MOVIE ROUND-UP:From Fri Oct 13

This column will review films both screening theatrically and/or on various streaming platforms.



Sumotherhood (15)

Having starred in Noel Clarke’s inner-city teen crime dramas Kidulthood and Adulthood, Adam Deacon proceeded to send up the genre with his 2011 directorial debut Anovahood. Subsequently, things derailed on account of his mental health and addition problems, but he’s finally back in the saddle returning with another parody in which he’s again both star, co-writer and director. Again set in East London, he plays Riko while the relentlessly energetic Jazzie Zonzolo is his bunk-bed bestie Kane, wannabe roadmen (a sort of weed smoking bruv version of a chav), looking to make a name for themselves by mugging, selling weapons and robbing banks, At all of which they prove spectacularly inept. An attempt to mug rapper Lethal Bizzle (playing himself) in a nightclub toilet ends with them being humiliatingly filmed dancing in their underwear. Things go particularly wrong when they attempt to hold up a bank, to get money to repay the sociopathic Mr Patel, ending up with them giving away their names and faces and Riko accidentally killing, so he thinks, a neighbourhood gangsta, resulting in his lisping maddog brother Tyrese (a maniacally scenery chewing Richie Campbell, one of several returning Anovahood cast members) setting out for revenge. He also happens to be the stepbrother of Tamara (Leomie Anderson), who may just be the love of Riko’s life. On the plus side, news of the apparent killing gets them a reputation and enlisted by  notorious gang leader Shotti (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) with Arnold Jorge  as their self-appointed sidekick Dwayne. All of which gathers to a head when the ‘dead’ man proves to be alive and born again and Tyrese, his thugs, the other gangstas  and a deranged Black cop (Vas Blackwood) wind up in a shoot-out at a drug deal involving a pair of Poles.

Frequently wildly slapstick funny, even if the shouted, street slang is often unintelligible,   even so the tone is all over the place, going for laughs with them recruiting a bunch of schoolkids as CBBC mandem or masked vigilante Murkle Man and but also  having someone thrown to their death from a high rise balcony. And let’s try and forget Ed Sheeran taking a comic relief dump as unwashed addict Crack Ed. He’s not the only gratuitous cameo, others lining up as Peter Serafinowicz as an Eastern European crime kingpin, Megaman as a henchman, London Hughes as an unflappable  bank clerk, Linda Robson’s customer telling them to get a move on along with blink and you miss them appearances from Jamie Winstone, Denise Van Outen, and Tamzin Outhwaite.

Throughout all this, Deacon also weaves in repeated messages about mental health (Riko is bipolar as is Deacon), the disenfranchisement of urban youth with crime their only option (cue a social issues walk on line from Jeremy Corbyn) and institutional police racism (spelled out in yet another cameo by Jennifer Saunders as a tough cookie cop weeding – or rather tasering – out the bad apples). At times feeling like scattershot gags in search of a plot and focus, even so it’s hugely entertaining. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue)

The Miracle Club (12A)

Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, best known for December Bride and TV’s Silent Witness, this is an old-fashioned Sunday afternoon dramedy set (with some well-crafted period detail) in 1967 Ireland in the fictional working class village of Ballygar, a sort of Irish answer to Coronation Street, as well as Lourdes, shrine to the Virgin Mary who reportedly appeared there in 1858, to which the principal characters take a trip in search of their own miracles.

So, that’ll be Lily (Maggie Smith,  not Irish but sounding it) who has uneven legs, her best friend Eileen (Kathy Bates, also not Irish as the wandering accent shows), a mother with a tribe of kids,  who has found a lump in her breast, her best friend and the younger Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), who wants the Virgin to work her magic on her young son Daniel (Eric Smith) who can’t or won’t talk. To which end, calling themselves The Miracles,  they take part in the church talent show singing He’s So Fine to win two tickets for the trip. They come second with a bacon joint, but the winner, a young kid, donates his prize so Danny can be cured.

The jaunt chaperoned by Father Dermot (Mark O’Halloran), they’re joined by Chrissie (Laura Linney, again not Irish), who, sporting a colourful wardrobe, has returned from American (explaining the accent) after 40 years for the funeral of her estranged mother, who organised the contest (and had her own ticket). It’s a chilly homecoming with a frosty reception from Eileen (who seems far too old to have been her best friend) and Lily, all of which has to do a pregnancy, the drowning  of the Lily’s teenage son Declan and an abortion, Chrissie pointing out that she didn’t leave, she was banished. And so, the four duly set off for the shrine in search of personal, physical, and spiritual miracles as grudges, secrets and guilt all come to some sort of predictable and broadly sketched resolution.

There’s some comic business with the menfolk left back home  (Stephen Rea, Niall Buggy, Mark McKenna) having to cope with cooking and changing nappies, but the focus is firmly on the gradual reconciliation between the three women with its healing and catharsis, and the miracles they need if not the miracles they seek (as Father Dermot says “You don’t come to Lourdes for a miracle. You come for the strength to go on when there is no miracle”) providing the emotional charge (Smith, as superlative as ever with just a withering line or a heart-breaking look in the eye).

It’s a tad slow and meandering in places, but the performances are lovely, the miracles are quiet and, given the target audience, its heart’s in the right place and beating strongly. (Cineworld  Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Reel)


Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (12A)

Published in 1970, Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel about an 11-year-old girl raised without any religious affiliation by her Jewish father and Christian mother having to deal with moving home and school, and early adolescent anxieties about menstruation, boys and bras, became an instant – thought not uncontroversial – classic among both young and older readers for the way it dealt frankly with the issues.  For49 years, Blume rejected offers to adapt it for the screen, but now, produced by James L Brooks and written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, the team behind The Edge Of Seventeen, it finally arrives and proves well worth the wait.

Abby Ryder Fortson, who played Cassie Lang in the first two Ant-Man films, is Margaret Simon, the daughter of Herb (a gently charming Benny Safdie) and aspiring artist Barbara (Rachel McAdams) who, on returning from summer camp, learns that her father’s promotion means they moving from their New York apartment to the New Jersey suburbs, something she resents, partly because she loves the city and is anxious about making new friends, but mostly because it means leaving behind her fun but at times overbearing paternal grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates) with whom she shares a close bond.

However, no sooner have they arrived than Margaret is swept up by her queen bee neighbour Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham) and recruited to join her class clique alongside Gretchen Potter (Katherine Kupferer) and Janie Loomis (Amari Alexis Price), all of whom have the pubescent hots for floppy-haired school romeo and budding jerk Philip Leroy (Zack Brooks), though Margaret is more taken with the shy Moose (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong). Hanging out with Nancy comes with its rules and demands, among them having to not wear socks (cue blisters), having to wear a bra (cue humiliating shopping trip for grow with you one) and competing to see who is the first to have a period, the latter leading to an embarrassing shopping trip to buy sanitary towels and Margaret practising wearing them.  Added to her problems is a year-long assignment given by their new teacher Mr Benedict (Echo Kellum), who, learning she dislikes religious holidays, which her parents don’t observe, wants her to research and write about religion.  In the course of things she learns that the reason she’s never met her other grandparents, Paul and Mary, is because , devout Christians, they disowned Barbara for marrying  Jew, which is why they made the decision to not pressure Margaret into being one or the other until she was ready to choose for herself. Sylvia, on the other hand, seizes on Margaret’s assignment as an excuse to take her to temple, inevitably setting in motion friction with her son and daughter-in-law and, when Barbara’s parents do finally turn up for reconciliation, a heated confrontation over dinner as to what Margaret should be. She, meanwhile, is busy checking out other faith aspects, among them a fraught visit to a Catholic confessional. All this alongside getting her first kiss from Peter at a spin the bottle party, the girls trying to expands their busts and her regular calls on God to fix things for her, not least in getting that all important period. And questioning his existence when nothing happens.

Alongside its adolescent angsts and issues of bigotry and religion, the film broadens its scope to address the sacrifices, frustrations and humiliations that come with it being a woman and a theme of finding out who you are and where you fit in. It’s one that extends beyond Margaret and her three friends to also embrace wallflower classmate Laura Danker (Isol Young), who, lanky and more physically developed, is ostracised as a slut for supposedly letting boys ‘feel her up’, Barbara, struggling to adapt to the role of suburban mum and master the basics of cooking, volunteering for every PTA committee going, as well as Mr Benedict in his first teaching job. That and the bittersweet observation of seeing your child grow up before your eyes.

All of which is beautifully handled by Craig’s screenplay and her cast. Eyes full of wonder and wariness, her shoulders speaking a body language of their own, Fortson is an absolute joy, witty without being snarky, insecure yet self-willed, as she navigates the messy waters of puberty while, the character considerably expanded from the book, at her most fluidly natural McAdams is remarkable, and you can’t help for feel for her when her artistic talents are reduced to cutting out fabric stars for the school hall (for Nancy’s equally queen bee mum). And, while she might not be a wholly convincing Jewish mother, Bates brings her own effervescence to Sylvia.

Funny and poignant in equal measure (a brief scene involving removing the middle section of a dinner table speaks emotional volumes), it may leave teenage boys cold, but for their counterparts and their mothers this is an absolute must.  (Amazon Prime, Apple TV, BFI Player, BT TV Store, Chili, Google Play, Microsoft Movies, Rakuten TV, Sky Store, Virgin Store)

Asteroid City (12A)

Shot in widescreen washed out pastel colours, drenched in retro nostalgia, deadpan dialogue, and heavily stylised with a self-aware sense of artifice, set in a  red-rock Southwest American desert town in 1955, this is quintessential Wes Anderson. With its single phone booth, one pump gas station and 50s diner and motel, Asteroid City (pop 87)  is also the site of a giant meteorite crater tourist attraction, intermittent atom bomb tests and the annual Junior Stargazers convention where teenage science geeks gather for their awards.

When his car breaks down, war photographer Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman on peak form) is stranded in town with his four kids, Stargazer Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and his three eccentric  young sisters, Andromeda, Pandora and Cassiopeia (Ella, Gracie, Willan Faris), who he’s yet to tell their mother died three weeks earlier and he has her ashes in a Tupperware tub, prompting the arrival of his wealthy father-in-law  Stanley (Tom Hanks) to collect them.

Also gathered are world  weary TV star Midge Campbell (Scarlet Johannsen, terrific), J.J. Kellogg (Live Schreiber), Sandy Borden (Hope Davis) and Roger Cho (Stephen Park) whose respective kids,  botany wiz Dinah  (Grace Edwards), rebellious Clifford (Aristou Meehan), sceptical Shelly (Sophia Lillis) and anti-authority Ricky (Ethan Josh Lee), are all award winners. There’s also Montana (Rupert Friend), stranded there with his fellow cowboys when the bus left and who’s attracted to June (Maya Hawke), a science teacher with her church group pupils, local scientist Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton) who sponsors the awards, and General Gibson (Jeffrey Wright) who’s due to present them.

However, the ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of an alien who steals a meteorite fragment and flies off, prompting a quarantine of everyone there and a rebellion by the Stargazers to make contact, Augie’s photo being leaked to the media. Meanwhile, various romances bubble up.

Except, as seen from the start and in subsequent black and white sequences, what we’re actually watching is a television behind-the-scenes and recreation of the first staging of a play called Asteroid City by esteemed New York playwright Conrad Earp (Ed Norton), who’s in a relationship with one of the cast, presented by The Host (Bryan Cranston) as directed by the womanising Schubert Green (Adrian Brody) with all the characters being the actors who, under their real names, auditioned for and appeared in the stage production (save for Margot Robbie whose role – her lines movingly re-enacted with Augie/Jones – as the mother was cut).

Constructed as a series of tableaux, meditations on bottled up grief interweave with themes of storytelling and being aliens in our own skins and,  of course, the meaning of life (or understanding the play) And while emotion is deliberately kept at arms-length, there’s still a certain poignancy as the stories unfold. There’s also a swathe of good gags, both visual  (a recurring cops vs crooks car chase) and  verbal, among them a vending machine that sells plots of land out in the desert. Adding to the star-studded cast there’s Steve Carrell as the motel manager (inexplicably toting a pistol), Matt Dillon as the mechanic and Jeff Goldblum who has one line in the black and white sequences as the actor playing the alien. All that and a great memory party game.  At the end of the day, the dazzling style may triumph over the obtuse substance, but even so it’s an intoxicating experience. Glad to meteor indeed. (Peacock/Sky)

Avatar: The Way Of Water (12A)

Thirteen years in the waiting,  James Cameron finally returns to Pandora for the first of three  sequels that looks visually spectacular with its breathtaking effects and motion capture but doesn’t narratively justify its three hours plus running time. Picking up the story some ten years on, former human marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who went native with sparkly blue body and pointy ears to join the Na’vi,  and his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) now have two sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and the younger Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), young daughter Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) and the adopted Kiri (a de-aged digitised Sigourney Weaver), the  daughter of the avatar of the late Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver) who can apparently communicate with the assorted flora and fauna. The extended family also include the dreadlocked semi-feral Spider (Jack Champion), a human kid who had to be left behind when the other Sky People colonisers were sent packing. He’s the son of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the ruthless marine Jake killed at the end of the first film. However, his consciousness has been resurrected in  an avatar body, and he and his equally avatared men have been despatched back to Pandora, ordered by the operations commander (Edie Falco in exo skeleton) to retake the planet and kill Sully, which of course has very personal revenge motive for him too.

Having rescued the kids (though not Spider) when they’re taken prisoner (something that happens to them on a highly repetitive basis), Sully determines that the only way to keep both his family and the Na’vi safe is for them to leave their home and seek shelter among one of the planet’s other ecologically-conscious tribes, the Metkayina, a more aquamarine-coloured Maori-like people who live in harmony with the water and its creatures as opposed to the jungle.Taken in by their  chief,  Tonowari (Cliff Curtis, and, more reluctantly, his pregnant wife Ronal (Kate Winslet), they set about starting a new life, learning the new culture and its idiosyncracies, their kids inevitably seen as ‘freaks’ by their opposites before all becoming friends. Life’s all nice and cosy, until, that is, an accident to Kiri (she overloads on a psychic connection to her mother) and her subsequent treatment signals their rough location and it’s not long before Quaritch turns up on the doorstep, guns blazing.

The action sequences are dynamite, especially the extended climax aboard Quaritch’s ship where Neytiri gets to let rip her ferocious bow and arrow warrior, but the lengthy dreamy second act is a bit like The Blue Planet in space involving Sully and family  learning to live with the water, master riding water creatures, Lo’ak bonding with a giant whale-like creature who’s a misunderstood outcast from his fellow Tulkans, Kiri gazing in wide-eyed wonder at the ocean’s creatures and tapping into their essences in between an incipient teen romance and some brotherly rivalry for dad’s approval.

Themes of family are writ large and, amid the expected eco messages, there’s also one about whaling with Brendan Cowell as a swaggering Australian who, along with his  conflicted marine biologist (Jemaine Clement), and hi-tech gear (impressive crab-suits), is hunting the Tulkan to extract some goo that prevents ageing.

