The Invisible Man (15)
All the best horror films know that’s it’s what you don’t see is the scariest, letting the imagination build the tension. That’s the premise of writer-director Leigh Whannell’s reimagining of the HG Wells classic as a thriller that, for all its increasingly far-fetched developments and plot holes, is a genuinely suspenseful watch, the use of long shots and empty space adding to the creepiness in suggesting someone watching unseen.
The film opens in the middle of the night with architect Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) surreptitiously gathering her things and sneaking out of the high-tech and high security house she shares with her controlling, abusive boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen),an inventor who specialises in light, leaving him drugged in bed. She’s met by her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), driving off just as Adrian arrived and attacks the car.
Some weeks later, she’s taken refuge at the home of her Bay Area police detective friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), too scared to step outside the house. But then Emily arrives to say Adrian’s apparently committed suicide, so good news all round. She’s then surprised to learn from his attorney brother Tom (Michael Dorman), that he left her $5million, to be paid in monthly instalments, part of which she immediately puts into an account to pay for Sydney’s college. But then she starts feeling uneasy, as if someone’s watching her and, diagnosed as having excess Diazepam in her blood after fainting at an interview, her architectural drawings mysteriously no longer in her portfolio, she find the pills bottle she dropped in fleeing now in her bathroom and realises that someone Adrian is stalking her, somehow alive and invisible (using a suit and advanced digital imaging it’s later explained) rather than from beyond the grave.
Naturally no-one believes her and given events for which she’s seemingly responsible, including murder, she’s duly diagnosed as crazy and locked up in a mental hospital, unable to clear her name. And it just gets worse until she finally begins to fight back.
While Adrian is clearly gaslighting her, the film makes it clear that she’s not paranoid and imaging things, something that wouldn’t work if Moss, fresh from The Handmaid’s Tale, wasn’t so convincing when she’s shown struggling with an invisible presence throwing her around the room and in also investing Cecilia with such emotional intensity as she, understandably, unravels. The supporting cast are disappointingly one-dimensional and only really there to serve the narrative, Whamell drawing on some tried and tested horror tropes such as doors opening by themselves and blankets being pulled of a bad to add to the chills, but also underlaying the screenplay with a commentary on abuse victims often being invisible themselves and remaining terrorised long after the abuser has vanished from the scene. It falls apart slightly at the all too conveniently pat ending, but otherwise it’s a case of what you don’t see really getting you. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Birmingham, Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Colour Out Of Space (15)
Nicolas Cage does crazy, well nothing surprising there. This time, however, it’s in service of a half-decent film, South African director Richard Stanley returning to the unease of his early work, Dust Devil in an adaptation of the HP Lovecraft horror.
It’s an alien invasion movie, but not as you know it in that the aliens come in the form of an intangible colour that drives those exposed to it mad – and worse. The unfortunate victims here are the Gardner family, recently relocate from the city to the fictional rural New England town of Arkham, the location of many Lovecraft tales, though it’s fair to say they’re already a little on the weird side. The father, Nathan (Cage), is an amateur out of his depth alpaca farmer, stroppy teenage daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arther) practices Wicca rituals and the eldest son, the almost permanently stoned Benny (Brendan Meyer), has a NASA obsession. Only the youngest, Jack (Julian Hilliard), and the mother, Theresa (Joely Richardson), seem normal, although the latter, in recovery from breast cancer, is going slowly nuts struggling to keep in contact with her clients since the internet set-up is crap.
One night, just as mom and dad are finally getting it on again, a meteor crashes into the back yard near the well, prompting Nathan to call in the local sheriff (Josh C. Waller) and the mayor (Q’orianka Kilcher), who turn up with Ward (Elliot Knight) who’s investigating the local water supplies and bumped into Lavinia during one of her rituals, and who serves as the film’s narrator.
Jack’s the first to fall under the thrall of the colour, and starts talking to something in the well, from which some unearthly red Mantis-like insect emerges, and it’s pretty much downhill from there with the animals going missing or mutating, new plants appearing, the crops growing extra sized but tasting foul, the phones receiving only garbled noises and Theresa and Jack finally giving a whole new meaning to mother and child bonding in a Cronenberg-like body horror turn of events. Through all of this, Cage, who in an early scene shouts manically at Ward about milking alpacas, becomes ever increasingly more demented, sits transfixed by the TV static, develops scales on his arms and becomes ever increasingly more demented and, inevitably, splattered with blood, while the other two kids naturally do everything they shouldn’t in the circumstances. There’s also the obligatory eccentric eco-apocalypse nut hippie hermit (Tommy Chong) in the woods. It is, to say, the least utterly batshit bonkers as it builds to an and, inevitably, splattered with blood, while the other two kids naturally do everything they shouldn’t in the circumstances. It is, to say, the least utterly batshit bonkers as it builds to an incoherent but mesmerising climax for which Stanley’s been reserving the effects budget, but you can’t accuse it of being boring. (Fri-Sun Mockingbird; Sat/Thu: Electric)
Dark Waters (12A)
Treading corporate malfeasance and courageous lone crusader territory familiar from Erin Brockovich, Silkwood and The Insider, writer-director Todd Haynes turns attention to the DuPont chemical company which, it was revealed had, in the manufacture of Teflon and the chemical it contained, from the early 1950s, been knowingly (from their own research) systematically poisoning its employees and the American public for decades. Naturally, when it comes down to choosing between profit (at one point Teflon products were generating $1 billion per year) and health and safety, human life becomes collateral damage.
Things came to light when Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), an Appalachian farmer and one of his grandmother’s West Virginia neighbours in Parkersburg, approached Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo, who also produced), a reliable, convention and generally unspectacular soon to be made partner at the high flying law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister (headed up by Tim Robbins) specialising in defending chemical companies, asking him to take on his case, claiming that his herd of cattle had been poisoned by pollutants feeding into Dry Run Creek, which DuPont (run by Victor Gerber as the smarmy CEO) used as a waste dump for the nearby plant.
Initially reluctant to get involved, having visited the farm and seen the evidence (“You tell me nothing’s wrong here” growls Tennant), Bilott persuaded the firm to let him take on the case and sue DuPont as a simple case of damage control, expecting for a quick resolution. What happened, as he found more and more evidence in the boxes full of DuPont’s files of their complicity and cover-up, led to a string of whistle-blowing revelation, major courtroom class-action lawsuits, triumphs and reversals that were eventually documented in the New York Times Magazine story The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare on which the film is based. He also had to battle with a resentful community since DuPont, who had no oversight from government, was the biggest employer around Parkersburg and the impact of his single-minded determination to get justice on his own wife and family.
