The Dead Don’t Die (15)
Inevitably already tagged an undeadpan comedy, Jim Jarmusch’s latest takes on the zombie genre in self-consciously mannered but disarmingly likeable manner. Driving back after having dutifully broached a recent case of chicken stealing with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) who lives in the woods, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver), a pair of cops from smalltown Centerville remark on how it’s still daylight despite the lateness of the hour and the radio and their watches are on the frizz. Something odd’s going on which, as Ronnie’s prone to remarking, will “all end badly”. The something turns out to be the result of polar fracking which has tilted the Earth’s axis, affecting the climate and, more importantly, bringing the dead back to life, initially just two (including Iggy Pop) who turn two women at the local diner as snacks, and eventually the entire graveyard’s worth.
Variously involved in all this are obnoxious racist Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi, sporting a Keep America White Again baseball cap), gas station film/comic book nerd Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones), amiable diner regular Hank (Danny Glover), inept fellow cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny and the town’s enigmatic new Scottish accented, samurai sword-wielding mortician, Zelda (Tilda Swinton). There’s also three city hipsters (Selena Gomez among them) who make an unfortunate stop over at the town motel while Carol Kane cameos as the town’s lush who corpse revives in the police station cell. However, quite where the three kids in the juvenile correction facility fit into all this is anyone’s guess.
There’s no real plot as such, things just stumble along as the zombie situation just gets worse, the numbers occasionally thinned down by following the ‘kill the head’ mantra (also the name of the production company) while throwing in a steady stream of references and in jokes. Bobby puts the hipsters right about the cabins in Bates Motel (Psycho having been written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote a short zombies story called The Dead Don’t Die), George Romero naturally gets a mention, Adam Driver has a Star Wars key ring and makes frequent meta fiction comments, such as how the Sturgill Simpson country track is the theme song and that he’s knows it ends badly because he’s read the script.
Waits’ voice over narration at the end about zombies as a metaphor for consumerism (the teen zombies shuffle along mumbling wi-fi) and greed seems a tad redundant (genre fans know how these things work) and at one point it throws in a completely random and unexplained scene, but the cast deliver their often witty lines as befits the film’s nature and clearly seem to be having as much fun as the audience. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Annabelle Comes Home (15)
Following the wake of Chucky’s revival, the current devil doll de jour makes a return appearance for a third outing in her bangs and red-bowed pigtails glory that, this time features (albeit in largely bookending appearances), loosely real-life based Conjuring characters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson,Vera Farmiga) for a haunted-house thriller that pretty much entirely unfolds in their suburban home, where the electricity seems to be somewhat intermittent. Relieving the latest unfortunate owners of the doll’s influence, the drive home, when come to a halt by a graveyard, conveniently allows Lorrianne to muse that it’s not evil in itself (though it doesn’t exactly look beneficent, it serves as a conduit for evil. Back home, it’s duly locked away inside a sacred glass cabinet, it and the artefact store room, duly given one of regular holy blessing. At which point, the devil hunters take their leave, handing the film over for the night to their 10-year daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) who’s spending it with her high-school babysitters, blonde good girl Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and tellingly dark-haired Daniela (Katie Sarife). Fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation and having dead daddy issues, the latter naturally ignores signs like keep out or you’ll die and don’t touch this or everyone’s fucked, and sneaks into the museum and, naturally, searches for the key to unlock that cabinet.
From which point on, the film works its way through the familiar checklist of ghostly figures, devils, werewolves, inanimate objects moving, typewriters typing by themselves, lights going out, people doing obviously stupid things, although the scariest moments come with the anticipation rather than the event, before the girl’s finally manage to get the damned doll back where she belongs. It’s formulaic, but decently acted and delivers pretty much everything you pay your money to see, though you can’t help feeling this and and its associated franchise have been milked until they’re positively dehydrated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
In Fabric (15)
You don’t go to a Peter Strickland film expecting mainstream cinema and this is no exception, a subversive horror about a possessed artery-red dress with a murderous agenda of its own, that killed the model who first wore it and, causing a red rash, works its way through a collection of connected characters en route to the climax. Initially, however, in the longest sequence, the first to own it is Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), an emotionally vulnerable divorcee who lives with her self-centred teenage son (who’s installed his snide older girlfriend, Gwendoline Christie), who’s talked into buying the one-off dress at a sale at a local department store staffed by the garment’s cult-like female disciples, notably the thickly accented Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) whose sale patter incudes lines like “Dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements”, their male overseer subsequently seen jerking off as he watches the women masturbate a mannequin until it bleeds. Sheila, who works as some sort of teller, micro-managed by her gay passive-aggressive bosses Steve Oram and Julian Barratt), wears it on a couple of dates (one good, one a disaster), and is understandably puzzled when, ripped apart by a dog, it turns up in perfect condition. It also tears her washing machine to pieces, which, when Strickland tired of her character, links into the next victims, dull meek repair engineer Reg (Leo Bill) who buys it for his blousy fiancee Babs (Hayley Squires), which, while having its own share of horrors, does feel as though it’s struggling to fill the running time.