Technically it’s mind-boggling (even more so in 3D), the underwater sequences especially, but, adopting a videogame like structure,  there’s far too few occasions (one being a death) where it connects emotionally,  dazzling the eyes but not the heart.“The Way of Water has no beginning and no end” explains one of the characters; it’s undeniably thrilling but there are times when you may feel the same way. (Disney+; Microsoft Store)

Barbie (12A)

Directed by Greta Gerwig and co-written with her partner Noah Baumbach, this is almost too wonderful for words, already a strong contender for, among others, next year’s Best Screenplay. Opening with Helen Mirren narrating a send of up 2001 A Space Odyssey’s monolith scene as little girls smash their dolly babies upon seeing the adult Barbie, an inspired supersaturated colour, postmodern meta cocktail of subversive satire, razor-sharp whimsy, feminism and  musical numbers, it sets up the idea that there exists Barbieland, populated with an array of different versions of the iconic toy doll and  their opposite number, Ken (including Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Scott Evans and Ncuti Gatwa), each Barbie linked to a child’s doll in the Real World. where, as far as they believe, women  are in charge and, like the dolls, little girls can be anything they want. Even President.

In Barbieland every day  is a good day, especially for Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) who wakes each morning in her pink dream house, greets her fellow  Barbies (among them Issa Rae, Dua Lipa, Hari Nef, Alexandra Shipp, Nicola Coughlan and Emma Mackey), , hangs out with wannabe boyfriend Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling), whose only function is to stand around and look good,  and generally radiates perfection. Until that is, mid a choreography party, she brings things to a screeching halt when she wonders aloud  about dying. The next day, she falls rather than floats to the floor, has bad breath and, catastrophically, finding herself walking flatfooted and not on tip toe. Clearly, something’s amiss. A visit to Weird Barbie Kate McKinnon), mutilated and drawn on by her real world child),ends up with her being told she must go to the Real World, connect with the child who owns her doll, and put things right, especially the cellulite on her thigh. With Ken stowing away in the back of her, naturally, pink car they travel by boat, bicycle, and rocket until they rollerskate into the human world where, she quickly discovers it’s men who hold all the power. She’s horrified, Ken (who has already shown signs of discontentment of being just an accessory, jealous of the attention she gives another Ken  and being rebuffed in suggesting sex – if he knew what that was; as Barbie points out she has no vagina and he no penis), rather less so.  He rather likes the idea of men lording it over women and, pumped up with ideas about big trucks and stallions, decides to return home and establish his own fascist patriarchy in Barbieland. Meanwhile Barbie heads to the HQ of Mattel, the Barbie toy company, to try to sort things out and is taken aback to find there’s no women executives. And when  the CEO (Will Farrell) tries to  persuade her to get back in the box, with a little help from an elderly lady (Rhea Perlman in a touching last act insider reference to Barbie’s origins) in a hidden office, she takes off and is rescued by Gloria (America Ferrara), a Mattel employee who, it turns out is the owner of Barbie’s toy counterpart, rather than her spikey and sullen teenage daughter (Ariana Greenblatt).

However, when they get to Barbieland, everything has changed. The Kens, led by Beach Ken, have taken over and the girls are now all Stepford Barbies, there only to serve their every whim. Can Barbie, with the help of Gloria, Sasha, Weird Barbie and Alan (Michael Cera, launched in 1964 as Ken’s buddy, and  put everything back in the pink!

Overflowing with clever jokes along with themes of female empowerment, sexism, gender equality, toxic masculinity and aggression, the impossibility of perfection, conforming to expectations, the complexity of being a woman, who men want to be both whore and mother, being defined by your looks and finding value in who you are, it bursts with energy. It also takes digs at Mattel’s less successful lines, like Pregnant Barbie, the gender demeaning Teen Talk Barbie and Growing Up Skipper with her inflatable boobs. But it wouldn’t be half as good without the irresistible radiant star power of Robbie and Gosling (who again gets to show off his dance moves) who bring their plastic incarnations to vivid and very human life. There cameos from John Cena and Rob Brydon, a reference to Zach Snyder’s Justice League, a clip from The Godfather, and a sound track that includes new numbers by Billie Eilish and Lizzo, Ken’s’ I’m Just Ken showcase and a nice  use of The Indigo Girls’  Closer To Fine as sung by Brandi and Catherine Carlile.  This is the definitive toy story. (Amazon Prime, Sky Movies; Vue)

BlackBerry (15)

Following on from films about Facebook, Tetris, Nike shoes, GameStop,  McDonalds and Beanie Babies, inspired by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s book, Losing the Signal, director Matt Johnson, who also co-wrote the screenplay with  Matthew Miller and is one of the film’s stars,  brings to the screen a partly fictionalised satirical account of the rise and fall of the BlackBerry, the mid-90s handheld precursor of the iPhone. The brainchild of meek Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and slobby headband-wearing Douglas Fregin (Johnson), a pair of computer geeks who ran Canadian company Research in Motion, it was a pioneering smartphone with a thumb operated QWERTY keyboard with its click sound buttons. However, while they had the tech knowledge, they had no conception of marketing.

Enter Jim Ballsillie (Glenn Howerton), a driven executive and hockey buff who, sensing the pair are on to something, jumps ship from his current job (it turns out later he was fired) and agrees to come on board in return for a 50% cut and being named CEO. Much to Fregins’s horror, the more pliable Lazardi, impressed by his ruthless energy and intimidating charisma and discovering  their deal with US Robotics was designed to bankrupt them, agrees to co-CEO and a third share of RIM. Fast forwarding to 2003, with Ballsillie a balding shark in a suit who never seems to rest, he’s soon bombarding potential investors with talk of making millions, while pressuring his partners into rapidly coming up with a workable demo (cobbled together from pocket calculators and Speak & Spell toys of what’s initially called PocketLink) while they try and figure out how to get vast numbers of phones to use the free cellular network without crashing the system. Paying ridiculous fees to hire on poached engineers and sending the sales force out to sell, sell, sell, it’s not long before it becomes a feeding frenzy with the phone so addictive it gets dubbed CrackBerry.  However,  created in response to Apple’s iPhone, the 2007 touchscreen Storm version, outsourced to China, proved to be virtually inoperable (amusingly Howerson’s seen manually trying to stop them all from buzzing). Then along comes  an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into RIM’s dodgy hires using backdated stock options.

It races through the company’s whirlwind rise, making effective use of montages and amusing scenarios, Jim pushing Mike into an act of betrayal and his own obsessed attempts to buy his own hockey team, the  Pittsburgh Penguins, with the downfall the result of a mix of hubris, greed, overreaching ambition and sheer stupidity. Its hand-held approach, smart dialogue (inspired by Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet and actually referencing Glengarry Glen Ross), true life absurdity, sterling support from the likes of Michael Ironside as RIM’s scary operations enforcer Charles Purdy who stamps all over its hitherto hippie, slacker nature,  Saul Rubinek’s Verizon exec, Cary Elwes as Palm CEO Carl Yankowski threatening hostile takeover, and the electrifying performance from  Howerson, fixated with trying to stop the phones buzzing, it glues you to the screen like smartphone version of Succession. A morality tale about the fear of becoming irrelevant, in 2011, there were 85 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide with 45% of the market share. Today it’s 0% and they’re no longer manufactured.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Blue Beetle (12A)

Although the character first appeared in 1939 and went through various incarnations over the years, this is based on Jamie Reyes (Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña), the most recent version (from 2006) and the first Latino superhero in the DC universe.  Here he’s a recent Gotham University law graduate who, returning to his Texas home in the futuristic Palmera City, finds prospects are few and his Mexican family, grandmother Nana (Adriana Barazza), mum Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), dad  Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and conspiracy nut high tech expert uncle Rudy (George Lopez), who live in a poor neighbourhood, are about to lose their home. While out house cleaning with his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) at the Kord mansion he sparks a connection with subsequent romantic interest Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), whose aunt Victoria (a sterling Susan Sarandon, checking super-hero movie villain off her bucket list ) stole Kord Industries from her father, Ted,  and has  RoboCop-styled plans to forge  a privatised police force called One-Man Army Corps. However, Jenny manages to steal a crucial part of the  project and slip it to an unsuspecting Jamie who, returning home, discovers to his surprise that the fast food box she gave him contains a blue metallic scarab. Even more of a surprise is that it attaches itself to him, fusing with his mind and body, covering him in armour with a pair of blue pincers on his back,  the ability to fly and, as the voice inside his head of Khaji-Da (Becky G), which controls the scarab, tells him,  create any weapon he can imagine.  He’s a regular super-hero. There’s just two downsides. The only way to be rid of it is to die. And Victoria wants it back. Now, together Jamie, Jenny and his family (nana revealing an unexpected secret past) need to obtain a key  to her father’s old lab (his version of the BatCave) from Kord Tower and defeat Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo),an OMAC prototype, all culminating in an explosive climax on an island just off Cuba.

Comic book nerds will enjoy the references to the two earlier Blue Beetles as well as The Bug, an armoured VTOL vehicle with yellow fly-like eyes built by Ted Kord, while, despite some uneven pacing mid-way,  director Ángel Manuel Soto carries along  newcomers with a potent mix of high octane (and at times quite violent) action and the emotional undercurrent of family being there for each other, serious when the narrative requires it (dropping in swipes at immigration policy and student debt issues) but also with a light-hearted humour reminiscent of the first Ant-Man. Maridueña energetically plays Jamie, bewildered by what’s happening to him,  with a combination of ingenuousness and grit while the largely unknown support cast all hold up their end of proceedings to solid and engaging effect with the visual effects suitably spectacular. As a launch of a new chapter in the DC universe, this should leave you truly bug-eyed. (Disney+)

The Canterville Ghost (PG)

Previously a live action feature, TV series and stage production, Oscar Wilde’s short story, set at the end of the 19th century, is now adapted by Stephen Fry into a computer generated animation in which he also voices the titular spook, Sir Simon Canterville, condemned to forever haunt his ancestral home after supposedly drowning his wife in the lake (it was caused by his arch enemy).

Following the previous owner being locked up after going mad, the pile has been acquired, along with its incumbent forever fainting housekeeper (Imelda Staunton), by Hiram Otis (David Harewood), a wealthy American looking to amaze the Brits by installing electricity. In tow are his wife Lucretia (Meera Syal), keen to mingle with the titled locals, his prank-playing young sons Kent (Bennett Miller) and Louis (Jakey Schif) and (Fry dispensing with their older brother) teenage (and rather too modern) daughter Virginia (Emily Carey) who isn’t best pleased with the move. Encountering  Sir Simon, she  proves to be unafraid and bets he can’t scare away her family. Unfortunately, they too are dismissive of him, leading her and Sir Simon to resort to other plans, such as frightening away their banquet guests. However, self-styled phantasmagorical investigator Algernean Van Finchley (Miranda Hart), the wife of the vicar (Toby Jones), is determined to do a Ghostbusters, meaning Virginia needs to solve the riddle of the prophecy to free Sir Simon and the secret of the walled garden where she spied a mysterious gardener (Hugh Laurie). Meanwhile, romance is blooming with Henry Duke of Cheshire (Freddie Highmore), whose family are the Cantervilles’ long standing enemies.

Despite a final duel between Sir Sidney and The Grim Reaper (Laurie), kiddie-scaring is toned right down with everything mostly played for laughs as it winds its way to its love conquers all finale and, while the unsophisticated animation is fairly run-of-the mill and the slapstick at times overdone, it’s harmlessly undemanding family fare. (Vue)

Cassandro (15)                  

Lucha libre or free wrestling is one of the most popular sports in Mexico, the wrestlers or luchadors, usually sporting colourful masks and ever more colourful names. Directed by Roger Ross Williams, set largely in the 80s, this tells the true story of  Saúl Armendáriz (Gael Bernal Garcia), a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso who fought in the local auto shop makeshift rings  under the name of El Topo but who, under the tutelage of Sabrina aka celebrated female luchador Lady Anarquía (Roberta Colindrez), part of the LGBTQ+ community, transformed himself into Cassandro, an exótico, explicitly gay, dragified characters who are never allowed to win against their swaggering heterosexual opponents, and, following his 1991 match with silver masked lucha libre icon  El Hijo del Santo (playing himself), the son of the wrestler he grew up idolising, became an international star, going on to win the world lightweight championship in 2011, becoming feted as the Liberace of  lucha libre.

Like the flamboyant entertainer, Armendáriz was devoted to his mother Yocasta (Perla de la Rosa) who raised him alone after his father, a devout Christian, divorced her when his son came out. They have a co-dependent relationship and share an inclination for TV soaps, cigarettes and married men and it’s the desire to lift her out of a life of doing other people’s washing and darning and get a decent house, that drives him on. He also strikes up a sexual relationship with fellow wrestler Gerardo (Raúl Castillo), but is forced to keep it secret a she’s married with kids. As Saúl, he’s shy and needy, but as Cassandro (who he speaks of in the third person), he’s brashly confident and flirtatious (wearing extravagant make up and camp leotards) and the film is very much about him finding himself and empowerment through his alter-ego (the shift in body language is telling), ultimately becoming a poster-boy for Mexican gays (a closing sequence on del Santo’s talk show has a young kid saying how he gave him the courage to come out).

The film, however, never really digs into its most interesting emotional notes, the relationship with his estranged father amounting to little more than their closeness when he was a child to the raw closure in a bar after Saúl achieves fame. Likewise, it skips over the implied hostility of his macho fellow wrestlers in the face of how, after initially crying out faggot, the crowd goes on applaud him. Cassandro’s drug problems are barely even alluded to.

Even so, the sheer charisma of  a fully committed Garcia Bernal brings the film to life, amusingly taunting his opponents and baiting the crowd with homoerotic poses but also investing the character with emotional intensity as he, ahem, wrestles with his feelings and conflicts, and while it never proves a knockout, it’s a winner on points. (Amazon Prime)

The Creator (15)

While this may tap into current concerns about artificial intelligence, a more basic theme of director Gareth Edwards and co-writer Chris Weitz’s sci fi epic is fear of the other. Essentially restaging the Vietnam War in 2070 New Asia, with the Americans looking to eradicate  simulants, human-like robots that can be lookalikes of their human templates, here presumably standing in for  communists. This is on account of how, a decade or so earlier,   AI software detonated a nuke in Los Angles (the actual explanation is delivered as almost an aside towards the end), leading to the USA (and its allies) banning all forms of AI. It remains legal, however, in New Asia, hence why Josh Taylor (John David Washington),  a US army special forces operative with a cybernetic arm and leg, is working undercover to find and kill Namada, the mastermind behind the AI. To do so, he’s targeted Namada’s daughter, Maya (Gemma Chan), but things have got complicated in that he’s gone native, married her and she’s pregnant. Things all go pear-shaped when a sudden US attack bows his mission and cover, resulting in Maya apparently being killed when Nomad, the hovering US military installation wipes out the compound.

Extracted, Taylor is given the chance to redeem himself  by going back in and finding and destroying the rumour superweapon Namada’s developed, his commanding officer Andrews (Ralph Ineson) and ruthless anti-AI mission leader Howell (Allison Janney playing against type) telling him Maya is actually still alive. A mission is duly set up and, although it all goes to shit, Taylor manages to infiltrate the  vault containing the weapon, which turns out to be a child simulant (seven-year-old Madeleine Yuna Voyles)  with the ability to disrupt electronics. Naturally, this triggers Taylor’s paternal instinct with Alphie, as he names  her, becoming  his surrogate daughter, looking to protect her against  Howell and her team (that one holds a gun to a  puppy’s head denotes what bad guys they are) who, warmongering Americans,  are determined to kill her along with the rest of the AI population (simulants.  flat-headed androids or those with Amar Chadha-Patel’s face who work as the police) and their human kin,  he and Howell hoping she can lead him to Maya (aka Mother).