It’s a solid, worthy and predictable piece of work that, setting the sense of unease with an opening 1970s skinny dipping scene in the polluted waters, doggedly ploughs through the timeline of events (17 years from 1998) in documentary-like fashion while, although Anne Hathaway is cast as Bilott’s supportive good Catholic wife, she has so little to do the role could have been played by anyone. However, the more facts it throws up the more horrifying becomes the scale of the poisoning, with pretty much everyone on the planet having some level of residue of the chemical known as PFOA in the body, and which cannot be removed, not only acting as an indictment of corporate greed but also serving as commentary on how willing we are to accept things that make our lives easier, without questioning the science behind it. Ultimately, it’s not up there with the films mentioned earlier, but it is engrossing and full of outrage and, if nothing else, it might make you more wary of those non-stick frying pans in the kitchen. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Another good reason why Americans should not be allowed to remake foreign language hits, this time the finger of shame being directed at writer-director duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who, along with co-writer Jesse Armstrong, have given 2014 Swedish dramedy masterpiece and Cannes jury prize winner Force Majeure a makeover. Like the original, it pivots around a scene when, at a ski resort in the Austrian Alps, a family sees what they don’t know is a controlled avalanche heading towards them. The husband panics, grabs his phone, and runs away, leaving wife and two sons to face what might, in other circumstances, be certain death. Rather naturally, this creates a degree of tension in what is already a troubled marriage (she’s having an affair), especially given the husband denies he abandoned the family.
Here, making her first feature appearance in seven years, the attorney wife, Billie is played by the excellent Julia Louise-Dreyfus. However, the alarm bells instantly sound on learning her husband, Pete, is Will Ferrell. Despite proving he can do heavy lifting emotional drama in Stranger Than Fiction (albeit that was 14 years ago), feelings that he’s been miscast are rapidly confirmed as he resorts to standard Ferrell comedic man-panic shtick, making light of what is, in fact, a dark and thorny issue, denying his actions and passing it off as a misunderstanding. All of which renders any self-examination superficial at best. On top of which, taking her cue from Ferrell, Miranda Otto turns up going over the top as a sex-mad Euro-ash Austrian, firmly putting the nail in the coffin of any potential for an examination of a marriage in crisis, masculinity or whatever. The film does have two things in its favour. Louise-Dreyfuss and the fact it’s only 85 minutes. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Birmingham, Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Mr Jones (15)
Lloyd George’s Foreign Affairs adviser and personal secretary, at 27 Welsh-born Gareth Jones frequently wrote articles for several newspapers and, in 1933, became the first foreign journalist to interview Hitler and, between 1930 and 1933 made three trips to the Soviet Union where he became aware of and, at great personal risk, reported on the man-made famine – the Holodomor – in the Ukraine from where Stalin was diverting grain to Moscow to pay for his military expansion and Five Year Plan. As such, it is generally believed that his writings served as inspiration for George Orwell’s Animal Farm and, indeed, it is with Orwell working on the book that the film, directed by Agnieszka Holland and written by Andrea Chalupa, begins.
There’s a certain artistic licence in the set-up in which Loyd George (Kenneth Cranham) is forced to let Jones (James Norton) go when the Cabinet mocks his warnings about Hitler and, now a reporter for the Western Mail, arranging to visit the Soviet Union in an attempt to interview Stalin and persuade him of the threat, but once he arrives the screenplay follows a straighter if not always accurate (his family’s accused the film of sensationalising things) course.
Arriving in Moscow, under the pretence of still working for the Prime Minister, he learns that a fellow journalist who was working on a big story has been apparently murdered in a robbery outside the same hotel where he’s staying. He also learns that he and his fellow reporters are confined to Moscow where there’s not much to do but attend under the debauched sex and opium parties hosted by Walter Duranty (a wonderfully creepy Peter Sarsgaard), the hedonistic Pulitzer Prize winning pro-Stalin New York Times correspondent who pretty much controls everything that the world hears about things there and compares the atmosphere to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. Warned by Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), a fictional British colleague of Duranty, not to believe everything he’s being told, he manages to evade the authorities and get a train into the wintery Ukraine where, summed up in one chilling scene when he realises what he’s been fed by the young kids who’ve befriended him, he discovers the harrowing genocidal conditions, with the people still unfathomably loyal to Stalin, before eventually being captured as a spy and his claims discredited in the New York Times before (as did happen) meeting press baron Randolph Hearst who published his full account.
Dramatic liberties aside, Holland’s often visually expressionist political thriller (at times drained of all colour, making the sight of an orange all the more striking) has an epic if occasionally stodgy sweep (although framing scenes of Orwell kill the pace dead) and Norton delivers a terrific performance as the dogged and idealistic Jones in a film that not only reveals a surprisingly little known tragedy but also serves as inspiration for similarly-minded journalists in the era of fake news. (MAC)
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (15)
A multiple awards nominee and festooned with prizes from last year’s Cannes Film Festival, writer-director Céline Sciamma’s period drama is a subtly erotic and softly sensual story of the awakening of lesbian love in 1770 in a remote corner of Brittany. Opening with Marianne (Noémie Merlant) posing for a group of young girls and aspiring artists, one of them asks about a painting in the studio which she says is called Portrait of a Lady on Fire ae filmn flashes back to recount the story behind it.
Arriving by boat, an apprentice to her faher, she’s been commissioned to paint the portrait of the high born Héloïse (Adele Haenel) by her Countess mother (Valeria Golino), who wants to send it to her daughter’s intended husband in Milan since he’s not yet seen her. The only snag is, since she refused to pose for a previous artist, she can’t know the purpose of Marianne’s visit, believing her to be just a temporary companion to ease her grief over the recent suicide of her sister. So, her face has to be painted on to the emerald green dress on the canvas from observation and memory, which, rather, inevitably, involves Marianne in long and often surreptitious intimate gazes at her subject and, in the process, a gradual building of both friendship and desire that, with a scene to delight armpit fetishists, is eventually consummated in bed.
Pun intended, it’s a slow burn film that, at one point, sees Héloïse’s gown literally catch fire, almost in a metaphor for the smouldering desire, with both a controlled formality to the structure and symbolism and its use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but also a powerfully beating heart as the portrait slowly takes shape, a first scrapped and the second, more collaborative, capturing the transition in Héloïse’s emotions while Marianne’s plagued by sudden visions of her in her white wedding dress. Visually, it’s often breathtaking, not least in a striking moment when, asked to paint her own portrait, Marianne studies her reflection in a mirror positioned in front of Héloïse’s genitals. It also extends to a story of female friendship beyond the couple as they befriend the family’s maid Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), when she finds herself pregnant and needs to take desperate measures. Closing some years later in first an art gallery and then a poignant opera house scene, rarely has the female gaze been so consummately captured on screen. (Electric)
True History of the Kelly Gang (18)
Adapted from Peter Carey’s Booker prize-winning novel (which brings the word ‘true’ into conjecture), this sees Macbeth director Justin Kurzel back on solid ground after his Assassin’s Creed misfire, delivering an often hallucinatory account of the infamous Australian folk hero previously portrayed by both Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger and here essayed in mad-eyed form by 1917 star George Mackay turned vengeful outlaw as a victim of abuse and the system.