Channelling the likes of Argento and Cronenberg, delving into sex, blood and death imagery, mining a consumerism critique not to mention exploring the erotic potential of washing machine terminology, it’s equally scary and comic, frustrating and absorbing in its eclectic tone and stylistic diversions, and, while it might have been better served by a single strand narrative, it has an undeniably fascinating compulsion. (Electric)
Director Thomas Vinterberg takes on the submarine disaster genre with this account of the Soviet North Atlantic Fleett vessel, the Kursk, which, in 2000 during a navy exercise, was crippled when a fire exploded the torpedoes killed many of the crew, flooding the compartments, sending the ship to the bottom of the Barents Sea and leaving the survivors struggling to find a way to escape. Given everyone died, primarily down to the refusal of the Russain Navy commanders (headed by the late Michael Nyqvist) to accept Western help for reasons of security and national pride, everything aboard the sub is clearly conjecture as fictional protagonist Mikhail Kalekov (Matthias Schoenaerts) tries to marshall the spirits and efforts of what’s left of his crew, while, back home, his pregnant wife (Léa Seydoux) and three-year-old son, along with his shipmates’ families, seek to confront the military authorities who continually dodge the question of what’s happening.
Meanwhile, back on the ocean, having detected the tragedy, Colin Firth as real-life British commander David Russell becomes increasingly frustrated when his attempts to help the rescue mission with their far superior equipment, are rejected. Strongly acted and fuelled with righteous anger at the Soviet callousness (though it avoids any mention of Putin who absented himself from the entire incident) and the scenes inside the doomed Kursk suffocatingly claustrophobic, while not a great deal happens in physical terms, the film’s emotional tension is watertight. (Reel)
You can almost imagine the conversation. “Hey what if an Uber driver was called Stu. He’d be Stuber.” “Yeh, and what if he was a sardonic, touchy wimp who found himself teamed up with a hard-nosed humourless cop.” “And the cop had a vision problem, so he needed Stu to help him on his case!” What a funny mismatched buddies action comedy that might that be!”
Well, no, actually.
His partner (Guardians co-star Karen Gillen) killed in the opening moments, although his boss (Mira Sorvino) tells him to take time out, hulking workaholic L.A. cop Vic (Dave Bautista) is determined to take out the heroin gang mastermind killer (Iko Uwais). He’s given a tip about where a big drugs deal is going down, but, recovering from laser-eye surgery, he can’t see properly and ends up commandeering the newly leased Prius driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a put-upon store clerk who wants to open a woman’s gym with his one-time best friend with benefits Debbi (Betty Gilpin) who he’s never had the courage to tell how he feels. Vic, meanwhile, hasn’t had time for his artist daughter (Natalie Morales).
And so the film spends its time chasing around the city, Vic constantly bumping into things, Stu’s car getting increasingly battered while he’s frustrated that he can’t get over to Debby who called because she dumped her jerk boyfriend and wants a sympathy screw. Lot of people get shot, Stu finds himself reluctantly getting further and further involved in the violence(at one point he accidentally shoots someone) and it all ends up with Vic confronting his target only to learn he’s in cahoots with someone on the force.
There’s some mildly amusing banter between about men expressing their emotions, Stu winds up giving counselling to a male stripper and the shoot out at a vets involving cans of dog food is pretty good, but the script short changes its stars, both of whom have proven their comedic skills, by piling on the genre clichés (though the riff on Jaws is amusing) and giving them no character shading at all. Don’t keep the meter running. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Shock & Gore Festival @ The Electric
The Golem (15)
A horror story rooted in Jewish folklore, Hani Furstenberg plays mystical woman who conjures a mythic entity, who looks like her dead son, to save her 17th century Lithuanian community from the Russian Christians invaders, but unleashes a far greater evil.
Charlie Says (15)
Showing as a UK Premiere, American Psycho director Mary Harron takes her stab at the 1969 Manson murders, focusing on three of the female cult members Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) as they reflect on the killings in a prison discussion group and presenting their relationship with Charles Manson (Matt Smith) as a form of abuse.