The influence aren’t hard to spot with elements of The Terminator, Akira, Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner and Star Wars, the film climaxing as a variant on Luke  destroying the Death Star while Alphie’s power is its version of The Force. It’s also not hard to read a Christian parallel with Maya the Virgin Mary, Josh as Joseph and Alphie the AI saviour with a  purpose to bring peace to the world (asked at  one point what she’d like, as in to eat, she replies for robots to be free).

Given Edwards’ special effects background, it’s no surprise that up there in the Avatar league the film looks incredible, but it also taps into a deep emotional vein  too in its exploration of family, morality, xenophobia. The chemistry between Washington and Voyles, who as the adorable innocent Alphie is the soulful heart of the film, summoning her powers by placing her hands together in prayer like some AI take on the Dalai Lama. A scene between her and Taylor talking about heaven is  terrific and comes back in the final moments with a piercing poignancy.

There’s moments of humour such as the kamikaze robo-bombs that stomp to their destruction with an “it’s been a honour to serve you” and robots watching  holograms of exotic AI dancers, but mostly this keep up the dynamic intensity as the action piles up with a relentless drive as the simulants (headed up here by  Ken Watanabe) are driven to a last stand. Derivative it may be, but there’s no denying it delivers everything it promises. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)

Creed III (15)

As well as reprising the title character, Michael B. Jordan also confidently takes up the directing reins for this third instalment in the Rocky spin-off, one that muddies the clear cut moral waters of the previous outings in both franchises. Now retired from the ring, he’s enjoying the fruits of his success , running a gym and living in a  plush L.A. mansion with his successful pop star wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), herself  now in quasi-retirement due to hearing loss, and their deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), with whom he communicates in sign language.  Bianca’s now writing and producing songs for others, while Adonis is mentoring hot-headed new heavyweight champion, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez).  But then his world’s upended with the arrival of a figure from the past, Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors), fresh from spending 18 years behind bars for reasons shown in the opening sequence of their delinquent childhood and various subsequent flashbacks that add extra detail as to what happened when the young Adonis (Thaddeus James Mixson Jr.) beat up an old nemesis outside a liquor store, Dame (Spence Moore II) intervened with a gun when he was being grappled with and the cops showed up.

A former amateur Golden Gloves champ, Diamond Dame now wants his shot at the big time, the unwitting Adonis, in a mix of guilt and friendship, and stung by a retort reminding him of how he got his own shot as a contender, offering to train him at the gym under Duke (Wood Harris), who sagely suggests it’s not perhaps a good idea given how he’s driven by anger and resentment.

When, following a record release bash where an incident brutally removes Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) from the upcoming world title bout, Adonis gives Dame his shot, pummelling Chavez to win the title, given the formulaic nature of such films, it’s not hard to predict that the two former friends will end up in the ring together, one in black one in white in Westerns tradition. However,  the journey there, one which involves the inevitable training montages, Adonis confronting his past, the discovery of prison letters from Dame he never saw  and the exit of a Creed family member from the series, is nonetheless dramatically powerful. As well as ramming the punches home with slow motion rippling flesh as body blows land, Jordan also finds a way to bring something new to the big showdown as the boxing arena transforms into something more existential as the crowds vanish and the ring ropes are replaced by prison bars.

Thompson is somewhat sidelined, but Jordan again brings dynamite charisma to the screen, even so he’s outshone by Majors, delivering a double whammy following his current turn as Kang The Conqueror, in an electrifying embodiment of passive-aggressiveness, arrogance and anger fuelled by a long simmering feeling of being betrayed and abandoned and his future snatched from out of his gloves.

It’s hard to see where Jordan could take Adonis’s story from there, but hey, maybe those scenes with him giving the plucky young Amara pointers on how to deliver a punch might yet resolve into a gender-switch sequel some years down the line.  (Amazon Prime; Sky Store)

Elemental (PG)

While undeniably visually dazzling, the latest from Pixar Fire recycles some very well-worn themes and messages about family, prejudice, working together, tolerance, opposites attract, self-discovery and finding your courage.  It’s set in a world of characters formed of the four elements, with fire elements Bernie (Ronnie Del Carmen) and  Cinder (Shila Ommi) Lumen (clearly  Chinese) emigrating to Element City looking for a better life where, despite encountering xenophobia from the other elements and struggling to find a home (the landlords are all earth, tree-like figures who see fire as a hazard), they eventually set up a convenience store called the Fireplace with a symbolic Blue Flame  representing their heritage and traditions, selling things like coal nuts. They have a daughter, the dutiful if headstrong Ember (Leah Lewis), whom Bernie intends to take over the store when he retires. But first she had to learn to control her fiery temper. When a difficult customer causes that to flare up, she takes refuge in the basement, accidentally causing a water pipe to break, flooding the place and bringing water element Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), into her life. A city inspector, he has to report the faulty plumbing to his cloud-like air element boss Gale Cumulus, meaning the Fireplace will get shut down. But he’s also a soppy romantic and he persuades Gale to let them both try and find and stop the source of a series of recent floods. If they can seal the leak, the shop can remain open.

Discovering a hole in a dam that lets through water from passing ships, and, first using sandbags and then Ember’s power to create glass, they appear to have solved the problem. And, in the process, a, ahem, spark, develops between them, discovering they can touch each other without causing any harm. But, while Wade’s upmarket family welcome her into their home, Ember’s ailing father seems highly unlikely to accept a Fire and Water relationship , on top of which, Ember comes to realise her dreams for herself are not the same as his. She wants to study glassmaking.  But it’s her duty to obey. And then the fix in the dam gives way, catastrophe looms and love might quite literally evaporate.

Aside from the characters’  names, it’s awash with visual and verbal puns (two of the best being a literal Mexican wave  and thought bubble) and, despite gaping holes in the logic (why would fire opt to go and live in a water-based city, why doesn’t Ember set the cardboard boxes alight?), it combines a spry sense of fun ( the Ripple family’s crying game is a joy) along with the usual romantic and emotional complications, the blossoming love story involving Wade taking Ember into the flooded Garden Central Station to see  the Vivisteria flowers she never saw as a child. As such, while the youngsters will enjoy the vividly coloured visuals and the enjoyable silliness of the air and earth figures (though hope they don’t ask parents to explain ‘pruning’), this is very much a grown up star-crossed love story that touches on living in a multicultural melting pot society. A rare case of the parents persuading the kids to let them take them to see it.  (Disney+)

The Equalizer 3 (15)

Billed as the final in the series about former government assassin and self-appointed vigilante Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), again propulsively directed by Antoine Fuqua from a screenplay co-penned by Richard Swenk that dispenses with the usual convoluted twists and turns,  this opens at a vineyard villa in Sicily with the camera following a man walking though the building to find all the bodyguards dead and McCall calmly waiting for him in the cellar, where, telling them they have nine seconds,  he then takes out everyone still standing only to be shot by the man’s young son as he leaves carrying a bag.

Found and rescued by local cop Gio (Eugenio Mastrandrea), who takes him to Enzo (Remo Girone), the small-town doctor in Altamonte, to treat his wounds.  Recuperating he puts in a call to Emma Collins  (Dakota Fanning), a young operative in the CIA’s Financial Crime division, tipping her off that the vineyard was being used to ship in drugs. Meanwhile, staying with Enzo, he starts connecting with the locals, among them  Gio (who has a young daughter),  flirty café owner  Aminah (Gaia Scodellaro) and   fish seller Angelo (Daniele Perrone).

It’s not before he realises that they’re all being extorted by a  bunch of Mafiosi thugs, aka the Camorra, headed up by Marco (Andrea Dodero), the brother of  local big time gangster Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio) who has plans to squeeze out the locals and built a hotel and casino empire.  It’s also revealed that, as part of his scheme,  he’s buying drugs off Syrian terrorists who are using the money to launch bombings across Italy, which is where Collins puts in an appearance in person and McCall sets about cleaning things up.

It’s unlikely you’ll see a more brutally violent and graphically bloody film this year as McCall does what he does best, bodies left riddled with bullets, cleavers in faces, heads decapitated and the like, but, mostly down to Washington’s charisma, distinctive trademark characteristics and implacable demeanour (that stare and ambiguous smile), it pulls you in, cheering him on as he fights not only for his new friends (cue a town square Spartacus moment), but for a place he can finally feel he belongs, all closing up with a couple of codas Stateside wrapping up some plot loose ends, including a nod to the previous film and the reason he contacted Collins in the first place.  Subtle and nuanced it’s not, but as a swan song goes this sees McCall bow out in hugely entertaining style.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe;  Vue)

The Exorcist:Believer (15)

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is held by many to be the greatest horror film (though a case could also be made for Ringu). Subsequent sequels, however, have been unequivocal heaps of steaming faecal matter. So, hopes were high for this direct sequel to the original given it’s directed by David Gordon Green who graduated from indie drama George Washington to Stronger and made a decent fist of the Halloween reboot trilogy. Prepare, however, to have those cruelly dashed. Essentially a retread of Friedkin’s film (complete with a new version of Tubular Bells) but doubling down with not one but two  possessed girls with bad skin issues  speaking and swearing (albeit drastically pared down since these demons apparently don’t have the same imaginative vocabulary)  in diabolical voices and all the usual paraphernalia. In the prologue, when his pregnant wife is injured in a Haitian earthquake, African-American photographer Fielding Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) has to choose to save either her or the baby. Skip then to years later, and he’s understandably over protective of his daughter  Angela (Lidya Jewett),  a middle-school student who, dad slightly loosening the reins, is, largely persuaded by the family’s white Christian background,  allows to  go over to her friend Katherine’s (Olivia O’Neill) house to study. Instead, the pair go off into the woods to hold a séance to contact the former’s mother and wind up being missing for three days. When they return, however, Angela is convinced they’ve only been away a few hours and neither have any memory of what happened. She’s also no longer that same sweet daughter. So, when the words Help Me appear cut into her thigh and Katherine throws a wobbly in the middle of a church service, it’s clearly time to call in some holy water sloshing assistance.

Enter the now 90 Ellen Burstyn reprising her role as Chris MacNeil who, following the first film wrote  a book about her daughter Regan (who has dropped all contact with her, though hang  around for that Linda Blair cameo) and became a globetrotting lecturer on exorcisms. Unfortunately, given she’s the only one with real acting presence, given a crucifix –eyes interface, she’s not in the picture for long, meaning that, the Church  opting out of exorcism in favour of psychiatric treatment, in order to cleanse the girls of their individual demons (actually they’re both Pazuzu working two shifts). Victor’s next door neighbour Ann (Ann Dowd), a nurse who was once a novitiate nun, the rebellious Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla), defying his superiors, and a whole team of ineffectual multi-denominational healers, including one from Haiti where Victor’s wife died, have to step up to the mark

There’s a considered undercurrent of anti-Catholicism and its supporting patriarchy and a culturally divided America, but, like the issues of guilt and faith,  the half-baked screenplay never really makes anything of it (what might it have been if the dead mother was the one possessing her daughter!), and although the two young stars do give decidedly committed performances given the silliness they’re required to undergo, ultimately it’s all about resorting to the usual gloop and slime dished out in run of the mill effects and tired jump scares. Although it does have a cruel twist ending, when, at one point, Victor says “”Anyone else wanna leave, better leave now”, you might feel like following his advice. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)

Expend4bles (15)

Opening at a base in Libya with an attack by an unknown group out to steal some nuclear detonators, intercut with flashbacks to New Orleans as Barney (Sylvester Stallone) gets Christmas (Jason Statham) to deck a bunch of bikers to recover the ring he lost in a bet before switching to a briefing with CIA boss Marsh (Andy Garcia) that ends up with the team, now joined by new blood Easy Day (50 Cent), and Galan (Jacob Scipio) alongside returnees  Toll Road (Randy Couture) and a now sober Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), turning up at the aforementioned base to stop arms dealer  Rahmat (Iko Uwais) from getting away with them.

Things go badly, with Barney’s plane going down in flames, resulting in Marsh kicking Christmas of the tea for not following orders and putting his girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) in charge, along with new kick ass female recruit Lash (Levy Tran) to recover the detonators and prevent WWIII. Needless to say, Christmas decides not to stay home and follows them in pursuit of revenge, thus, as the team are taken captive aboard  the hijacked cargo ship carrying the nuclear bomb en route to the Russian coast, pretty much making this a Statham movie, albeit with assistance from knife wielding martial arts expert Decha (Tony Jaa).

Cobbled together by three writers without much concern for credibility (Fox looks likes going on a fashion shoot not into combat), and with an apparently inexhaustible supply of henchmen to rack up the body count, director Scott Waugh just goes through the action scene motions while the cast dial it in, trying to ignore the piss poor CGI. The motorbike chase around the ship is different though!

Reverting to a higher rating after the third ‘family friendly’ sequel tanked, means the blood spraying of the original as heads explode is  back in place, but otherwise, Statham and Stallone (and don’t count him out yet)  aside there’s little to persuade you this embarrassment is  part of the same franchise.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe;  Vue)

Extraction II (15)

At the end of the first film, having been shot in the neck, former Australian Special Forces mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth)  tumbled from a Bangladesh bridge into the river, apparently dead. Now, however, ignoring the final teasing swimming pool scene, reunited screenwriter Joe Russo and stuntman-turned director Sam Hargrave race through a montage that has him wash up and be rushed to some state of the art hospital in Dubai where, under the watchful eye of his handler Nik (Golshifteh Farahani, getting to kick more ass this time around) before being relocated to a secluded cabin in the woods and reunited with his dog for a lengthy recuperation.  Retirement is brought to an end when an unnamed mystery man (a cameoing Idris Elba) shows up to tell him his ex-wife (Olga Kurylenko) wants him to rescue her sister Ketevan (Tinatin Dalakishvili) and her kids Sandro (Andro Japaridze) and Nina (Mariami and Marta Kovziashvili) from the Georgian prison where they’re being held, supposedly for their protection, by her inmate terrorist husband Davit Radiani (Tornike Bziava), and his even more ruthless brother Zurab (Tornike Gogrichiani). So, Rake, Nik and her brother Yaz (Adam Bessa) duly set off on the mission, all of which goes smoothly until it turns out Santos, brainwashed into wanting to follow in the family gangster tradition, doesn’t want to go (setting up a third act confrontation). Davit winds up being killed and an exhilarating  digitally-stitched-together ‘one shot’ 21 minute escape sequence ensues involving navigating through a prison yard full of rioting prisoners and guards and onto a train racing across the tundra pursued by helicopters and taking on heavily armed thugs with guns,   knives, fists and whatever comes to hand. They make it to safety, but now Zurab, a  textbook Eastern European villain, is out for revenge.

While there is some character development and redemptive emotion-wringing backstory (Rake is plagued by guilt for leaving his young dying cancer victim son  to deploy in Afghanistan) and not all the main cast (who deliver with due gravitas) prove indestructible,  as well as flashes of humour with Rake’s passing interest in Eurovision and raising chickens, this is basically just three long and undeniably thrilling and very violent action sequences with bullets raining down like a plague of locusts, one of which involves hanging by the fingertips from a high rise’s collapsing glass roof and another in a candlelit church. It ends with another Elba cameo setting up the already confirmed threequel. Bring it on. (Netflix)

The Great Escaper (12A)

Directed by Oliver Parker from a screenplay by William Ivory, while indulging in a degree of dramatic licence this, reuniting their pairing in 1975’s The Romantic Englishwoman,  brings together Michael Caine shirking his retirement and the late Glenda Jackson in her final role, to unfold the true story of Bernard Jordan.