The conceit here is that it’s told in three chapters – Boy, Man, Monitor – through Kelly’s memoirs to be left as a legacy for his children in repudiation of what they might hear about him. It opens with an aerial shot of Kelly, wearing a red chiffon dress, galloping through a landscape of scorched, dead trees before flashbacking to the 12-year-old Ned (brilliantly played with an air of derangement by Orlando Schwerdt), the eldest of the mercurially tempered Ellen (a ferociously charismatic Essie Davis) and her soon to be despatched Irish husband Red (Ben Corbett). It’s a toxic childhood surrounded by toxic masculinity, not least the corrupt Sergeant O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam) who comes on to Ellen and gives Ned an early contempt for the law. His childhood’s cut short, however, when his mother sells him to real life bushranger Harry Power (a grizzled Russell Crowe), who educates him the way of the gun, leading to the now grown Ned forming his own gang with young brother Dan (Earl Cave) and two friends to put the Kelly name on the map in the most violent ways possible.
Introduced at this point is another corrupt lawman, cruel colonial constable Fitzpatrick (a leeringly louche Nicholas Hoult) who runs the brothel where Ned falls for Mary (Thomasin McKenzie), seduces Kelly’s sister Kate (Josephine Blazier) and, quite possibly, given the passive-aggressive sexual tension between them, Ned himself.
While elements such as the gang wearing women’s dresses (Ned sports a sexy black lace number) to both scare the enemy and give themselves a sensual thrill and, of course, the iconic homemade iron armour Kelly forged for the gang to wear are all factually correct, taking the cue from Kelly’s voiceover instructions to his daughter to “Write your own history, for you are my future now”, other aspects of the narrative clearly entail some considerable re-envisionings of the ‘true’ history in the name of compelling storytelling, climaxing with the notorious Glenrowan shootout filmed as a fever dream nightmare. Riveting stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park)
BAFTA winner for Best Film, Director and Cinematographer, but with only DP Roger Deakins picking up an Oscar, drawn from stories told by director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, this bravura first world war drama is about two young soldiers ordered to take a message across No Man’s Land and behind enemy lines to call off an attack that, lured into a German trap, can only end in disaster.
It’s been misleadingly touted as being one continuous take, whereas it’s actually a series of very lengthy takes (some shot up to eight times to get it right), seamlessly edited together as a fluid travelling narrative. Lance Corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are woken from their peaceful naps and given the task by their General (Colin Firth) to deliver the order to stand down to Colonel Mackenzie (Benjamin Cumberbatch), the officer in charge, who, believing the Germans are on the retreat, intends to launch an assault, unaware of reconnaissance information revealing a new enemy line manned by heavy artillery. If not prevented, it will result in the massacre of the 1,600 men in his division, among them Blake’s older brother (Richard Madden). And they only have until the following morning to do so. To get there involves them crossing a devastated landscape of mud and ruined buildings, strewn with corpses of men and horses, infested with rats, tangled in barbed wire, littered with fallen trees and pitted with shell craters, never quite sure as to whether the Germans have all left or not. And much of it must be undertaken in daylight.
At times unbearably tense and punctuated with sudden jolting moments, it grips throughout as the friends navigate through the exposed countryside and booby trapped abandoned enemy trenches (far better equipped than their own, with even the rats bigger), the camera sometimes following, sometimes in front of them, sometimes panning across the horrors that surround them. Without spoiling it too much, suffice to say that, following a remarkable and agonising scene involving a crashed German plane, ultimately, only one of them makes it to Mackenzie, the perilous trek seeing him shot at by snipers, finding a brief moment of calm with a young Frenchwoman (Claire Duburcq) and a motherless baby (one of several almost surreal moments, another involving cherry trees), having to confront stray enemy soldiers, being swept along in a raging river and racing across a battlefield under bombardment.
In the early part, it’s almost a two-hander between MacKay and Chapman, the film drawing you into their friendship and fears, but as the journey progresses there are several brief cameos, among them Mark Strong as an officer en route with his men to the bombed out village of Écoust, a staging point on the vital mission, that gives way to the surviving messenger stumbling out into night-time vision of hell.
Driven by a swelling score from Thomas Newman, it never trumpets anything resembling glory in wartime (at one point an officer sarcastically observes “Nothing like a patch of ribbons to cheer up a widow”) and its heroism is very much that of the courage of ordinary men facing extraordinary circumstances, and wishing they were anywhere else. Calling to mind other such war classics as Paths of Glory, War Horse and Saving Private Ryan, it’s poignant (most especially the still scene of a lone soldier singing Wayfaring Stranger to his comrades before they go into battle), tragic, thrilling and horrifying all at the same time, the human waste and needless destruction part of the fabric rather than a pointed agenda. Simply breathtakingly brilliant. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Bad Boys For Life (15)
A so so turn in Aladdin aside, Will Smith hasn’t made a truly decent movie since Hancock back in 2008, hardly surprising then to see this reboot of arguably his most successful, though not necessarily best, work. Directed by little known Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, taking over from Michael Bay (who gets a cheeky cameo), with a screenplay that involved three writers, including od hands Peter Draig and Joe Carnahan, he reteams with Martin Lawrence after 17 years to revive the partnership of apparently incredibly well paid maverick Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), still on the streets bringing down the bad guys, even if a few grey hairs and some added weight are showing.
Mike behind the wheel of his blue Porsche, the film kicks off with they swapping banter during a frantic car chase involving several squad cars and bikes, though amusingly (albeit downright recklessly) not in pursuit of some villains but to get Marcus to the hospital where his grandson (who’s named after him) is being born. It’s an epiphany that sees Burnett decide to retire and put his feet up while Lowrey insists on carrying on (cue comparison scenes of the two friends going about their different daily lives), “running down criminals until I’m a hundred.” But then he’s almost killed in a drive-by shooting by a helmeted man in black on a motorbike, leading Marcus to tell God he’ll give up violence if his buddy pulls through and setting in the motion the core narrative in which recent prison escapee Mexican witch Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), the widow of a cartel boss, sends her sociopathic sniper son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to assassinate everyone involved in the case, leaving Lowrey to last (though he does try and jump the gun), in revenge.
With Marcus now having retired and Mike ordered by the captain (Jo Pantoliano) to get involved, the case is hand over to the newly formed AMMO tactical squad, headed up by one of Lowrey’s old flames, Rita (Paola Núñez), and featuring the regulation mix of one dimensional colourful oddballs, snarky Rafe (Charles Melton), an underused Vanessa Hudgens as ballistics expert Kelly and ripped tech guy Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) who has also renounced violence. Naturally, Mike’s not going to sit back and do nothing, so it’s not long before things are getting blown up and the body count rising as they try and track down who’s responsible.
