino would have the nerve and the ability to bring off, the accumulating tension ends with the bloodbath of August 8, 1969 as, armed with knives and a pistol,  Family member Tex and three girls make their way up Cielo Drive. Real movie stars, a real director, a helluva movie. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Playmobil: The Movie (U)

After the huge commercial success of the Lego feature films, it was probably inevitable that its rival toy bricks would cash in on things too. Her dreams of setting out on a life of adventure crushed when their parents are killed in an accident, teenage Marla (Anya Taylor Joy) is left to  look after her kid brother  Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), becoming something of a killjoy in the process. Five years later, looking to have some fun, he runs off and winds up in a Playmobil exhibition and, when his sister tracks him down, they’re somehow both mystically transported to the Playmobil world and transformed into claw-handed plastic toy figures, Charlie in the form his favourite Viking warrior toy. Seperated when he’s abducted by pirates, she sets off to find and rescue him, a quest that will involve journeying through the different Playmobil realms, hooking up with Del (Jim Gaffigan), a hipster with a mobile food truck, magic hay and  a big debt problem to a soret of fewmale Jabba the Hutt, ace secret agent  Rex Dasher (Daniel Ratcliffe) and a cute robot, and discovering Charlie’s been kidnapped, along an assortment of other super tough warriors, as fodder for Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert) and his gladiatorial games.

It doesn’t have the manic energy or knowing and often subversive wit of the Lego movies, but it moves along at  a fair lick, even if it rarely finds room for jokes to keep the grown-ups awake, as it regularly spells out its message about finding who you are and not letting life’s downers prevent you from enjoying it. There’s also a series of eminently forgettable musical numbers, one of which is performed by Meghan Trainor as a fairy godmother, which along with assorted winged horses and unicorns firmly underline that this is very much meant for children. They’ll probably love it, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for The Meccano Movie anytime soon.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes),  returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and  recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that  has Ned christening him Night Monkey.

Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.

Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a  poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a  drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.

Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless  boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.  (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Ugly Dolls (PG)

The creation of now husband and wife team David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, the Uglydolls line of plush toys was launched in 2001 and became an overnight sensation. It’s unlikely that this film based on them will follow suit. Factory rejects who get pulled off the production line and tossed down the disposal chute, the Ugly Dolls have formed their own community in Uglyville where, headed up by green one-eyed Ox (Blake Shelton), they are content and oblivious to their imperfections. However, the resolutely upbeat Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), a gap-toothed blob of pink, doesn’t believe that the Big World  is just  myth and, as the opening song announces, forever dreams of one day finding the child she’s intended for. Realising that new arrivals always come from a portal high up in the walls, she persuades a bunch of fellow dolls, among them canine cyclops Ugly Dog (Pitbull), and two-fanged Wage (Wanda Sykes), to  join her in a quest to the other side.

Which is where the find the Institute of Perfection, a place where human-like dolls are prepared in readiness to follow their toy destinies in the human world, overseen by preening blond-haired pop star-like guru Lou (Nick Jonas), who tosses dolls into a washing machine as punishment, with the help of a trio of mean girls (Janelle Monae among them) each with their own insecurities. Needless to say, the arrival of the Ugly Dolls causes consternation and pits them against the tyrannical Lou.

The notion that every doll needs a child plays like a watered down Toy Story and, indeed, from the songs to the characters, everything about the film feels like a diluted version of kiddie movies you’ve already seen. The message about loving your imperfections because your flaws make you who you are is commendable, but, it just comes across like one  of the Fortune Cookie mottos served up by Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), to be read and thrown away. Pretty much like the film. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play  some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)



Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld


Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  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 Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240


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