An army veteran, he and his ailing wife Rene  live in a small flat in a care home in Hove and the story takes place over 48 hours when, having learnt he’s not been given a place on the official Royal British Legion 70th anniversary trip to the Normandy beaches, with Rene’s blessing but the staff oblivious, he decides to abscond and go it alone, taking a  taxi to Dover and a ferry to France.

En route, he meets up with another veteran, the impeccably English Arthur (John Standing), who served in Bomber Command and took part in the bombing that virtually destroyed Caen, who takes him under his wing. Back in Hove, the alarm raised and a search launched, Rene finally owns up that Bernie’s gone to Normandy, the subsequent social media coverage tagging him ‘The Great Escaper’,  and his story winding up on TV and the front page of the Daily Mail.

The focus switching back and forth between England, where Rene dances to an old swing 78s (on a  wind up gramophone of all things) remembers their courting days and him showing her the ‘holy hour’ of dawn (Laura Marcus and Will Fletcher playing their younger wartime selves), and France, where Bernie, who was a leading seaman on a landing craft,  has flashbacks to the D-Day landings  of June 6, 1944 and both he and Arthur need to visit the Bayeux war cemetery with its 5000 graves to pay respects to the dead and expiate a guilt they’ve carried for 70s years.

In both its examination of the effects of war and Bernie and Rene’s devoted marriage (she a lot sicker than he  realises), it’s poignantly done although the introduction of Scott (Victor Oshin), who lost a  leg in Helmand Province feels a tad contrived as an excuse to raise the issues of PSTD. Arguably the best moment comes in a Normandy bar where Arthur and Bernie, who at the film’s start refuses to eat Black Forest Gateaux because it’s German,  are introduced to a group of former enemy soldiers who also fought on the beaches, the scene ending with them all saluting each other. There’s also an amusing touch when Bernie jokingly  reminds one of the American veterans, who’s pointedly paying for all the drinks,  that they turned up late for the WWII party

The rest of the supporting cast are efficiently used, Danielle Vitalis as compassionate care home worker Adele having the strongest role as almost a  surrogate daughter to Rene (who never know if they ever had children) and the film comes to a close with Bernie returning home to discover he’s become a celebrity and him finally unburdening his guilt over a young solder’s death.

Caine and Jackson share a lovely chemistry with both at the top of their game, subtly underplaying emotions when others might have cranked up the volume as, Rene speaks about the years they’ve shared and not wasting a second of the life you’re given while Bernie remarks how nobody escapes old age. A film very much for a certain age demographic, perhaps, but it’s hard to imagine anyone of an age not being moved. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Vue)

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3 (12A)

While the two mid-credit scenes suggest there is the potential for a further instalment with a new roster or, at least, a prime character spin-off, this definitely brings the curtain down on director James Gunn’s saga of the dysfunctional team of  malcontent heroes while also serving as an origin story for  Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Still bristling at being called a racoon, he spends most of the film  in a coma, hovering on the edge of death after being wounded by the golden-skinned Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), his friends unable to heal him after discovering his body has  an in-built kill switch. Flashbacks to how he became  who he is today are scattered throughout, revealing him to be part of a genetic experiment by the High Revolutionary (a scenery-chewing Chukwudi Iwuji in generally bellowing default mode) to mutate animals into anthropomorphic beings to populate his vision of a new, ideal, peaceful Earth-like planet; though he’s not above cruelty and the murder of his subjects to achieve that. Rocket, or  89P13 as he’s referred to, proved to have advanced intelligence and an unexplained success in taming his creations’ urge for violence  and, having escaped  (in a heartbreaking scene in which his new genetically engineered friends do not), the High Evolutionary now wants him recovered so he can access the secrets stored in his brain.  To which end, to save him, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Mantis (Pom Klementieff),  Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan)    and Groot (Vin Diesel), have to somehow infiltrate Orgoscope, the High Evolutionary’s fleshy space lab station, and get the key to disable the kill switch with the help of  their Knowhere comic relief associates  Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo the Space Dog (Maria Bakalova), while preventing Warlock, spurred on by his mother, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), from abducting the wounded Rocket.

Matters among the crew are complicated by the subplot involving Quill grieving the death of his lover Gamora (a commanding Zoe Saldaña), at the hands of her step-father Thanos and unable to handle the fact that the cold resurrected version has no recollection that they were a couple and is now a member of the Ravagers (led by Sylvester Stallone), of whom he himself was once a part.

The film  hops from one storyline and spectacular set piece to another, climaxing with an explosive finale on both the High Evolutionary’s ship (where  cages of children are found, affording a new side of Drax to appear) and Counter-Earth, an 1980-designed biosphere based on Star-Lord’s home planet populated by genetically mutated humanimals, with Rocket now back in full on mode, the action intercut with the franchise’s familiar wisecracking and squabbling banter between the team, set to a rock music mixtape (Radiohead’s Creep playing a significant part).

Frequently teasing the possibility that any of the team could die, Gunn juggles themes about family, friendship, animal experimentation and playing God (“There is no God! That’s why I’m taking charge!” declares the High Evolutionary) and not judging by appearances (a trio of monstrous creatures that seem to threaten Mantis, Drax and Nebula turns out to be rather cuddly). It may never quite explain Warlock’s backstory  and his somewhat confusing switchback of motivations and actions and, while a nice surprise, the moment when Groot proves to have more than one phrase in his vocabulary does break with character, but it never lets go of its emotional or visceral grip, delivering a hugely satisfying send-off with the end credits featuring images of everyone who’s been involved in the saga, from Kurt Russell and Michael Rooker to Kevin Bacon and even a sly photo of Stan Lee. What the future brings remains to be seen, but for now this is the best MCU movie since Avengers Endgame. (Disney+)

A Haunting In Venice (12A)

Very loosely based on Hallowe’en Party, a lesser known 1969 Agatha Christie novel, and relocated from the unspecified 60s English countryside of Woodleigh Common to the more exotic 1947 Venice where just the sight of black-robed figure in a white mask can conjure a suspenseful atmosphere, the title Death In Venice unfortunately already taken,  this is actor-director Kenneth Branagh’s third  Hercule Poirot mystery. Set ten years on from Death On The Nile, the Belgian detective has retired to Venice where he keeps an Italian ex-cop bodyguard, Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio)  to stop being pestered by people wanting him to investigate their case.  He’s lured back into sleuthing when old friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), a self-important American crime novelist who’s used him as a basis for her detective, asks him to attend a Halloween party séance in which former opera star Rowena Blake (Kelly Reilly) has enlisted celebrated medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeo) to co tact the spirit of her dead daughter Alicia who, the balance of her mind upset after a broken engagement, ostensibly committed suicide by drowning a year previously. Oliver wants to expose her as a fraud as a spur for her next novel, given the last three have been poorly received. Naturally, Poirot is already sceptical of such supposed supernatural notions as speaking to the dead, but even he has to admit there’s something creepy about the decaying canal-side house where orphaned children were once left to die during the plague and whose ghosts supposedly haunt it, the place having a  reputation for being cursed.

However, when Reynolds meet a grisly end not long after he exposed the trickery of her and her illegal immigrant refugee sibling assistants Nicholas and Desdemona Holland (Ali Khan, Emma Laird) before she went into convulsions ‘channelling’ Alice and declaring ‘murder’, he’s sufficiently intrigued to find out whodunit. Not least since someone tried to drown him while he was bobbing for apples while wearing Reynolds’ fancy dress robe.

As ever, everyone present is a  suspect, the others being the religious ex-nun housekeeper Olga (Camille Cottin), Blake’s  aloof doctor, Leslie Ferrier (an overacting  Jamie Dornan,) suffering PTSD after seeing Belsen, and Alicia’s ex-fiancé Maxime (Kyle Allen), who dumped her for not being wealthy enough, while the cast is rounded out by Jude Hill, reprising his Belfast role as Dornan’s son, as the precocious Leopold, who clearly has no doubt that the dead are very present. The mystery thickens.

Utilising familiar gothic horror tropes like storms, shadows, hidden basements, shrouded statues, doors and windows banging shut, flickering lights, visions  and yet another murder in a room locked from the outside, Branagh crafts a suitable air of ominous dread that taps into the thick air of grief that embraces all concerned, though still finds room for wit. As usual, it all winds up with the ‘drawing room’ naming of the killer, though quite frankly  any self-respecting amateur detective should have worked it out long before them, topped off with a surprise final twist revelation. A vast improvement on Nile if not quite up there with Orient Express, with a coda that, linking back to the start,  finds him re-energised, a fourth outing should not be discounted – or unweclome. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Vue)

Heart Of Stone (12)           

An embarrassing Mission Impossible knock-off from the same production company with Gal Godot as the Ethan Hunt figure, Rachel Stone, an operative for an off the grid agency tackling problems governments can’t or won’t handle, directed by Tom Harper and location hopping between, among others, Portugal, Senegal and Iceland, this is written by Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder who were, respectively, behind The Old Guard and Hidden Figures. As such, you might expect some class. Unfortunately, it would be easier to believe the screenplay was turned out by a bunch of junior schoolkids who’d been given the job of watching Grade B action movies as homework, resulting in the sort of dialogue no self-respecting actor should be forced to deliver, one scene in particular having characters serve up a concrete block of exposition about the aforementioned agency, named The Charter, and its mission statement.

We first meet Stone as a rookie hacker with an MI6 unit also comprising fellow agents Parker (Jamie Dornan), cat and Fleetwood Mac lover Bailey (Paul Ready) and Yang (Jing Lusi) who are in the Italian Alps to extract Mulvaney, a potential asset arms dealer and from a ski resort casino. Stone’s supposed to stay in the van but when circumstances call upon her to enter the casino to hack its security things go pear-shaped , culminating in Mulvaney  apparently taking cyanide   and  Stone disobeying orders and blowing her cover to save her team revealing that the Charter is real not just some intelligence community rumour.

Indeed, operating from some high tech secret HQ (don’t ask how it was financed or by whom), agents are known by card suits and numbers (she’s Hearts 9) with the agency run by four Kings (including a cameoing Glenn Close who clearly had a spare half hour on her hands), her handler being Nomad (Sophie Okonendo) and tech support provided by Jack  (Matthias Schweighöfer, forever waving his hands around controlling CGI displays). The heart of the Charter is the, ahem, Heart, a super advanced AI that’s located  in an airship called The Locker, floating over Africa and which can hack into and control anything digital on the planet. So naturally  the bad guys intend to steal it and take control themselves. The villain of the piece turns out to be one of her crew (no surprise and no spoiler since it’s the only other ‘star’ player) who has a grievance to settle with MI6 (cue a Chechnya backstory), aided by misguided 22-year-old Indian  super hacker Keya (Alia Bhatt), also with a personal investment,  and blond  motorbike-riding assassin in chief known only as, yes, the Blond (Jon Kortajarena).

Not only is the central maguffin a dupe of the one in Dead Reckoning, but the whole film is peppered with set pieces stolen from the franchise, notably a Rogue Nation style motorbike chase and with Godot mirroring Cruise in freefalling from a plane. Except these are bargain basement copies with terrible CGI and absolutely no thrills. Plus cringe-inducing lines like “You own the heart, you own the world” and “I should have just listened to the heart”.

Delivering some physical action, Gadot does her best with her one-dimensional character, but she’s unfortunately closer to Red than Wonder Woman, while Doran chews scenery and Okonedo, Bhatt and  Schweighöfer  simply seem bewildered they signed up in the first place.  You might feel much the same after watching it.  (Netflix)

Hidden Strike (12)

If  you can be easily satisfied watching action stars Jackie Chan and John Cena teaming up and don’t really care about the quality of the direction, acting, plot or dialogue, then you might just get a kick out of this. Finally emerging after five years in post-production, when it was initially intended to open in cinemas, from the meaningless title (presumably a vague attempt to recall previous Chain film First Strike) onwards this is a dull and frequently incoherent reluctant buddies action-comedy. With a bunch of Chinese scientists under siege by oil terrorists at their Iraq refinery, Commander Dragon Luo (Chan), the leader of Shadow Squad (no, really) is sent to extract them, one of whom is his estranged daughter, Mei (Chunrui Ma), ferrying them to Green Zone safety down the infamous Highway Of Death. En route, however, two of the buses, one of which is carrying the facility head, are abducted, during a man-made sandstorm, by a band of mercenaries who threaten  to shoot her son unless she provides the all-important dongle and codes to unlock the oil so they can pump it into waiting freighters.  Among them is Chris (Cena), a former special forces  hunk with a heart of gold who agrees to take part in his brother’s mission (though not aware he’s in the pay of the bad guy – Pilou Asbæk), and insists on giving everyone a nickname,   so he can raise the money he needs to provide water for the village where he’s a self-appointed protector who just loves playing catch with the kids.  Learning he’s been double-crossed, he ends up joining forces with Luo to rescue the hostages and stop the oil being stolen.

A functional plot at best, designed simply to give the two stars a chance to face off against, first, each other and then everyone else, with some father-daughter emotional healing tossed in for good measure, it lumbers along, mostly through a bad CGI desert and clunky tonal shifts,  taking forever to bring the two stars together and then forcing them to deliver ludicrously bad dialogue while engaging in lacklustre stunts.  There is, to be fair, some decent chase footage with a rocket propelled truck (a running gag has Chris naming all his vehicles) a relatively amusing set piece with a still lithe Chan (who was 64 when he made it) taking on a tattooed mercenary amid a sea of foam, but, other than the confusions over hand signals,  the supposed laughs as Chan and Cena interact are only evident in the obligatory outtakes and never make it into the main film. Hidden Strike strikes out. (Netflix)

John Wick : Chapter 4 (15)      

Spin-offs and prequel appearances notwithstanding, the emotional final scene would pretty much seem to confirm this is  the final chapter in the series, bowing out in with a   flamboyant 169 minute (word is a 225 minute version may surface later)  clipped dialogue epic tsunami of fire, fist, knives and sword fights that may be overstuffed but never drags.

Hiding out  in the New York lair of the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) from the High Table to whom he still has an obligation and who have placed a $2million bounty on his head, antihero assassin Wick (Keanu Reeves at his Clint Eastwood drawl finest) is planning his revenge. This takes him to Morocco (cue homage to David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia) where he kills the Elder, resulting in the fascist rich kid Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), the current New York High Table top dog, taking revenge by stripping Winston (Ian McShane), who failed to kill Wick, of his role as manager of the Continental, killing his concierge Charon (the late Lance Reddick) and blowing up the building.  Then, threatening to murder his daughter, he forces blind retired assassin Caine  (martial arts virtuoso Donnie Yen), just one of many biblical references, into accepting the hit on his old friend. Cut to Tokyo where Wick’s taken refuge at the Osaka Continental, run by loyal old friend Shimazu Koji (a quietly charismatic Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (pop star Rina Sawayama who sings the film’s theme song), but it’s not long before the High Table enforcers, led by the Marquis’s seemingly indestructible right-hand man Chidi (Marko Zaror), and Caine arrive, demanding Wick be given up, leading to the first of a series of knowingly over-the-top extended fight sequences that ends up with one wounded,  one dead and Wick again on the run.