All of this is formulaic stuff, but it’s given a darker, harder and more emotive edge when the somewhat far-fetched third act reveals Mike’s backstory and a connection between those seeking his death that is about more than it first appears. Smith and Lawrence skip comfortably back into their roles and clearly seem to be having fun rather than just taking the paycheque, riffing on the franchise with constant repeats of their mantra and the theme song. Although most of the target audience were still toddlers when the last instalment came out, there’s no attempt to reinvent anything here, just to reignite the fun and put a little more grit and thought into the fuel. And, as such with the end credits setting up what promises to be an unusual family alliance sequel, it does just that. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn (15)
The latest to give a DC Comics Batman villain their own platform, this puts for shrink turned pasty-faced (with a ‘rotten’ tattoo), pink and blue pig-tailed crazy criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from the Suicide Squad in the spotlight as a sort of badass poster girl for the #MeToo movement. And a hyena called Bruce (after Wayne) as a pet. Having broken up with The Joker for the last time (though that doesn’t prevent a continuity gaff in the final stretch restoring the J necklace she discards in the opening), Quinn’s now her own psychowoman, though she’s keeping the split on the hush so she still retains her untouchable status in Gotham,. Albeit not for long. And certainly not after she makes very public display of the rift by blowing up the chemical plant courting spot. But let’s not ahead of ourselves since the film, directed in her feature debut by Cathy Yan with a dash of Deadpool’s to camera wall-breaking self-awareness and genre cliché observations, hurtles back and forth along the narrative timeline as its various rage-fuelled women seeking revenge, in some form or another, are introduced. That would be troubled foster kid pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the crossbow-wielding Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, cool astride a motorbike in black leather), promotion-overlooked cop Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett-Bell), the hurricane-lunged singer (and subsequent driver after Quinn breaks her predecessor’s leg for falling her dumb, she is, after all, a PhD) for club owner and Gotham crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor playing it large and even at times seemingly channelling Graham Norton), a psychosadist who doubles as super-villain Black Mask and has a fondness for peeling off people’s faces to send a message. They’re all linked together since Montoya is after Quinn who needs to get to Cain who stole a valuable diamond that Sionis wants to get his hands on which, in turn, has a bloody backstory connected to Huntress, while Canary is Montoya’s inside informant as well as having come to Quinn’s rescue when several of the hundreds of folks with a grievance try to whack her.
Despite the switchbacking, largely between set piece fight scenes and executions, it’s relatively easy to keep track and the film positively rattles along in colourful and noisy manner drawing the women together in some sort of dysfunctional and violent family although, in keeping the audience on board with the deranged kewpie-doll, it’s only bad guys who get seriously hurt (when Quinn invades the precinct she does so with a fungun that shoots out multi-coloured glitter bombs and concussion pads) as the motley crew of misfits unleash their pent-up fury in spectacular mayhem to a soundtrack that romps from L7’s Shitlist, Heart’s Barracuda and an update of Ram Jam’s Black Betty to Smollett-Bell performing It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, just to reinforce the not so little women reclaiming power feminist message.
While her co-stars undeniably go for it, this is Robbie’s movie, a charismatic force of attitude rampaging through Gotham and taking no shit, rattling off quips and with the hots for bacon, eggs and cheese sandwiches with hot sauce, the coda managing to set up a split into two distinct sequels with Quinn and her new sidekick and the three superheroines Birds of Prey of the title. Unfortunately, the film’s lacklustre box office suggests they won’t take wing. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Brahms: The Boy II (15)
Anyone remember the original film, back in 2016, when an American nanny found the child an elderly British couple hired her to care for was a devil-doll? Anyone care? A so so knock off from Chucky and Annabelle, it nevertheless earned $64m, sufficient to prompt a sequel. This time, a young family move into a guest house on the same estate, trailing some emotional baggage, where the son (Christopher Convery) finds and makes friends with a life-like doll he calls Brahms and who has a list of rules. Naturally, bad things follow. Still trying to reignite her career post Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes is the mother, TV star Owain Yeoman’s the dad and Ralph Ineson’s there to look creepy while writer-director William Brent Bell, who has made nothing in the interim, is probably grateful to be back behind the camera. All reviews were embargoed until the day it opened, so draw your own conclusions. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Call Of The Wild (PG)
Published back in 1903, Jack London’s wilderness novel became an instant classic and, while less read these days, has been adapted for the screen five times. This, the sixth, is the live action debut by How to Train Your Dragon director Chris Sanders and with Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, though it should be said from the start that all of the animals are CGI. Not that you would know it.
When it opens, Buck (a motion capture performance by Terry Notary), is the huge and highly intelligent St. Bernard/Scotch Collie pet of a Santa Clara judge in 1890s California, his exuberance often causing chaos. Then, one night, he’s dognapped and sold on to become part of a sled team for gold prospectors in the Yukon, Alaska. Arriving in Skagway, it’s here he first encounters grizzled old timer John Thornton (a heavily bearded Harrison Ford, who also narrates), who’s abandoned civilization and his wife following the death of his young son, and is then bought by French-Canadian Perraut (Omar Sy) who, along with wife Françoise (Cara Gee), runs a mail-delivery route for the U.S. government, and becomes part of his dog sled team, eventually progressing to become lead dog after defeating the resentful alpha male Siberian husky, Spitz.
When, after some exhilarating sled scenes, an avalanche and a rescue from a river, the mail route is scrapped, Buck’s path once again crosses paths with Thornton who rescues him from his latest master, a cruel city type (Dan Stevens hamming it with tartan plaid and panto villain moustache) who has come in search of gold with his marginally less unpleasant wife (a virtual cameo by Karen Gillan), but clearly has no idea of how to survive in the outdoors.
The film now spends its remaining time with the tender and often amusing bonding between Buck and Thornton, as the former helps the latter reconnect with life (and stops him drinking), while Buck, feeling his canine heritage (cue frequent appearances by some black wolf spirit guide), also pals up with the local timber wolf pack, among them his white four-footed romantic interest. Meanwhile, Dan is on their trail bent on revenge, though quite how he manages to track them down is a mystery.
The film deviates hugely from the book towards the end, but otherwise remains a faithful adaptation, certainly in spirit, and, even though he’s a digital creation, Buck is utterly adorable while the landscapes are often breathtaking even though they too are largely CGI. Heed the call, this is a real family treat. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
On the shelf for two years following troubled production, poor testing and subsequent reshoots by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles director Jonathan Liebesman, helmed by Stephen Gaghan, this messy latest venture for author Hugh Lofting’s vet with the power to speak to animals did little at the box office and is already lining up as one of the year’s biggest flops. Back in 1967, the first adaptation, as a musical saw Rex Harrison in the title role and was nominated for nine Oscars, then thirty years later Eddie Murphy starred in two modern and manic versions. Now, restored to Victorian times, Avengers star Robert Downey Jr swaps technology for zoology but unfortunately opts to ham it to excess with an accent that wanders between mangled Welsh and the unidentifiable, the film itself an ungainly charmless mess punctuated with fart jokes lines about dogs sniffing bottoms and animals spouting such highly anachronistic dialogue as ‘bro’, ‘code red’ and ‘snitches get stitches’, though admittedly a Godfather gag is amusing, even if the reference to Chris Tucker in Rush Hour isn’t.