Returning to New York, he learns from Winston that there is a way to bring things to an end. Under High Table traditions, he can challenge the Marquis to single combat and be freed of all obligations. The only problem is that he first needs to accepted back into the Berlin crime family the Ruska Roma and to do so he first has to kill Killa (Scott Adkins), the overweight, lavender-suited German Table head with gold gangsta teeth who murdered his adoptive sister Katia’s (Natalia Tena) father. And even having done that (cue another amped up sequence set amid a sea of night club dancers), there’s still the small matter of getting to the Sacré-Cœur in Paris before sunrise to carry out the duel, which, if he fails to do, will result in his and Winston’s execution, as his second, which means, armed with a top end gun and a wearing a ballistic suit, surviving Chidi, the High Table muscle and the dozens of freelance assassins all looking to collect the $20million and rising bounty, and soundtracked on their way by an on  air DJ spinning things  like Nowhere To Run. One of whom is Mr Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a cool and composed tracker, who with his lethal dog sidekick (which becomes an important plot turning point), has been keeping tabs on Wick, keeping him alive until the Marquis agrees to the fee he’s asking. All of which culminates in the reluctant Caine, who the Marquis has nominated to act in his place, and Wick facing down each other in a pistol duel moderated by the Harbinger (Clancy Brown).

Opening with shots of a fist hitting a bloodied punchbag, stunt choreographer turned director Chad Stahelski stages an increasingly elaborate and inspired sequence of balletic fights, among them a thrilling blazing guns car chase  around the Arc de Triomphe, one filmed in an overhead  doll’s-house view in a labyrinthine building and, finally, the spectacular climax set on the  Rue Foyatier in Montmartre, the 222-step stairway leading to the Basilica and down which Wick is sent tumbling at least twice as the hordes continue to come.  After nine years, during which time the narrative has got bigger and more complex, this is one big eye-popping gift-wrapped thank you to the legions of fans who have transformed it into an iconic franchise. Will you love it? Yeah. (Amazon Prime; Microsoft Store)

Joy Ride (15)

Making her directorial debut, working from a  script by  Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao (whose credits include Family Guy, American Dad and Awkwafina Is Not From Queens), Crazy Rich Asian co-writer Adele Lim continues the winning streak of Asian-American driven films and, with an all-female cast, follows in the tradition of Bridesmaids and Girl Trip with a gloriously raunchy, rude and crude anarchic road trip comedy that, replete with swearing, sexual humour and projectile vomiting, also delivers a third act emotional wallop.

Opening in 1998 with one of the year’s best prologues, the only Chinese American kids in the small town of White Hills, Lolo Chan (Milana Wan) and Audrey Sullivan (Lennon Yee), the adoptee daughter of white parents, instantly connect as best friends when the former punches a little boy in the face for his racist comment. A collage takes us up the years to the 30s-something present with   Audrey (Ashley Park) now an ambitious successful lawyer in an all-white Seattle firm (where her colleagues seem to be all called either Michael or Kevin) and the outspoken, more culturally connected Lolo (the wonderfully named Sherry Cola), trying to establish herself as a struggling sex-positive artist looking to subvert traditional gender roles (her work includes a sexual organ themed playground and a licking tongue variation on the familiar nodding cat), and living in Audrey’s guest house

Taking off for Beijing to  seal a deal with a Chinese client   (they assume she speaks Mandarin, she doesn’t) that will see her promoted to partner, Audrey is accompanied by Lolo, who will act as her translator and, much to her horror, Lolo’s socially-awkward introverted cousin Deadeye (non-binary stand-up comedian Sabrina Wu). Arriving, they also hook up with an old college friend, Kat (Everything Everywhere’s Stephanie Hsu), now a major TV actress  and engaged to her co-star Clarence (Desmond Chiam, looking like an Asian Dwayne Johnson with hair) who, a devout  Christian, resists sex, giving room for Jesus and believes she’s a virgin. With a proclaimed love of dick, she anything but and even has a tattoo on her vagina (a major subsequent plot catalyst that gets her tagged Pussy Tat)! Everything seems to be going well until, forced to down a revolting traditional drink with mouldering eggs, first Audrey throws up over her client (Ronnie Chieng) and then he expresses a deal-breaker concern that  she has no Chinese family, at which point Lolo leaps into say how close she is to her birth mother. Unfortunately, he then invites Audrey to bring her to his mother’s birthday party.  So now they have to track her down, something Audrey’s resisted, which, to briefly summarise, ends up with them being thrown off the train and accidently  getting high on coke after a run-in with an American female dealer who steals the case with their passports,  visiting Lolo’s grandmother, discovering the self-absorbed Audrey’s even less Chinese than she feels and, with help from Deadeye’s online friends,  an overly energetic night with  Chinese Basketball Association players (including NBA star Baron Davis as himself), and having to pretend to be a K-Pop girl group (with a gratuitous but fun take on Cardi B’s WAP), all of which sets up the third act’s friends fall apart and big emotional kick.

Wildly hysterical with  a sharp  running racial commentary on cultural assumptions and expectations, social stigma, identity crises, sex as a natural means of expression (and a sly objectification of the male body), and multi-dimensional lead characters who are more concerned with their dreams, heritage, and female friendships than men, propelled by four exuberantly enjoyable performances and genuine chemistry as each gets their chance to cut loose and shine. A huge joy ride indeed. (Amazon Prime, Google, iTunes, Kaleidescape, Sky Store).

The Little Mermaid (PG)

The 1989 original having revitalised Disney’s animation, directed by Rob Marshall this now acts as a defibrillator to the studio’s live action remakes which have steadily gone from the awesome Mulan to the turgid Pinocchio. You’ll be familiar with the story, driven by curiosity, headstrong dreamer teenage  mermaid Ariel (Halle Bailey) ignores her father, Triton (Javier Bardem), King of the Seas, who, after her mother was killed,  forbids her to  go  to the surface or, worse, make contact with humans.  As such, during a storm, she saves the life of Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and is taken with his kindness (he rescues  a dog from the burning galleon) and good looks, while, hazily glimpsing her as he lies on the shore, he’s equally smitten. When dad finds out, he’s furious, destroying her grotto of human artefacts and ordering her to forget about him. Which is where his evil octopus sister   Ursula (Melissa McCarthy cackling madly and chewing the seaweed scenery), the Sea Witch,  assisted by her electric hencheels Flotsam and Jetsam, sees her opportunity  and strikes a deal with Ariel; she’ll use her magic to make her human for three days but, if she and Eric haven’t had a true love kiss by the third sunset, she’ll be bound to her forever. And just to load the deck, she takes away Ariel’s siren voice (with which she saved Eric) and casts a  spell to make her forget all about smooching. On land and with feet, she’s reunited with Eric but he doesn’t recognise her as the girl he’s looking for and she can’t speak. So, it’s down to her briny friends, tropical fish Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), Caribbean-accented red crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) and dim-witted   gannet Scuttle (Awkwafina) to try and make the kiss happen before it’s too late.

Reworking Ariel’s sisters in a feminist makeover from giggling guppies to rulers of each of the seven seas , adding in new characters in the form of Eric’s adoptive mother, the Queen (Noma Dumezweni), and her factotum Grimsby (Art Malik), an amusing joke given Grimsby’s a noted fishing port, and making Eric more soulful than in the cartoon, while pretty much faithful to events in the original it also adds an extra hour to the running time, filling it out with stunningly beautiful underwater sequences and, Grimsby turning a blind eye, Eric and Ariel’s day out mixing and dancing the locals.

To be honest, Hauer-King is a little flat in the charisma stakes and his solo musical number, Wild Uncharted Waters, doesn’t come close to the performances elsewhere, most notably Diggs’ rendition of the calypso Under The Sea or, joined by Tremblay and Awkwafina,  Kiss The Girl, while, with new lyrics (as on several other songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, McCarthy makes a meal of Poor Unfortunate Souls. There’s also a couple of new songs from Miranda and Alan Menken, Awkafina and Diggs on the speed rap Scuttlebut and For The First Time sung by the wide-eyed Bailey (a five-time Grammy nominee with her sister Chloe), who, in her first leading role proves to be an incandescent discovery and knocks the showstopper Part Of Your World out of the ocean ballpark.

Looking stunning on the widescreen (and even more so in Imax) with jawdropping digital details such as Ariel’s shimmering rainbow tail, there moments that might prove dark and scary for younger audiences  (Ariel and Flounder chased by a  shark, the shipwreck, Ursula’s forbidding cave and her monster-sized finale), but, with its inevitable message about  living in harmony rather than division, this is generally a fairy tale tsunami of unbridled joy that invites you to be part of its world. (Disney+)

Living (12A)          

An English language remake of  Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece  Ikiru about a Tokyo bureaucrat stoically searching for meaning in the last months of his life, directed by  South Africa’s Oliver Hermanus  with a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro the setting is transposed to 1950s London and is centred on veteran London County Council civil servant Mr Williams, as portrayed by Bill Nighy in an understated but profoundly moving, career best performance.

He shares  his home with his son Michael (Barney Fishwick) and daughter-in-law Fiona (Patsy Ferran) in a patently strained relationship (beautifully captured in a dinner scene involving a soup tureen) where they have their eyes on their inheritance. Every morning, sporting traditional pinstripe and wearing bowler hat, he joins the train with his fellow workers, but never in the same carriage, travelling to the dingy Public Works office where he sits behind his desk surrounded by his underlings (among them Alex Sharp as new arrival Peter Wakeling, still idealistic and not fallen into the art of dodging responsibility) overseeing proceedings and filing documents away (“there, it can do no harm”) in a constant cycle of buck-passing.

From an early age, all the deeply shy Mr. Williams ever wanted to be was a “gentleman”, and in pursuing that goal and the reserved lack of passion it entails, it seems to have sucked all the life out of him. But then, one morning his doctor gives him the bad news. He only has months left. His composure shaken, he resolves, like Ebenezer Scrooge, to make the most of the time remaining. While unable to break the news to his son, he does confess  to  Sutherland, a boozy playwright (Tom Burke) in the  seaside town he takes off to after withdrawing half his savings, who tells him to live a little (to which he replies “I don’t know how” and introduces him to the debauchery of the Oliver Reed side of life. And, following a brief encounter in the street and a Fortnum & Mason lunch, to his former secretary, the guileless, innocently flirtatious Margaret Harris  (Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood) who quit her job to try something new. She tells him her nicknames for her former colleagues. He’s somewhat tickled to learn his was Mr Zombie.

The couple strike up a platonic relationship, going to the cinema and pubs, and there is something about both her and Sutherland’s lust for life that determines him to push through the forever stalled planning permission for  a group of mothers to transform an East End bombsite into a children’s playground, much to the bewilderment of his fellow workers, refusing to take no for an answer when confronted by red tape and stonewalling.

Evoking an atmosphere and bittersweet mood of sadness and newfound joy akin to his screenplay for remains Of The Day and touching in similar themes of repression and coming alive, while understandably jettisoning the gangster plot, Ishiguru  remains faithful to much of the original film, most especially the heartbreaking scene involving  a song, swing and snowflakes, a third act structured around flashbacks and colleagues talking about how he achieved his aim while backstory grace notes include black and white childhood memories and a rendition of the Scottish ballad The Rowan Tree.

Sharp is excellent as Wakeling, feeling Williams’ pain and aware of his easy it would be for him to wind up the same way, while , the embodiment of post-war optimism, Wood delivers a star-making performance. However, deep in existential crisis and experiencing a rebirth that frees his innate wit and kindness, this is unquestionably Nighy’s film, his subtle facial twitches, the half sighs, the internalisation of his sorrows all a masterclass in minimalism that will reduce you to a sobbing puddle. (Netflix)

Love At First Sight (12A)

A meet cute romance, when, forever late,  20-year old American Hadley Sullivan (Haley Lu Richardson) misses her flight from New York to London for her father’s wedding, she is re-booked on the next. While waiting, she meets fellow traveller Oliver Jones (Ben Hardy), a British 22-year old Yale mathematics student who offers to lend her his charger when noticing her phone is dead. They get to chatting about their lives and idiosyncratic fears (they both hate mayonnaise, he hates surprises). On the plane, a faulty seatbelt ends up with him sitting next to her in business class, where they chat and flirt, she sharing that she’s uncertain about the wedding as she’s not really forgiven her dad (Rob Delaney) for divorcing her mother after he left to teach  in Oxford.

On seeing Oliver’s formal suit, she assumes he’s also returning for a wedding, which he neither confirms or denies. They almost kiss, but are interrupted. Arriving at Heathrow, they’re separated  into two passport control queues and delays mean that, when she finally gets through, he has already left for his appointment and she’s almost late for hers. And her phone being dead again, the number he texted didn’t come through.

Dad’s wedding goes well and she find she actually likes his new wife, Charlotte. Then, with four hours before the reception, on overhearing that a couple of guests are off to a memorial service for a  woman with cancer and two sons, one of whom has flown back from America, she puts two and two together and hops on a bus to Peckham  to find Oliver. Although it turns out that, her cancer returned and she refusing treatment,  his mum (Sally Phillips) and dad (Dexter Fletcher) are having her memorial while she’s still here, after all what’s the point of people saying nice things if you can’t hear them, everything having a Shakespeare fancy dress theme with younger son Luther (Tom Taylor) in jester garb doing the deejaying, the reunion doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped when she chides him for  always quoting statistics rather than being honest about his feelings. So, will they ever get back together?  Well, she does accidentally leave her bag behind.

Narrated both on screen and via voice over by Jameela Jamil as various characters (but essentially fate), it’s adapted from Jennifer E Smith’s book The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and directed by Vanessa Caswill and, while neither she nor screenwriter Katie Lovejoy are in the Richard Curtis league, while utterly predictable (as are pretty much all romcoms), it’s nevertheless warmly charming, largely down to the chemistry between the two leads and a mix of twinkling humour and cheesy but touching messages about not letting things – love, life, death, reconciliations, slip by you in your self-absorption. (Netflix)

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (PG)

Starting life as a series of stop-motion YouTube shorts, created (when they were married) by Jenny Slate (who also voiced) and Dean Fleischer Camp, Marcel was a talking periwinkle shell with one eye and, well, shoes (made from human nails, apparently). Having become an online sensation, co-written by Slate and Camp, who also directed, he now gets a full length feature and it’s one of the oddest and sweetest things you’ll see this year.  A mix of animation and live action, it adopts a mockumentary format in which the recently divorced Dean (rarely seen in full figure) moves into an Airbnb, discovers Marcel (Slate) living with his dementia afflicted grandmother, Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini),  who’s “lost a small piece of a large puzzle”, and Alan, his ball of pet lint and decides to film his everyday activities. These include using a spoon as a catapult to launch him up to the shelf where he has his store of treasures and foraging for food to sustain himself and Connie, who likes to tend her garden befriended by the local insects. When Dean uploads his first video  it goes viral, but, while flattered Marcel is sad that his family are not there to share it, having all  been carted off from their sock drawer hideaway when the apartment’s previous couple, Mark and Larissa (Thomas Mann, Rosa Salazar), split up.  Dean posts a livestream asking for help in finding them but, while he now has thousands of fans, none seem interested in helping and he’s concerned the constant attention on the house and people wanting selfies will worsen Connie’s health. Dean drives him around LA. looking for Mark’s car  with Marcel a shell-out-of-water amazed at just how big the world is, but with no luck, However, the story captures the interest of 60 Minutes, of which both Marcel and his gran, who now has had an accident and cracked her shell are fans, and the programme makes contact asking if they can film him being interviewed by Lesley Stahl (playing herself) and, while he’s reluctant about having a production crew around impact on Connie, as an incentive, they offer to try and track down his family. The selfless Connie pretends she’s getting better, but during the filming she passes away.