Having withdrawn from human society following the death of his wife Lily while she was off on an adventure, Dolittle is holed up in the palatial English sanctuary gifted him by the queen, his only companions being his menagerie of animals, along them Poly the macaw (Emma Thompson), scaredy cat gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek), hip polar bear Yoshi (John Cena) and bespectacled dog Jip (Tom Holland). However, his hermit-like world is shattered with the arrival of, first, young Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) with a squirrel he accidentally shot and who determines to become his apprentice and then the tweenage Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) who has been sent by her mother, the sick queen (Jessie Buckley who basically has little to do but lie in bed), to enlist his aid. Told that if she dies, he’ll lose the sanctuary, he ditches the very fake-looking straggly beard, dutifully sets off (on an protesting ostrich) to the palace and discovers the queen has been poisoned and the only remedy involves voyaging to an unknown island to fetch the legendary fruit of the Eden Tree, the same adventure that took his wife’s life. Fortunately, she left a journal, but that means he, Tommy and the animals have to steal it from her grieving father, King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who’s not best pleased to have his son-in-law turn up again. On top of which, the crooked Lord Thomas Badgley (a coasting Jim Broadbent), who’s secretly poisoning the queen, has sent Dolittle’s arch rival, palace doctor Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen in panto villain mode), to ensure he never returns.
Along with voice cameos by Marion Cotillard and Selena Gomez) as, respectively,a fox and a giraffe, there’s assorted encounters and adventures at sea and on land, variously involving whales, a grieving dragon (Frances de la Tour) needing an enema and a tiger (Ralph Fiennes) with a grudge, accompanied by frequent doses of ungainly and largely unfunny slapstick. There’s some positive messages about dealing with grief and anxiety and about being kind to animals and opening up to others and kids will probably giggle over the flatulence jokes, but, between shaky CGI, limited character development and an exhaustingly frantic pace, this Dolittle ultimately Does Little to entertain. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Following swiftly on the heels of Little Women, photographer and video director Autumn de Wilde makes her feature debut with the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel about an inveterate matchmaker who, in trying to pair up others, is oblivious to her own feelings. A faithful account of the novel, it’s stuffed with familiar faces, headed up by Anya Taylor-Joy who transitions from horror to rom-com as the titular heroine, bringing the right amount of insufferable smugness, snobbery and pout while still remaining sympathetic to her blindness regarding the inappropriateness of her self-appointed meddling in others’ lives as “the greatest amusement in the world”. Case in point being her younger and less socially elevated (she doesn’t know who her father is) hero-worshipping friend Harriet (Mia Goth), a student at the local boarding school, who she dissuades from accepting a proposal from tenant farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) convinced that the preening village preacher, Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), loves her. It’s just the first of several misreadings that end up causing people heartache, while her cutting comment to the scatterbrained Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) reinforces her unthinking lack of sensitivity to those she considers beneath her.
Even before he finally puts in appearance, Emma’s attracted to Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), the self-absorbed absent son of well-to-do Mr Weston (Rupert Graves), the widower whose marriage to her former governess (Gemma Whelan) she engineered. So, when he does turn up, she’s put out to discover that he’s acquainted with Bates’ niece, Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), especially given her resentment of always being disadvantageously compared to her (to be fair, Jane is much better pianist), all the while oblivious to the fact, behind their bickering banter, her handsome gentleman friend and neighbour (and in-law, since he’s the brother to her sister Isabella’s long suffering husband) , George Knightley (actor-musician Johnny Flynn who wrote and sings the end credits song), who, despite recognising and often admonishing her flaws, is besotted with her, though, in strict rom com tradition, it does take time (cue significant dance scene moment) for him to realise it too.
All this plays out with sparkling wit and charm that draws both the humour and subtle social commentary from Austen’s novel, the chemistry among the leads complemented by note perfect support turns from Bill Nighy as Emma’s hypochondriac father and Sex Education star Tanya Reynolds as the pretentious new Mrs.Elton. A candybox delight to the eye as well as enjoyable romantic fluff with just a pinch of spice, it’s well worth a flutter of the heart. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Gentlemen (18)
Having played nice for the family with the live action Aladdin, Guy Ritchie returns to his Lock Stock mockney roots for a swaggeringly stylised and convolutedly plotted London gangster action comedy with a surprisingly low body count but a through the roof tally of four letter expletives, mostly C bombs.
It’s largely told in flashback via a duologue between sleazy, goateed and camp tabloid private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant on top form, relishing the irony) and the softly spoken Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) as he offers to bury all the damning evidence he’s acquired for an expose of his Oxford educated, marijuana magnate American boss, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey in smirk mode), for £20 million. The basic plot is that, looking to retire, Mickey wants to sell his business (a nationwide empire built through deals with financially impoverished British aristocrats to use their estates as cannabis farms) to well-connected would-be buyer, Jewish-American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) for£400 million. But ambitious Chinese rival Dry Eye (Henry Golding) wants to take control and, as such, the narrative power play jockeys back and forth across assorted time jumps for a steady stream of new twists, revelations, misdirections, double crosses and set-ups, with a colourful cast of characters that include junkies, assorted musclemen, a rapping crew of boxers, Chinese drug lords, teenage thugs with cameraphones and Russians with Eddie Marsan as the newspaper editor with a personal vendetta against Mickey, Colin Farrell in a plaid tracksuit as the handy with his fists Irish club boxing coach and Michelle Dockery as Rosalind, Mickey’s Essex ice queen who runs a chop shop business.
Ritchie packs it full of self-referential film jokes, from Fletcher pitching his story as a screenplay for a movie called Bush shot old school on 35mm to allusions to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and London gangster classic, The Long Good Friday as well as a poster for Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on an office wall inside Miramax, the film’s distributor. It rattles anecdotedly along, constantly shooting off knowing witticisms and mannered dialogue, backdropped in Tarantino fashion by a cool soundtrack. “If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like the king, you must be the king”, observes McConaughey. Ritchie has come back for the crown. (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Loosely inspired by disgraced Topshop mogul Phillip Green, director Michael Winterbotton serves up a very funny, if somewhat scattershot and unsubtle, satire on the moral turpitude of the obscenely rich. Having recently been deluged with bad publicity over his appearance in front of a parliamentary select committee investigating his dodgy business practices and a string of bankruptcies, high-street fashion mogul Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie (Steve Coogan in default mode with Trumpian tan, silver mane and gleaming white teeth) is planning to celebrate his 60th birthday with a lavish Roman-themed party on the Greek island of Mykonos where everyone wears togas. It comes complete with a mock plywood amphitheatre (though getting it built in time is a subplot of its own) for a recreation of the Colloseum scene in Gladiator, promoting a reworking of the narrative firearms trope in that, if a lion is introduced in act one, it will inevitably go off in act three.
Along for the celebrations is his vacuous trophy wife (Shanina Shaik), his whip smart ex-wife and former business partner Samantha (Isla Fisher) in whose name all his tax-avoiding profits were registered in Monaco, acerbic plain-speaking Irish mother (Shirley Henderson) and his and Samantha’s resentful teenage Oedipal-complex son Finn (Asa Butterfield) and airhead daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson) who, along with her lover, is filming for a highly staged and scripted virtual reality show.
Also along are Nick (David Mitchell) as bumbling insecure journalist who’s been brought on board to write a favourable biography to counter the media vilifications (and visit various Far East factories to record birthday greetings from the workers), officious PA Melanie (Sara Solemani) and Amanda (Dinita Gohil), a harassed assistant trying to pull everything together and whose mother worked in one of the Sri Lankan sweat shops McCready used to get his clothes. In a chaotic narrative that variously entails trying to enlist a series of lookalikes (cameos by Kylie and Cowell), including a George Michael (who, as Coogan points out, is dead) when the real celebs start pulling out, and a group of Syrian refugees (including real life refugee Kareem Alkabanni) who have annoyingly set up camp on the beach and are enlisted when the Bulgarian workers walk out. There’s also a clutch of self-mocking quickie cameos from, among others Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Stephen Fry, James Blunt (charging £75,000 to sing beneath Sir Greedy’s window) and, possibly, Keith Richards as themselves. There’s also a brief sighting of the late Caroline Flack in her final appearance.
With flashbacks to the young MacCreadie (Jamie Blackley) as an obnoxious public schoolboy already learning the tricks of the trade through to footage of Third World sweatshops and MacCreadie’s bullying bargaining, the film’s all over the place while the end captions throw up a series of statistics about fashion brands’ exploitation, the shameful face of capitalism, refugees and more, underscoring how the film often take on more than it can sustainably handle in making its social commentary.
But, for all, that, the righteous indignation messages hit home and, even though much of the dialogue sounds as if it was all written with The Thick Of It as the template, it barrels along with unstoppable energy as it skewers the excess it depicts and, while parts may fall slightly flat, the laughs rarely stop and, in that respect at least, Greed is indeed very good. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
Just Mercy (12A)
Another drama based on real life events, director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a film that may well be formulaic biopic in its story of the pursuit of justice in the face of prejudice, but is also stirringly inspirational.
In 1985, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a recently Harvard graduated black lawyer, moved to Alabama to head up the regional office of the Southern Center for Human Rights where, working alongside paralegal Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), he founded the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative which guaranteed defence of anyone in Alabama sentenced to the death penalty, the only state that did not provide legal assistance to death row inmates and also having the highest per capita rate of death penalty sentencing.
Ironically unfolding in Monroeville, the home of Harper Lee, whose To Kill A Mockingbird, was a legal drama about race and justice in the Jim Crow South (Stevenson being often advised to visit the museum), one of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), known as Johnny D, the owner of his own logging company with no prior records who, in 1987 was arrested by newly elected sheriff Tom Tate for the murder of Ronda Harrison, a teenage dry cleaning assistant, and, despite having been at a fish fry at the time of the incident and with no physical evidence was convicted on the word of two compromised witnesses and sentenced to death. He was even placed on Death Row before his trial to get a ‘taste’.
While the film tells a parallel story of Stevenson’s unsuccessful attempt to gain a reprieve for Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan, superb), an army veteran who was electrocuted for unintentionally killing a young girl with a nail bomb while suffering from PTSD, it’s Willie’s case that is the central focus as Stevenson battles the inflexible new DA, Tommy Champan (Rafe Spall) who refused to grand a new trial, arguing Macmillian’s guilt despite a confession from the only witness, convicted criminal Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), who was moved off Death Row after he testified, that he had, under pressure from the police, invented his entire story.
Based on Stevenson’s best-selling account of the case, it burns with righteous anger as the extent of the perversion of justice in exposed while Stevenson himself is subjected to harassment by the police bomb threats and even a strip search when he first visits prison to meet his clients. While there are, inevitably, rousing big speeches, much is also conveyed through simple looks, Foxx and Jordan both giving their strongest performances in a while as despair slowly finds a glimmer of hope, only to be rocked by an unbelievable court ruling, while Larson makes the most of an underwritten role. Alongside Nelson weaselling felon and Spall’s morally conflicted DA, there solid support turns too from O’Shea Jackson and Rob Morgan as Willie’s fellow inmates. It’s not a subtle film and some of the dialogue could have been written with a chisel, but as social justice crowdpleaser it’s a soaring triumph. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Sat-Wed: MAC)
The Lighthouse (15)
Shot in stark black and white, strikingly captured by Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography, writer-director Robin Eggars’ follow-up to his period horror The Witch is an altogether far more existential and expressionist affair, a two hander starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson set in a 19th-century Maine lighthouse that has been not unreasonably described as Beckett’s Waiting For Godot with a lot more swearing and some added mermaid sex.
Dafoe is Tom Wake, the grizzled, limping old seadog veteran ‘wickie’ of the lighthouse, the flexibly-accented Pattison the less-bearded rookie Ephraim Winslow who, new to the job after lumberjacking in Canada, is replacing the former assistant who reportedly went mad and died. If he did, it’s understandable given that Wake has a hair-trigger personality that switches from jocularity to despotic in an instant, not something that bodes well for the month the men have to spend together. He also claims access to the light itself as his personal province, refusing Winslow to venture any higher than the mechanisms he has to keep clean and oiled. When not doing that his menial duties entail carrying up the coal, collecting firewood, emptying the chamberpots, and whitewashing the tower.
Variously drawing on influences such as Coleridge, Herman Melville, German expressionist cinema, Shakespeare and the writings of writings New England poet Sarah Orne Jewett, it’s a challenging but compelling affair as the two men circle each other in a toxic and homo-erotic dance of masculinity and power, drunk on kerosene when the booze runs out, the gloweringly resentful Winslow having harrowing nightmares, furiously masturbating in the engine room to an ivory mermaid figure, and hallucinating sex with an actual mermaid and hauling up lobster pots containing drowned heads. Overwhelmed with rage, Winslow’s smashes hell out of an unfortunate seagull, which as anyone who knows their sea lore will anticipate, means he unleashes damnation itself.