As such, the film has much to say about  family, compassion, connection, separation,  the environment, loss and grief as well as the pitfalls of internet fame, any potential whimsy overkill tempered by the deep humanity its explores, and wry observations like people signing their letters ‘peace’. Wisely it never attempts to explain Marcel, content to show such little as his raising beanbag chair, Dorito hang glider, climbing walls using sticky honey, rolling round in the hollow tennis ball  he uses as a vehicle and the double bread where he   sleeps. Pet rocks may be about to  make a revival. (Sky Cinema)

Meg 2: The Trench (12A)

After the 2018 original, a US-China co-production, scored, ahem, megabucks at the box office, it was inevitable that at some point, delivering is familiar sarcasm on autopilot,  Jason Statham would again find himself up against a giant, prehistoric shark. And so it is that Brit filmmaker Ben Wheatley pits him against a whole bunch of them. However, anyone who admired his previous black comedy thrillers  Sightseers, High Rise, Kill List and Free Fire, should lower their expectations because here he’s clearly just a  director for hire, going through the paces with workmanlike efficiency for certainly not invested in what he’s doing. But then, given a cliché 101screenplay and dialogue, who can blame him.

It opens with Jonas Taylor (Statham) putting a stop to a bunch of scurvy knaves dumping toxic waste in the ocean, all just part of his eco commitment to some organisation with a mission to protect the world’s seas, at one point being referred to as a green James Bond, alongside his colleagues Mac (Cliff Curtis) and DJ (Page Kennedy), from the first film,  and new addition Jess (Skyler Samuels). Meanwhile, Chinese action star Jing Wu joins the cast (but with only token stunt work) as billionaire philanthropist Jiuming, the owner of a high-tech oceanographic institute in Hainan (run by Sienna Guillory) and the brother of Suyin from the original who, along with her husband, are apparently now both dead. Which leaves him as the ward of his niece, the now 14 year old Meiyinh (returnee Shuya Sophia Cai) to whom Jason also plays surrogate dad. Jiuming also has a pet Meg, which he’s trained and even named, and developed a new high pressure suit for underwater exploration of the titular trench which lies beneath the cold zone above which Megs can’t venture.

However, when the two submersibles venture forth they both find themselves attacked by several Megs and also discover an illicit secret mining operation (apparently build without anyone noticing), with those behind it (cue corporate greed villains) keen to ensure Jonas and the three other survivors (including Melissanthi Mahut whose character arc is all over the place), who’ve managed to seek refuge in it (after losing team members you won’t remember) don’t return to the surface, a  task assigned to one-dimensional cackling mercenary Montes (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and a touch of sabotage from a trusted colleague.

Slow to start it builds almost no tension before plunging into the last act showdown involving armed mercenaries, dinosaurs, mediocre CGI giant sharks and even a humungous octopus as an array of island getaway partygoers become fish food (but not the cute dog you’ll be pleased to hear),  dead bodies and harpoons fall victim to continuity errors and Jonas arms himself with a jet ski and makeshift exploding harpoons.

Littering the surprisingly bloodless film with knowing references to Jaws and Jurassic Park does it no favours and, while it does admittedly lived up slightly in the preposterous climax, this is really no fun at all, all big teeth and no bite.  (Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play)

The Mother (12A)

Jennifer Lopez tools up as a military sniper turned underground arms deals broker turned FBI informant turned maternal badass in this pulpy but enjoyable action thriller. Never named, the film opens with Lopez in an FBI safe house striking  a deal to give up her two former partners (both professionally and sexually) only for it to prove not so safe after all, leading to several agents getting killed and Adrian  (Joseph  Fiennes), one of her former lovers one of whom is likely the father,  stabbing her pregnant belly. The baby’s saved but, to keep her safe, Lopez is forced to give her up, getting Cruise (Omari Hardwick), the agent whose life she saved to agree to keep an eye on her ( a sort of surrogate uncle) and send photographs on every birthday. Fast forward 12 years and, watched over by an old army buddy (Paul Raci), Lopez is living in the remote wilds of Alaska, but has to come out of hiding on learning that  her other ex-associate, Hector (Gael Bernal Garcia) has abducted her daughter, Zoe (Lucy Paez), to lure her out of hiding.

From this point it’s all fairly generic, Lopez shooting, stabbing, punching with fists wrapped in barbed wire, riding a motorbike down city steps, rescuing Zoe from Hector’s Cuban hideout and then taking her out into the snowy wilds  and, though she’s initially resentful and hostile about being abandoned, training her to be a sharpshooter and how to knife fight before Adrian re-emerges for the snowmobiles cat and mouse showdown.

Efficiently helmed by Niki Caro whose Whale Rider showed she knows how to direct female actors, it makes a decent fist of exploring the primal maternal instinct but, at the end of the day, it’s still the sort of  shoot em up revenge thriller Jason Statham or Liam Neeson might have sleepwalked through. (Netflix)

Nimona (PG)

Opening with the heroic Gloreth establishing an order of knights dedicated to protecting the world from the monsters that lurk outside its walls, this animated fantasy adventure fast forwards a 1000 years to a  futuristic city and, headed by The Director (Frances Conroy),  the Institute where the queen is about to appoint  new knights from the graduating cadets, among them Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), a descendent of Gloreth, and Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed). The latter is controversial given that he will be the first commoner accorded such an honour in the queen’s intention to give everyone a chance to be a hero and Ballister is understandably worried that, like  bullying fellow cadet Thoddeus (Beck Bennett) everyone will hate him. Instead, he’s met with cheers- until, that is, a laser ray shoots from his high-tech sword and kills the queen, leading to Ambrosius chopping off his  arm and Bal fleeing, a wanted murderer. But then, in hiding, he finds himself visited by Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a rebellious punky teenager outsider who, assuming him to be a villain, declares herself his self-appointed sidekick (“Because I’m bored, and everyone hates me too”). She is, however, more than a sassy, sparky, streetsmart misfit teen. As he discovers when she rescues him from prison, she’s a shapeshifter capable of transforming into a pink rhino, bear,  bird, a whale and even a  dancing shark, who revels in causing chaos and smashing things up. She is, in fact, exactly the sort of monster the knights are supposed to destroy. Instead, the two now find themselves joining forces to clear Bal’s name and expose the real murderer. The identity of whom it’s not too hard to work out, but then, as the opening voiceover states, things have a habit of not having the simply resolved happy endings fairytales usually demand.

Adapted from a subversive graphic novel by ND Stevenson and rescued by Netflix after being cancelled by Disney, this is very much a contemporary 2D-3D animation,  not just in its dazzling visuals but in its storyline and themes. It’s revealed early on that Bal and Ambrosius are gay lovers while, uncomfortable in her ‘normal’ skin,  Nimona is driven by a need to transition. Meanwhile, with the inventive narrative, twisting there’s also familiar messages about intolerance, irrational prejudice and how, in as world where kids “grow up believing that they can be a hero if they drive a sword into the heart of anything different”, if we treat people as monsters, they’re likely to become monsters.

With her catchphrase ‘metal’ and plans that rarely go beyond “Chaos, destruction, something-something-something, we win”, Nimona is a priceless animated anti-hero, her spirit and irreverent humour exuberantly captured by Moretz’s voice work while Ahmed brings the pathos and more serious notes. Driven by a punk-fuelled soundtrack that includes The Banana Splits and guitar riffs by former Sex Pistols Steve Jones, it barrels along with fast-paced action and an utterly infectious sense of anarchy and fun. The ending lays possible ground for a sequel, and one would be very welcome indeed. (Netflix)

The Nun II (15)

The ninth instalment in the Conjuring  franchise, this direct sequel (the original the series biggest hit to date), the time helmed by Michael Chaves, picks things up in 1956, four years on from when novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) and Vatican priest Father Burke (Demian Bichir) defeated the demon nun Valak (Bonnie Aarons), back in Romania; however, as the opening sequence in which a rural French priest is immolated, she’s back for more.   The good Father now dead, the church calls upon Sister Irene, now living anonymously in an Italian convent  where no-one’s aware of her history (urban myth has she was put in an asylum), to  go into battle once more, tracking down the demon (who’s been popping off priests and nuns left right and centre) and find out what it’s after. To which end, she and Sister Debra (Storm Reid), an American needing to find her faith, head off to France.

Meanwhile in a parallel, connected plotline, Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey), the Irish daughter of  Kate (Anna Popplewell), a teacher at her Aix-en-Provence monastery turned boarding school, is bullied by the other girls but protected by her friend, resident handyman, Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), who, of course, was Frenchie, who saved Irene in the first film. However, it’s now revealed that, in doing so, he was possessed by Valak, something of which he’ s totally unaware, she only manifesting when it suits. As such, it should be fairly obvious where all this is heading given Irene has to track down a  religious relic, a saint’s eyes, that have been passed down and hidden across her relatives’ generations, which is the maguffin that will defeat the demon, and following a National Treasure trail of clues, turns out be buried in the school’s bombed out chapel where the altar boy of the stern headmistress (Suzanne Bertish, meeting her end in a sidebar patently only there for scary effect) was killed.

It all builds to a somewhat confused climax involving Irene’s flashbacks to her mother and, as the wine kegs burst, a literal blood of Christ bloodbath, but in getting there Chavas has crafted a genuinely creepy film that, making god use of dark rooms, creaking doors and the usual tropes, wisely only hints and suggests at its hellish villain (a scene involving the turning of magazine pages to reveal her image is truly inspired) and even when she does appear he uses her to sparingly good effect. Not something, however, that can be said of scenes of Kate and the girls being chased by our old friend the  Horned Goat which somehow takes shape after vanishing from a stained glass window  the chapel and again feels like a superfluous add in to give the support cast something to do.

Overall though, it’s highly watchable  an improvement on the original  and far better than such sequels usually prove,  with decent effects,  generally strong performances and solid score by  Marco Beltrami, the brief end credits scene providing the franchise link to The Conjuring 2, itself a sequel to the Valak storyline, as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga get a telephone call for help.(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park;  Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue)

The Old Oak (15)

Now 86, Ken Loach has declared this will be his last film  and, as such, while not up there with I, Daniel Blake, again written with Paul Laverty, it serves as solid coda to a career that has been committed to exploring social issues  and injustices in calls for solidarity.  Here, drawing on the hot topic  of refugees and titled after the last pub standing in a former Durham mining village that is at the heart of the narrative, set in 2016, it unfolds the story of   Yara (Ebla Mari, excellent) who, at the start of the film, shown in black and white photographs, arrives in the village with her family and other Syrian refugees where she meets TJ Balentyne (Dave Turner, suitably hangdog), the owner   of the eponymous pub and in need of redemption. They also immediately racist encounter hostility on the part of several residents, during which her camera (hence the opening pictures), a  present, it’s revealed, from her missing father is damaged. TJ offers to get it fixed, and so begins the start of a growing friendship which, to cut to the chase, leads him, prompted by Yara and with help from charity worker  Tania (Debbie Honeywood), to re-open  the pub’s backroom, closed for the past 20 years on account of declining trade,  and fit it out as a soup kitchen, espousing his mother’s maxim from the 1984 miner’s strike, when the government tried to starve them into submission, that “When you eat together, you stick together”. The fact he refused to open it  for some of his regulars to hold a grievance airing town meeting comes back to bite him.

However, while the majority of the community start to embrace their new neighbours, there’s a   core group of embittered   pub regulars who remain entrenched in their racist attitudes, always looking to blame a scapegoat as an outlet for their anger (the latest  bone of contention is houses been snapped up for  a song by absent landlord profiteers), who are determined to sabotage things.

The economic and social decline of the community is sketched with background details such as peeling wallpaper, mould on walls and notable illustrations of poverty rather than in soapbox  statements (though it’s also not averse to clunkily spelling things out) and, while some of the delivery by   largely non-actors can often feel awkward, generally speaking there’s a sense of authenticity.  There are some missteps, notably the symbolic fate of TJ’s little dog (those cursed pitbulls) as a plot device  prompting his telling Yara how Mara (not the deliberate rhyme) saved him from suicide  following his father’s death and the throwaway fact that he has a long estranged son, but on the whole the footing is secure and also resists any attempt to see the loathsome ‘bad guys’ get their comeuppance, preferring to focus instead on, as the  banner the Syrians make for the unions parade says,  Strength, Solidarity and Resistance. A quiet moment inside Durham Cathedral, a slide show of Yara’s photos of the locals and a last act scene as the community gathers outside her and her mother’s home in the wake of tragic news are especially moving without sliding into sentimentality. The final obvious scene is a bit of an anti-climax, but otherwise this oak has strong branches. (MAC; Mockingbird)

Operation Fortune:Ruse De Guerre (15)

Its planned cinema released scuppered by the bad timing of having Ukrainian villains, Guy Ritchie’s second venture into espionage territory after the underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. finally surfaces on a  streaming platform, and, a quintessential Ritchie romp with Mission Impossible echoes,  is pretty much worth the subscription in itself.  The plot is a familiar recover a secret weapon that’s been stolen for sale on the black market, so that gives a good idea of what to expect in terms of rival operatives, double crosses and location-hopping, all of which the cast and screenplay milk to hugely enjoyable effect with a mix of high octane  action and rapid bite banter. Almost inevitably, it involves Jason Statham who, as loose cannon freelance contractor Orson Fortune, is enlisted by the British government in the form of effete operation handler Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) reporting to his ministerial boss Eddie Marsan, to recover “The Handle”, to which end he recruits a team comprising hacker Sara Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) and everyman J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone) while, in the opposite corner is sneaky rival Mike (Peter Ferdinando) and his gang of heavies.

The middleman negotiating the weapon’s sale  is billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant in Hugh Grant wisecracking pantomime bad guy mode) and to infiltrate his inner circle, Fortune ropes in Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), an action movie star with whom Simmonds is obsessed,  Sara playing his girlfriend and Fortune his manager. With the events and action variously playing out in Cannes, Madrid, and Morocco with a  car chase through a Turkish Cliffside, a finale in which Fortune climbs a glass tower and a mid-heist scene where he takes time out to watch the ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ bicycle scene from Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Knowingly silly with tongues firmly in cheek and everyone clearly having a great time, it’s preposterously energetic and entertaining supercharged fun.  (Amazon Prime)

Oppenheimer (12A)

Adapted from the 2005 biography American Prometheus, writer-director Christopher Nolan delivers his finest work to date, a triumphant biopic of Robert J. Oppenheimer, the man who created the Atom Bomb and, as the film unambiguously avers, consigned the world to eventual destruction at its own hand. As Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita “Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds”.

Unfolding over a  gripping three hours that embraces courtroom procedural, character study  and thriller (a feeling accentuated by the score), it moves back in forth in time, framed by and intercutting with Fusion (filmed in black and white) and Fission (in colour). The former is a recreation of the 1959 Cabinet hearings to confirm Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), former head of the US Atomic Energy Commission and a politician closely linked to Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), as Secretary of Commerce,  the latter the loaded behind closed doors McCarthy-era 1954 AEC enquiry driven by attorney Roger Robb (Jason Clarke) to determine if a scapegoated Oppenheimer was a loyal American and should retain his security clearance or not. The theme of American creating and then destroying its heroes when they become an annoyance has been done before, but rarely as well as this.