Highly theatrical, oppressively claustrophobic (it’s show in the square-like 1.19:1 aspect ratio) and psychologically terrifying, it’s decidedly more art house territory than Eggars’ previous film but the experience is well worth the challenges it presents. (Electric; Mon: Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza)
Like A Boss (12A)
BFFs for years, brash Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and meek Mel (Rose Byrne) set up a beauty company named after themselves, scoring a success with their One Night Stand cosmetics package and setting up a store with product manufacturer Barrett (Billy Porter) and manager Sydney (Jennifer Coolidge doing her usual character). However, the company is in huge debt and Mel hasn’t had the courage to tell Mia, so, when cosmetics magnate Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) turns up offering to invest $1million and expand their line, Mel convinces her partner, who’s concerned about losing independence, that this can only be a good thing.
Inevitably, no sooner is the deal done than things begin to sour, firstly in Luna telling them they have to fire Barrett and then manipulating them into a position where they fail and she end up controlling their company, not to mention ripping off their idea for one of her own products through another small company. Naturally there’s a falling out between the two friends before everyone pulls together to get their own back.
Ostensibly presenting itself as a female empowerment comedy, it’s a totally slapdash affair in which Mel and Mia seem to possess not an ounce of business acumen while playing it loud, broad and cartoon Haylack trades her dignity for a paycheck to the extent of making a joke about her boobs being humungous and the film resorts to contrived vulgarity such as a vagina-shaped cake and trash-mouthed dialogue, though it appears the (male) writers think only black women talk that way as Byrne’s lines almost never involve expletives or sexual references.
Charaterisation is almost non-existent, the comedy even less so (apparently having people mispronounce words is supposed to be hilarious) and nothing here feels remotely genuine. Or coherent. There’s a surprise cameo at the end when Luna’s former business partner puts in appearance, but the writers seemingly forgot to give her the script and the whole thing just falls flat. Like a boss. Not a lot. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Little Women (U)
Louis May Allcott’s evergreen 19th century novel gets another rework as a coming of age dramady at the hands of Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig. Set during and after the American Civil War, it tells of the four March sisters, the eldest, family beauty Meg (Emma Watson), independent-minded aspiring writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), petulant Amy (Florence Pugh) and piano-playing Beth (Eliza Scanlen), as they search to find their identities. Here, Jo is already tutoring in New York and working on becoming an author, hot-headed Amy is in Paris studying painting and acting as companion to her cantankerous, imperious spinster aunt (Meryl Streep) who’s attempting to steer her into the marriage market, Meg has given up acting ambitions and is married to impoverished schoolteacher John Brooke (James Norton) with two kids, and Beth, the youngest, well, she’s the sickly tragic one. Laura Dern is quietly excellent as their mother, Marmie, trying to cope in reduced circumstances with her abolitionist husband (Bob Odenkirk) away at war serving as a chaplain, and Timothee Chalamet (who starred with Ronan in Lady Bird) is puckish, childhood friend Laurie who, living a dissolute life having fled to Europe heartbroken when Jo rejected his proposal, may well still be a flame in Amy’s heart, except, of course, she’s resentful of being second best to Jo. Meanwhile, Friedrich Bhaer, the German academic and Jo’s fatherly mentor in has been reinvented as a considerably younger French language professor romantic interest (Louis Garrel), although his forthright opinions on her work don’t get things off to a promising start, while Chris Cooper is perfectly cast as the family neighbour, Laurie’s grandfather, who takes a fatherly interest in Beth.
Its feminist note is struck early one as Jo negotiates the anonymous publication of one of her – or rather’ ‘a friend’s’ stories with Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), editor of the Weekly Volcano, who advises that, if she has a heroine then she has to be married at the end, or dead, opting to retain her own copyright and haggling over the fee. The film’s title, of course, refers to the quasi autobiographical novel about her and her family’s life, one of sibling rivalry (including a particularly vindictive act by Amy) and romantic and health crises, and the scene of Jo watching it being assembled and printed is a wonderful reminder of an almost lost art.
It’s all a bit overly busy early on and the constant switching between past and present can prove confusing, but it eventually settles down, it looks terrific, the performances are uniformly excellent, with Ronan and Pugh especially brilliant, and staying true to the book’s knowing compromise of a happy ending while simultaneously celebrating female empowerment this is destined to become a modern classic. (Showcase Walsall)
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (15)
As the title card announces, Terry Gilliam’s vanity project has been 25 years in the making, beset by all manner of financial, legal and technical troubles and having the two actors (Jean Rochefort and John Hurt) cast in the central role dying on him. Hardly surprisingly then that the finally completed project is an ungainly mess, at times dazzlingly inventive, at others incoherent and laboured.
The basic narrative framework is that controlling, self-absorbed director Toby (Adam Driver) is in Spain making an insurance commercial based around Cervantes’ classic tale of the deluded old windmill tilting knight from La Mancha. An inveterate womaniser, he’s also screwing the predatory trophy wife (Olga Kurylenko) of his studio boss (Stellan Skårsgard) but, while they’re fooling around, he’s distracted by watching pirated CD acquired from a local hawker which turns out to be his own graduate film of the title which, shot nearby, was also a Cervantes adaptation.
At which point the film takes off on one of its many flashback diversions as we see him trying to encourage the old man to get into the part, something which, we later learn as, back in the present, he seeks him out again and find him being exploited as a sideshow attraction, persuaded that he really is the knight and that Toby is his former faithful companion Sancho Panza come to rescue him.
Interwoven into all this is a romantic subplot involving Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), the landlord’s daughter he seduced back when and which he hopes to rekindle, an incident in which Javier slays a couple of cops, the staging of a costume ball at an ancient castle to impress a potential Russian financier (Jordi Mollà) at which ‘Don Quixote’, astride a giant prop horse, is cruelly the main entertainment and a community of illegal Moroccan immigrants who didn’t expect to get raided by, yes, the Spanish Inquisition, all climaxing in a gladiatorial battle and fiery eruptions before a ride off into the sunset. A cinematic equivalent of a car crash from which you can’t avert your eyes, it’s shambolic, chaotic, absurd, breathtaking, inspired, thrilling, boring and lunatic in equal measure, something perhaps only Gilliam could ever have made. Now that he finally has, curiosity alone should make it worth the experience. (Until Wed: MAC)
BAFTA winner for Best Foreign Language and Screenplay and now the first non-English language film to win a Best Picture Oscar as well as scooping Best Director, Foreign Language and Screenplay awards, this is a tour de force social satire by South Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho and his outstanding cast. Evocative of the Japanese family in Shoplifters, this focuses on a morally and financially bankrupt but resourceful Seoul family who live in a squalid semi-basement apartment where the toilet, the only place they can get wi-fi, leached from the neighbours, sits atop of shelf and drunks piss up against their only window. There’s Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), his dissolute father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), tetchy mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) and smart sister, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), all of whom earn a pittance folding pizza delivery boxes.