There’s a few scenes involving the younger Oppenheimer, an ambitious Jewish theorist in the new field of quantum physics, his on-off affair with  Jean (Florence Pugh),  a Communist Party member, an accusation also levelled at him (he was actually a political agnostic), and his early days teaching and working at the University of California and the California Institute of Technology with Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett). The heart of the film, however, focuses on the 1940s when, following events leading up to the 1945 Trinity bomb test, he’s enlisted by General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to head up the Manhattan Project, which, at a secluded purpose built desert town of Los Alamos in New Mexico, gathered together America’s top scientists and engineers to build the first atomic weapon, initially to beat Nazi Germany to the punch and, when Hitler fell, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more as a demonstration of capability than to bring Japan to submission.

As such, this element of the film is dense in its exploration of moral quandaries about the gulf between idea and application, Oppenheimer’s guilt-haunted but very real concerns about the potential for a nuclear arms race with Russia  and his opposition to the hydrogen bomb while the 50s section concerns the emotional and political fallout, the Cabinet hearings revealing his betrayal by the self-serving Strauss, the Salieri to his Mozart, smarting over an earlier humiliation at a congressional hearing,

Alongside a stunning and physically transformative haunting and haunted performance by Murphy with a mastery of a dead-eyed stare,  coming to realise the consequences of his arrogance, Downey Jr at the very peak of his powers and a wonderfully prickly Damon, the film is populated by solid supporting turns from the likes Rami Malik, Casey Affleck’s military intelligence officer, Benny Safdie as Hungarian physicist and H-bomb advocate Edward Teller), Gary Oldman as President Truman (scathingly dismissing Oppenheimer as a cry-baby) Kenneth Branagh as  physicist Niels Bohr, Oppenheimer’s sometime mentor, and Emily Blunt who, as Oppenheimer’s alcoholic wife Kitty, an ex-Party member, delivers a last act Best Supporting Actress bid, while Tom Conti gets to cameo as a convincing Albert Einstein in a pivotal scene shown from three very different perspectives.

Avoiding CGI in favour of optical effects and punctuating the film with images of fiery infernos and exploding stars, it’s visually awe-inspiring (all the more so in IMAX) and transfixing for every second of the running time. “Try not to set the sky on fire”, jokes Groves before the red button is pressed. Nolan has lit up the whole cinematic universe. (Empire Great Park)

Outpost (15)

Coming out of an abusive relationship, Kate (Beth Dover) is set up by her best friend  Nickie (Ta’Rea Campbell) with a three month voluntary job with her ranger brother Earl (Ato Essandoh), with whom she has  a strained relationship on account of her sexuality, as a fire tower  watcher in the Idaho Mountains,  a highly important gig given that, some years ago back, a forest fire nearly destroyed the entire area. Although her ex, Mike (Tim Neff), initially turns up, Kate locking herself in an outhouse to escape, things settle down, she making friends with  frequent hiker Bertha ( Becky Ann Baker) and Reggie (Dylan Baker), a widowed local doctor who teaches her how to chop wood and giving her the run of his house while he’s off visiting the grandkids.

However, as things keep going wrong, Kate already tenuous grip on sanity begins to loosen further as paranoia takes hold, seeing threats everywhere, such as a possibly dodgy  fellow ranger (Dallas Roberts) and a pair of hitchhikers who leave their camp fire smouldering, as she takes things murderously into her own hands as the body count rises.

Written and directed by Joe Lo Truglio making his feature debut, it’s teasingly never clear just how much is all in Kate’s mind and how much are is a genuine danger to her as the edges of reality blur, the film climaxing with her locked in the tower, upending the familiar trauma abuse survivor narrative into something of a far darker and brutal The Shining nature. Not, perhaps, something that will go down well in counselling groups, but as a psychological horror goes  this blazes fiercely. (AppleTV; Amazon Prime; Google Play; RakutenTV;  Sky Store; Virgin Store)

Past Lives (12A)

Unfolding over 24 years, in two 12-year intervals, played out in Seoul, Toronto  and New York, writer-director and erstwhile playwright Celine Song’s semi-autobiographical debut is a beguiling bittersweet thwarted love story about unresolved feelings. It opens with a voiceover pondering what three people in a New York bar are talking about and what their relationship may be. They are aspiring playwright Nora (Greta Lee), her fellow writer husband Arthur (John Magaro) and childhood friend and crush Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) and  to explore the connections, the film first flashes back 24 years to Korea where Nora, then Na Young (Seung Ah Moon), and   Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim), are academically competitive classmates and budding sweethearts. However,  romance is curtailed when her family announces they are  emigrating to Canada. The pair part on a somewhat sour note  and it’s 12 years before, he still living at home and hanging out with his mates, she now in Toronto, reconnect through Facebook, he tracking her down through her filmmaker father’s page,  and then Skype, conduction a flirtatious virtual romance (she recommends him to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ) before realising he’s never coming there and she’s not going back, she shuts it all down.

Twelve more years later, Nora now having married Arthur, who she met at a writing retreat, and rarely speaking Korean, Hae Sung, who has broken up with his girlfriend comes to New York, where she now lives,  for a few days, ostensibly as part of his engineering studies, and the two meet up, their meetings causing both to reassess how they feel about each other and what might have been. The title refers to the Buddhist concept of inyun, a belief that some souls are connected through time and past incarnations, somehow fated to be together.

Beautifully framed and photographed (the virtually wordless scene by the fairground carousel and  the pair riding a ferry boat around the Statue of Liberty are magical), sublimely directed by Song and exquisitely acted by the three leads,  the soulful, reserved Yoo, an understated Marago, who wryly  describes himself as   “the evil white American husband standing in the way of destiny”,  and the luminous Lee, a major contender  for the next Korean Oscar winner, it pulses with suppressed emotions, captured in longing looks or the subtle chance in a facial expression, but never falls prey to sentimentality as, subtly also exploring the immigrant experience and indemnity confusions,  it builds to a denouement that is both heartbreaking and glowing with joy.

You can feel the echoes of films like David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Richard Linklater’s  Before Sunrise,  and Wong Kar-wai’s  In the Mood for Love, but Song has created her own individual and unique vision of their timeless story. An unquestionable film of the year, as Nora and Hae Sung are given to saying when things overwhelm then,  ‘whoa’ indeed. (Apple TV)

Peter Pan & Wendy (PG)

The latest live action remake of a Disney animated classic goes back to the title of JM Barrie’s book, placing Wendy firmly in the spotlight alongside the boy who refused to grow up. Directed by David Lowery, who also did the live remake of Pete’s Dragon, keeps several details from the cartoon, notably Peter’s green hat and costume and the top hat and teddy bear associated with the Darling brothers Michael and John, but there’s some substantial updates too, such that, played by Yara Shahidi, Tinker Bell is now biracial, no longer an outdated stereotype Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) gets a more heroic role and (as Wendy declares to her astonishment) the Lost Boys include Lost Girls too.

More significantly, Captain Hook (Jude Law, stealing the film) is completely reimagined to give a backstory  with Peter that makes him a more poignantly sympathetic figure than any previous portrayals and also casts Peter in a very different, selfish and at times cynical light. Rather like what happens to Hook’s ship in the big swashbuckling climax, it turns their relationship upside down. There is, though, still the crocodile.

Adopting an often dark tone, literally and psychologically, it opens in Victorian England at the home of the Darlings where Michael (Jacobi Jupe) and John (Joshua Pickering) are acting out the swordfights from the bedtime stories of Peter Pan, but here older sister Wendy (Milla Jovovich’s daughter Ever Anderson) enthusiastically joins in, only to be reprimanded by her father (Alan Tudyk) and mother (Molly Parker) for not setting a good example.  This Wendy, resentful of being about to be sent to boarding school, is also a touch feisty, snappily saying she wants her own life, not her mother’s. Later she will slap Peter in the face for being reckless.

That night, she and the brothers are awoken by a visit from Tinker Bell and Peter (a suitably impish-looking Alexander Molony), very much real and not just a character in a story, who’s come to recover his shadow and, responding to her wish to never grow up, and, with the help of pixie dust and happy thoughts,  takes them   flying off to Neverland (here accessed through a portal in Big Ben). However, no sooner do they arrive than they’re bombarded by Hook’s ship, John and Michael are captured, Tinker Bell and Peter are missing in action and Wendy washes up on the shore to be found by Tiger Lily and the ethnically diverse Lost Boys led by Slightly (Down’s syndrome teenager Noah Matthews Matofsky).

Though, naturally, everything works out happily, Lowery doesn’t refrain from scenes likely to scare youngsters, such as Hook ordering the children to be executed and tying John and Michael to Skull Rock to drown before Peter resurfaces and comes to the rescue. Some of the pirates also end up as croc-fodder.

There’s a couple of nice line reversals, pointing that, in returning to London, you need to actually take the second star to the left and go straight on ’til morning, and Wendy telling Peter that to grow up might be the greatest adventure of all, and, while it may have flaws, this is generally a compelling and – dare I say it – grown up telling of a tale about the ambiguities of both wanting to hold on to your childhood and also excited by the potential than the adult world might offer. (Disney+)

Rally Road Racers (PG)

Set mostly in China with an international voice cast and taking inspiration from  Kung Fu Panda and Wacky Races, this is a hugely enjoyable animated comedy about a wannabe race driver slow loris with a need for speed named Zhi (Jimmy O. Yang) who takes part in a no-holds-barred four day rally across China’s historic Silk Road in order to save the last Loris village, where he lives with his disapproving Granny Bai (Lisa Lu), and excitement never rises above  practising tai chi (a technique of slowing things down that proves invaluable later) or playing Mah Jong. Her  mortgage is in arrears and her house scheduled for demolition,  and if Zhi loses then the village will be turned into Muddy Meadows, a luxury resort for cane toads, by psychotic toad rally champion Archibald Vainglorious (John Cleese in cackling panto villain form), and his property-developing family.

That’s pretty much the plot and the set-up inevitably follows the formula of having to overcome Vainglorious’s dastardly attempts to scupper his chances, the storyline peppered with a  whole bunch of colourful and idiosyncratic fellow animal competitors who variously attempt help or sabotage Zhi’s efforts, among them fellow loris Shelby (Chloe Bennet), who left the village years ago,  a British weasel, conjoined macaque twins from India, a pregnant male Italian sea horse, social media influencer Chinese heiresses Bling and Bling and Neil, the treacherous tiger. Meanwhile, Zhi is taken under the wing of Gnash (J.K. Simmons with mangled Scandinavian accent), an old goat who sells  bumper stickers at the racetrack but was once the famous race star The Amazing Gnash, the only racer to have beaten Vainglorious, and who had a connection with Zhi’s late mother, herself a racing driver. His problem is that Zhi drives like a demon when he’s behind, but crashes out whenever he takes the lead.

Adding to the fun are Sharon Horgan and Catherine Tate as Australian race commentators kangaroo Abby Jacks and   dopey sister-in-law  Juni Hakkansdotter, with Vanglorious’s disposable mini-frog assistants, the Echoes, clearly a Minions knock-off, and, while this may not be up there in the Pixar league, it should hold the kids’ attention all the way to the finish line. (Vue)

Reptile (15)

The meaningless title aside, this is solid if formulaic noir procedural that sees director and co-writer Grant Singer transition from music videos for the likes of Ariane Grande to feature films. Producer and co-writer Benicio Del Toro, sporting a lush black barnet,  provides the compelling centre  as Tommy Nichols, a seasoned cop starting a new job in Scarborough, a suburb of Maine, after moving from Philadelphia where he was suspected of covering up for a corrupt partner, Nichols, however, is as honest as the day is long but also has a fierce loyalty to his fellow officers.

He’s happily married to the supportive Judy (Alicia Silverstone) who’s called in a favour from her police captain uncle (Eric Bogosian), who’s hiding the fact he is developing MS, to secure his new posting. He’s barely into the job when he and his rookie partner Dan Cleary (Ato Essandoh) have to investigate the killing of estate agent  Summer (Matilda Lutz) at a property she was showing, stabbed to death with such ferocity the knife embedded itself in her pelvis, and found by her fellow estate agent boyfriend Will Grady (Justin Timberlake).

There are plenty of suspects. The boyfriend, obviously (it’s revealed she was cheating on him, though he has an alibi. Then there’s her creepy not entirely ex-husband (Karl Glusman) who makes art with human hair (and has few compunctions about how get gets it) and the embittered  straggle-haired Eli (Michael Carmen Pitt) who has an axe to grind since his father committed suicide when the company for which Summer worked, owned and run by Will and his widowed mother Camille (Frances Fisher), took advantage of his financial straits to buy  out the family farm. They also make their money by buying up properties that have been foreclosed due to drug seizures at knockdown prices.  Meanwhile, swimming among all these possible red herrings are Tom’s fellow cops, straight arrow police chief Graeber (Mike Pniewski)  and detective Wally (Dominick Lombardozzi), a loudmouth tough guy whose running a private security firm side hustle.

The deeper Tom gets into the waters the muddier they become as the twisting plot takes in corruption on a variety of levels, assorted people acting suspiciously, confrontations and assaults while the narrative (with Benjamin Brewer the third writer) also finds room for some dry humour, such as Tom, who spends his free time playing poker with the guys and line dancing with his wife, deciding to remodel his kitchen with a  sensor tap after seeing one in the murder site. However, his jealous streak becomes aggressively apparent when he thinks the hunky handyman is paying Judy excess attention.

Singer doesn’t have the finesse of fellow noir director namesake Bryan, but he keeps  things nicely on the boil and scores bonus points for the prominent use of the original version of Angel Of The Morning by Evie Sands on the soundtrack. (Netflix)

The Retirement Plan (15)

It would be cynical to suggest the title is an apt description for the plethora of films, most direct to streaming, that Cage has starred in over the past couple of years, frequently doing his familiar full on manic. Be that as it may, you can’t ever accuse him of phoning it in. This is one of his better quickies in which he plays Matt , or quite possibly Jim, a former government covert ops specialist who has retired to be a beach bum in the Cayman islands. However,  his skillset is called back into action when his long estranged daughter, Ashley (Ashley Greene), who, oblivious as to his job and resentful of his never being there for them, has not spoken to him since her mother died. But then problems arise when, looking to improve their fortunes,  her husband, Jimmy (Jordan Johnson-Hinds) Jimmy steals a hard drive containing  valuable information from his crime lord boss Donnie (Jackie Earle Haley). Given Donnie answers to someone even more ruthless, he needs to get it back. However, before Ashley and Jimmy are captured, she puts in her 12-year-old daughter Sarah’s (Thalia Campbell)  backpack and puts her on a plane to  find and stay with her granddad, reckoning it’s the last place anyone will look.

Unfortunately, look they do with Donnie, despatching a team of bad guys who Matt, calling  in some favours from his old bosses,  duly disposes of with brisk and bloody efficiency. They seemingly endless supply of goons are led by Bobo (Ron Perlman), a soft-spoken Shakespeare-quoting  philosophical killer whom Ashley has agreed to accompany to save Jimmy’s life, who then forms a bond with Sarah when he kidnaps her. Eventually, an increasingly exasperated Donnie turns up to take control himself, while there’s also cold blooded killer Hector (Grace Byers) on the trail.

With a  cast that also includes Ernie Hudson, it may be a B-movie but it’s decidedly well-executed by writer-director Tim Brown who serves up a deft mixture of wisecracking and violence (guns, knives, hand-to-hand, you name it,  as Matt gets to repair his relationship with Ashley , who gets to finally learn about his secret life, and forge one with Sarah. Cage is on cracking form, as indeed is Perlman who makes Bobo a more complex character than is usually the case for henchmen  while Campbell more than holds her won alongside her adult co-stars and Harley compelling snarls his way through the scenery. Hugely entertaining and, if this somehow doesn’t thrill you, then you can bet Cage will have another along within the month! (Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Xbox)

Saw X (18)

While, a reboot after the last film spluttered at the box office,  it may improbably be the tenth outing in the torture porn franchise, in chronological terms it’s  actually a bridge between Saw I and II, as John Kramer (Tobin Bell) travels to Mexico for a clandestine procedure that involves surgery and an experimental drug cocktail in the hope of  curing his terminal brain cancer, only to find himself the victim of a bunch of con artists led by the icy blonde Cecilia (Synnøve Macody Lund). So, he and his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) duly set about rigging another series  of diabolical torture traps as payback.  These involve giving his victims, three of which are Cecilia’s Mexican stooges,  the choice between their fates, like sawing through their leg  and then using a syringe to extract her own bone marrow  or have a razor wire slice through her neck, removing their own brain matter, though arguably the ‘best’ is an earlier fantasy sequence of a hospital thief having their eyes sucked up by a diabolical eye-vacuum. Meanwhile Jigsaw (who tells Cecilia he’s dedicated to helping people to “overcome inner obstacles and make a positive change”), oversees proceedings from the warehouse’s second floor window.

This time round, as both anti-hero and protagonist, Bell gets a lot more screen time, though the bicycle riding puppet figure still   features,  and while it may ignore such niceties as to how he manages to set up let alone fund his torture chamber,  it cranks up the claustrophobia to squirming intensity as it builds to a gotcha twist ending. Sadistic and sick, of course, but as a fantasy vehicle for audience who’d like to get their own back on those scam artists who ruined their lives, it’s undeniably got a sense of satisfaction. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (PG)

Five years ago, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduced cinema audiences to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Black Hispanic Brooklyn teenager who gained superpowers when he was bitten by an electromagnetic spider and then found out he was just one of hundreds of spider-powered entities existing on a multitude of different Earths across the multiverse. It also revolutionised animation with its jawdropping mix of retro comic book, Cubism and pop art. The much anticipated sequel takes all that and  hypercharges it into a trippy, at times hallucinogenic, kinetic rush that feels like maxed out ADHD that can be exhausting to watch but also delivering   exhilaration to every fibre of your being.

It starts, though, on   Earth-65 with moody rock drummer Gwen Stacey (Hailee Stanfield), the white-clad Spider-Woman of her world, who’s having problems with her law enforcement father  (Shea Whigham) who believes her alter ego was responsible for the death of his daughter’s best friend, Peter Parker (who had transformed into The Lizard). When, following a battle with  a DaVinci-sketch looking version of The Vulture, she finally reveals her secret identity, looking to explain and hoping for understanding, he just reads her her rights. Bitterly disappointed, she flees into the Spider-Verse using a device given to her by   Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), a pregnant African-American Spider-Woman who helped subdue The Vulture, recruits her as part of the Spider-Society, a team policing the different dimensions.

Meanwhile, back on  Earth-1610, now 15, while Spider-Man is famous superhero who was a guest host on Jeopardy and made a commercial endorsing  baby powder), Miles  is  en route to a meeting with his school counsellor and concerned helicopter parents Rio (Luna Lauren Vélez)  and newly promoted police captain Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) for which he’s already late, he’s sidetracked when he runs into someone robbing a local store, a faceless white figures covered in black splodges which are, in fact, portals, through which he or just parts of his body can travel, with whom he gets involved in a  running battle.  Calling himself The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), this new supervillain was once Jonathan Ohnn (Jason Schwartzman), a scientist who worked for Alchemax, who became what he is today as a result of the collider implosion caused by Miles in the first film. Now he’s looking for revenge by ruining Miles’s life, just as he ruined his.  And he’s found his holes can take him into the multiverse.

The central thrust begins as Miles secretly follows Gwen into the Spider-Verse (including a visit to Lego Earth) where he’s reunited with his old mentor, Peter Parker Jake Johnson, who, married to Mary Jane, now has a baby called May, with similar powers, and is confronted by the scarred, humourless  Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), the “ninja vampire” of Earth 2099 who runs Spider-Man HQ who explains that  having, in an earlier sequence where he and Gwen wound up in  Mumbattan and he saved the life of  the police captain father of   the girlfriend of Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), he disrupted a canonical event. In other words, each Earth’s arachnid adventurer have things in common, being bitten by a spider, the murder of Uncle Ben (or Uncle Aaron – Mahershala Ali – in Miles’s case) …and  the tragic death of a police captain. Now he’s thrown everything off-kilter and put the integrity of the entire Spider-Verse at risk. More than that, Miles learns that he’s an anomaly and  became Spider-Man by error, that he wasn’t the one the mechanoid was supposed to bite, meaning there is an Earth without a Spider-Man where the storyline unfolded in a  much darker manner. Thus Miles is declared Spider Public Enemy No 1 and with Miguel and countless variations in pursuit, he, Gwen, and Hobie Brown aka Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), a Mohawked Londoner with a guitar strapped to his back who’s animated like a living Sex Pistols album cover, have to stop The Spot and save the entire Spider-Verse, not to mention his and Gwen’s fathers by preventing the canon from playing out.

The dazzling animation is eye-popping, often shifting styles and colours within the same scene, close-ups showing the comic-book dot textures of the characters’ skins, driving things along at hyperspeed but also finding time out for quieter, more tender moments such as Miles and Gwen hanging out (upside down) on the dome of the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower that add further resonance to the film’s central theme about the weight of responsibility (an emotional depth that has always distinguished Marvel comics) and the painful journey to self-discovery. There’s a lot of fun too as, along with a joke about the redundancy of saying Chai tea,  it wheels out such web-slinging variations as Spider-Horse, Spider-Car, Spider-Cat, and the virtual reality Spider-Byte, interjecting the animation with live action that includes clips from both the Tobey Maguire and   Andrew Garfield movies, a brief visit to a convenience store in Eddie Brock’s world and a wordless cameo from Donald Glover as The Prowler (another variation of whom provides a last moments shocker).

Driven by a brilliant score and guaranteed Oscar glories, as the first of the two part sequel, it ends, of course on a cliffhanger setting up Beyond The Spider-Verse. That won’t arrive until next year, by which time your pulse rate might just have slowed down enough to handle it. (Amazon Prime)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG)

Originating in Japan,  one of the first platform video games and, owned by Nintendo, still hugely popular among all ages (at my screening there were two grown men dressed as the character), even if the name makes no sense as there’s only one brother called Mario,30 years on the foul odour of the live action adaptation with Bob Hoskins till remains. Reverting to animation, this revival looks to reboot the film franchise by sticking closely to the game’s  mechanics involving jumping between platforms, avoiding obstacles and powering up by opening boxes marked with a ?

Following a prologue in which power-hungry  Bowser (Jack Black), the king of the  turtle-like Koopas, attacks and destroys a city of penguin-like creatures to get his hands on a power star that will enable him to conquer his entire universe, it cuts to Brooklyn as Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) trying to get their plumbing business off the ground, only to end up creating chaos. Then, when they attempt to fix a broken water mains, they’re sucked down a vortex into another dimension. Separated, Luigi ends up in a fiery realm and is taken prisoner by Bowser and as such sidelined for most of the film, while Mario, who hates mushrooms, ironically finds himself in  the Oz-like Mushroom Kingdom  (you have to suspect the writers indulged in some magic ones of their own) where, looking to find and rescue his more timid brother, he teams up with the tiny Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and the warrior-spirited Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who accidentally came there as a child. However, it transpires that the literally and metaphorically horny Bowser is deludedly determined to either marry Peach or destroy her Kingdom, to which end they have to persuade Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) to loan them his army, which means Mario must first defeat his son, Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan) in   gladiatorial platform combat, during which he transforms into a cat. And then defeat Bowser before he can sacrifice his prisoners (glowing star Debbie Downer among them) as a wedding gift to Peach.

Resolutely mirroring the game and loaded with inside references and songs like Holding Out For a Hero and Take On Me,  devotees of the game  are well-served, though in pretty much every other respect the target audience is 7-year-olds who just want a rush of cute characters, garish colours and non-stop action sequences. Mama mia, here we go again. (Microsoft Store)

Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles – Mutant Mayhem (PG)

Created as a comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984 to parody superhero stories, three underwhelming live action adaptations arrived in the early 90s with a seeming last gasp fourth arriving as computer animation in 2007.  Two animated reboots followed in 2014 and 2016, the first a huge success, the second a flop. Now comes another reboot which, directed by Jeff Rowe, who made The Mitchells vs The Machines, while computer animated wisely harks back to the hand-drawn look and scribbled lines of the original comics and the early animated TV series and, if not as wildly hyperactive and psychedelic as the Spider-Verse films, has a compelling dynamic visual energy to  match a sharp script.

It goes back to the beginning to provide an origin story as, breaking with his employers and their military ambitions, scientist Dr Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) created a bunch of mutant embryos in an underground lab and, when a Techno Cosmic Research Institute strike force was  sent by his erstwhile boss Cynthia Utro (Maya Rudolph) to seize his work, he ended up dead while  a vial of his mutant-inducing  green goo (henceforth known as the ooze)  seeped into the New York sewers, mutating for baby turtles and the rat that took them in. Fast forward 15 years and the now teenage turtles, named (but never explained in the film after Renaissance Italian artists) Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr), Raphael (Brady Noon) and the self-serious Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), live secretly in the sewers, only venturing out at night to obtain groceries – especially pizza – for themselves and their overprotective surrogate father, Splinter (Jackie Chan), who, after an initial attempt to mingle with humans ended in disaster, trained them in the martial arts and forbade them to reveal themselves to the world, warning that humans will want to capture them and “milk” them for their mutant DNA. They, however, yearn to be accepted, and go to school, sneaking off to watch a film or a concert (Beyonce gets namechecked)  while out foraging. Such opportunity presents itself when they accidentally  cross paths with April O’Neill (Ayo Edebiri), an aspiring high school reporter (nicknamed Puke Girl, but you need to see the hilarious gross out scene to know why) and set off to recover her motorbike when it’s stolen which, in turn, involves them in her quest to find out who’s behind a series of high tech thefts, reportedly the work of someone known as Superfly (Ice Cube), she filming their Turtles’ exploits to present them as heroes.

This, it turns out, is the grown version of Stockman’s original creation who saw off the attackers and escaped with the other creature he was experimented on and who now form his mutated followers  Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress), alligator Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), rhino Rocksteady (John Cena), bat Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou), manta Ray Fillet (Post Malone), warthog Bebop (Seth Rogen, also one of the co-writers), Mondo Gecko (a scene stealing Paul Rudd amusingly credited as “introducing”) and the indeterminate Scumbug. The Turtles are initially delighted to learn they have mutant cousins who also desire  to be accepted, until they learn of Superfly’s plant to mutate all creatures  and wipe out humans, leading up to an explosive climax as they, Splinter (who gets a far bigger action role this time), April and the others battle to defeat the now supermutated Superfly.

Channelling themes about acceptance, intolerance of difference, family, friendship, coming of age and the need to work together, the inspired casting of actual teenagers injecting relevance and authenticity into the Turtles’ banter, the film rattles along with a series of exhilarating action sequences intermingled with self-aware  pop culture gags (a cardboard cut of Chris Prine’s Captain Kirk) and such sly black culture references as The O’Jays 1972 hit The Backstabbers and of course,  the villain’s punning name a knowing nod to the 1971 Blaxploitation classic. It is, perhaps, excessively violent in places, especially the use of knives, for the young audience while the suggestions of interspecies sex (Leonardo fancies April, Splinter and Wingnut exchange a slobbery kiss) are as kinky as they are subversive. With the obligatory mid-credits scene setting up a Shredder sequel, the heroes in a half shell are back where they belong.  (Paramount Plus)

Terminal (15)

Vaughn Stein’s hard-boiled noir pastiche, clearly taking its inspiration from Sin City (and Waiting For Godot) amd forerver referencing Alice in Wonderland, has accrued some particularly damning reviews, but it’s nowhere near as awful as they make it seem.  A futuristic sci fi plot twisting revenge thriller, it stars Margot Robbie as Bonnie, a femme fatale female assassin who sets out to win the business of a mysterious crime boss by proving she can turn his current hitmen for hire, Vince (Dexter Fletcher) and Alfred (Max Irons) against each other, to which end she also plays the role of sardonic but sweet diner waitress  Annie who lends a friendly ear and some pragmatic advice to Bill (Simon Pegg), an English teacher who’s dying of cancer and looking to end it quicker, and also hooks up with Alfred who, along with Vince, is holed up in a  hotel room waiting to be given their target.

Pretty much all of this takes place around a rundown railway station populated only by a limping janitor (Mike Myers in his first film in almost a  decade) who shuffles around whistling Danny Boy, and all of which is monitored by an unseen figure on a bank of television screens.  There’s also a lot of toing and froing involving briefcases concealed in the station lockers.

As it gathers to the climax, all manner of twists – one especially audacious – are rolled out that tie things together and, while the direction can be stiff and the dialogue cringeworthy, there’s enough of a potential cult air about it to warrant a place on the platform.  (Arrow)

You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah! (12)

One of Netflix’s biggest hits this year, though produced by Adam Sandler he takes a backseat as, adapted by Alison Peck from  Fiona Rosenbloom’s novel, he plays Danny Friedman, father to daughters Ronnie, the serious one, and the more immature Stacy, played respectively by his own daughters  Sadie and  Sunny, while reuniting with Uncut Gems co-star Idira Menzel as his wife.  The younger of the two, Sunny is approaching her bat mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ritual at 13, in which she has to read passages from the Torah and devise a charity project. She, of course, is more concerned about the accompanying party as she and best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine), whose mother’s played by Sandler’s wife Jackie, enthusing over themes and what the future will hold, like adjoining homes in Taylor Swift’s Tribeca building. Lydia writes Stacy’s speech and she in turn offers to put together her entrance video biography.

Things, however, soon turn pear-shaped starting with Stacy leaping off a cliff into the water in order to impress her crush, class heartthrob Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman), resulting in a humiliating tampon moment, and a subsequent falling out with Lydia when she sees her kissing him, prompting the angry declaration of the title and a rather cruel revenge.

Comparisons with Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret are inevitable, not least in Stacy’s own chats with the Man Upstairs, while it also follows genre  conventions such as the school’s catty queen bees, the embarrassing parents (Danny’s dad jokes), the shopping sequences and all those girls want to be grown up moments, here largely embodied in  a geeky friend being excited to finally shave her legs.

Although it helps considerably if you’re familiar with Jewish  culture to get the references and appreciate the jokes involving Jewish mothers, dads, grannies and aunts, it’s nevertheless all very sweet and consistently funny, the entire Sandler clan having solid comedic chops (though Sunny is undoubtedly the star turn) while great support comes from Sarah Sherman as the perky Rabbi Rebecca (who gets to sing God Is Random in response to her class asking why He allows injustice) and Ido Mosseri as the wildly over the top DJ Schmuley.  Forget the invite, this is well worth crashing the party. (Netflix)


Screenings courtesy of Cineworld 5 Ways


Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 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, 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

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240


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