However, their prospects look up when Ki-woo’s university friend says he’s going abroad and, since he trusts him not to ruin his romantic intentions (a trust very quickly betrayed), suggests he takes over as tutor to his naïve but horny student Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the daughter of wealthy executive, Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun), and his attractive but ‘scatterbrained wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong). With a university diploma forged by his sister (justifying it as receiving the paperwork in advance of actually studying) and a backstory, he quickly suckers his way into the household, impressing the wife with his ‘analysis’ of her traumatised hyper-active, “Indians”-obsessed young son Da-song’s (Jung Hyeon-jun) drawings. Indeed, he also suggests he knows an art teacher who could act as his the kid’s art therapist, his sister, naturally. Before long, taking advantages of the Parks’ social prejudices (the father bangs on about the servants not crossing the line), the family have managed to engineer the dismissal of both their driver and the long-serving loyal live in housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) with an unusual and exploitable allergy, substituting the father and mother in their respective positions, the Parks blissfully unaware that they’re all related.
Despite having to navigate a few issues, notably the young son wondering why the new employees all smell the same (from using the same soap), it’s all going swimmingly, the whole family making themselves at home as cuckoos in the nest in the palatial glass and rock mansion with its food and drink, even contemplating Kim-woo becoming the son-in-law, while the Parks are off on a camping trip, when a ring at the door, the reappearance of the housekeeper and the revelation of a secret basement and the secret within it suddenly and brilliantly switches the film’s tone from farcical levity (hiding under tables while the Parks screw on the couch) to pitch blackness and unbearable suspense, culminating in an unexpected climax of carnage. And then there’s the torrential rain serving as both a foreboding of disaster and, in a stunning overhead shot of the flooded streets by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, the physical manifestation of such.
In both script and design, the satire on the gulf in class divisions and the social system is clear, but there’s much more lurking under the film’s surface as Bong questions his audience as to who is the more deserving of sympathy, the Parks are snobs but not especially horrible, and whether the means justify the ends or if the ends are a punishment of the means. Quite gobsmackingly awesome. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Queen & Slim (15)
Driving back from a mismatched Tinder date that hasn’t gone as well as it might, though they’re never referred to as such throughout, Slim, god-fearing, teetotal blue collar employee Ernest (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (a starmaking turn by Jodie Turner-Smith), Angela, an upscale atheist defence lawyer with commitment issues, are pulled over by a clearly racist trigger-happy Ohio cop (Sturgill Simpson), resulting in Queen being wounded and Slim accidentally shooting the officer dead. With apparently no witnesses, realising two blacks involved in a cop killing aren’t going to get justice, she insists they drive off, refusing to let him call anyone or take her to hospital. But when a dashcam video of the incident goes viral they’re forced on the run, heading to Kentucky and from there to Florida, and are quickly dubbed the black Bonnie and Clyde, although Thelma and Louise would be a better analogy (substituting sexism for bigotry), forced the change their appearance (she ruefully shaving off her braids) and becoming folk heroes among the black community who variously conceal them and enable their journey. Among these are her Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), a New Orleans pimp who lords it over a harem of scantily-clad but sexually powerful women, a mechanic (Gralen Bryant Banks), his young son Junior (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) who seeks to emulate his outlaw heroes with tragic results, and a liberal white couple (Flea and Chloë Sevigny).
Barely friend at the start, the couple’s relationship develops into something more over the course of their odyssey as they live life to the fullest, video director Malina Matsoukas making her feature debut variously offering comedy (a white store clerk in awe of the Glock Slim’s carrying), tenderness in a juke joint drink and a dance, hope, crushing betrayal and, because the film really has nowhere else to go, the inevitable jarring but inspirational martyrdom ending. Vividly photographed by Tat Radcliffe and with a script by Lena Waithe, the couple’s story serves as emblematic of the Black experience in white America, the latter’s oppression and the former’s sense of community and pride.
Stretched over an episodic 132 minutes, it’s structurally far from perfect, with long aerial montages of cars on roads, little character development, overegged symbolism, a sketchy supporting cast and perhaps too few moments when the emotion truly hits home despite the leads’ powerful chemistry, but the cumulative effect is transfixing. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)
Surprisingly not the disaster that was anticipated, especially given it had to go back to the drawing board and redesign the look of its titular Sega character after fans were up in arms, this is the latest video game to become a live action feature film, and, mercifully, much better than the abject failure that was Super Mario Bros.
After a cursory back story explaining who this furry blue alien speedball is and why he’s on earth, director Jeff Fowler gets on with the film’s two narratives, the mismatched buddy one as the lonely Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwarz) accidentally causes a major power outage across the entire Pacific Northwest that sees him teaming up with Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff in small town of Green Hills who wants to move to San Francisco so he can get to save somebody’s life and who, dubbed the Do-Nut Lord, Sonic has been secretly stalking (along with Tom’s veterinarian wife, an underused Tika Sumpter) in order to feel part of a surrogate family. The second is, of course, the pursuit of the hero by the crazy megalomaniac bad guy, here in the form of cyber-genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey in, for once, enjoyably vintage over the top form with black coat and waxed panto villain moustache) and his drones, sent in by the military to capture the alien source.
All of which, after Tom pops Sonic with a tranquilizer dart that causes his bag of transporter rings to fall though a portal, means they have to head for San Francisco and recover them, Robotnik on their tail, bonding while checking off Sonic’s bucket list, which includes starting a bar fight with a bunch of bikers.
Lighthearted and hugely enjoyable, it romps along with some pretty decent visual effects and a constant stream of rapid fire quips from Sonic along with amusing in-jokes like him watching Speed on TV and reading Flash comics, as well as a message about the need for human contact. With a coda that promises a sequel that seems likely (and welcomingly) to happen, this may not be supersonic but it’s infinitely more fun than anyone could possibly have imagined. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The third feature from writer-director Trey Edward Shults is a tender, bruising and exuberant film that further explores family dynamics with a mixed cast of unknowns and familiar faces such as Sterling K. Brown and Lucas Hedges. A film of two halves and two teenage love stories, it’s connected by the separate twin protagonists’ sibling relationship, cocksure high school athlete Kelvin Harrison Jr and introspective younger sister Taylor Russell.
The first part concerns Tyler, girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) and his relationship with his tough love, humourless construction business owner father (Brown) who is also his wrestling trainer. A star athlete but reckless, it’s clear he’s heading for a fall and when an injury derails his future, he’s sent spiralling into addiction and alienation that will have tragic repercussions.
The second more upbeat part focuses on Emily, a bit player in her brother’s story but the star of her own as she strikes up a romance with equally awkward fellow student Luke (Hedges), as the film takes on a calmer pace in search of the healing needed to put a brokem family back together and bring redemption. (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 – 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