Hold Your Breath (15)
Another UK premiere, Romain Duris and Olga Kurylenko star as an estranged husbandand wife in an atmospheric survivalist thriller as they seek to rescue their daughter, who’s in a medical bubble in their apartment, when a deadly toxic mist descends on Paris.
South African Spook Hunter (18)
A regional premiere for a mockumentary in which the titular spook hunter, Matty Vans hires a film crew to document his paranormal ghost hunting business. Just as they tire of following him around with no evidence of the paranormal, he receives a phone call from a woman claiming her family is being hounded by a spirit. After agreeing to spend the week with the family, it quickly becomes clear to everyone but Matty that their haunting is an elaborate hoax. However, the Damon-Murray family do have a dark secret.
Night Hunter (15)
European premiere of a psychological thriller with Henry Cavill as a brooding Minnesota cop on the hunt for a serial kidnapper-rapist-murderer (Brendan Fletcher). Ben Kinsgley co-stars as a rough juice retired judge while Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion put in pay cheque cameos.
Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90-minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute live action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.
Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey, the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief. Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.
Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp, sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.
The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.
Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece, though it may also leave audiences hoping remake things take a turn for the better with the upcoming The Lion King. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Even if this had not been beaten to the box office by both Atomic Blonde with its Cold War double and triple crosses and Red Sparrow, in which Jennifer Lawrence’s Russian ballerina is recruited to become an assassin using her sex appeal while scheming to outwit her handlers, not to mention Jodie Corner’s inspired turn as Soviet sociopath Villanelle in Killing Eve, Luc Besson’s thriller would still not be worth the ticket.
Wasting an impressive debut by Russian model turned actress, it offers up Anna as a Russian market street vendor, who,in 1990, is scouted for a Paris modelling agency and soon becomes a high fashion star in a lesbian relationship with a fellow model (Lera Abova). The first twist comes when she returns from the bathroom to the wealthy sleazeball looking to seduce her and puts a bullet in his head. At which point comes the first of any number of flashbacks and flashforwards to detail how, a former junkie and prostitute, she was recruited (after initially turning down the job by slitting her wrist) by the KGB (because she’s good at chess) in the form of hunky romantic interest Alex (Luke Evans) and his handler Olga (Helen Mirren in gleeful accent mangling form) only to find the only retirement option is being shot. Subsequently, in an increasingly convoluted timeframe, she’s busted and recruited by the CIA, here in the form of smooth romantic interest Lenny (Cillian Murphy), naturally finding that playing both sides can be a dangerous game, leading to one final reshuffling of the deck and turning of the tables.
Clearly Besson was looking to revisit past hits such as La Femme Nikita, Leon and Lucy, but, while this has some great action sequences (most especially as Anna takes out a restaurant teeming with goons to meet Olga’s five minute deadline) it never really clicks as the story of a woman carving her own identity and strength in the face of male (and Mirren) puppet masters. And let’s not get into its anachronistic technology. While passably entertaining, the fact that it’s been virtually disowned by the distributor in the wake of unproven accusations of Besson’s sexual misconduct, the only killing this is going to make in cinemas is that delivered by Anna. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Apollo 11 (U)
We’ve already had First Man, but now, marking the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon, Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary pulls together previously unseen NASA 70mm footage and some 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio that that had been gathering dust in the archives to take audiences through the mission, going behind the scenes at Cape Canaveral, into Apollo 11 and the lunar module with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and out into the crowd that gathered to watch lift-off and follow the rocket into the skies and on the television screens over its nine day mission. Relying totally on the archive footage and eschewing any narration or recreations, while the facts are familiar, the film brings them alive as if seeing it for the first time, that one giant leap still stopping your breath while in today’s troubled Trump times, recalling how this was the last time not only America but the entire world was united as one. See it on the biggest screen you can. (Empire Sutton Coldfield)
Avengers: Endgame (12A)
Unquestionably the year’s biggest film, given that Marvel had only just launched the Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the rebooted Spider-Man series, while their characters, along with 50% of all human life on Earth, had been killed off by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War, they would inevitably be resurrected in the sequel. The question wasn’t if, but how. The answer is a breathtaking three-hour epic that draws together strands from several previous Marvel films, interweaving them into an audacious and emotionally-charged climax that brings the current saga to a fitting close.
Again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, it opens at the end of the previous film as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, who wasn’t featured, is teaching his daughter archery when his entire family turns to cosmic dust, setting him off on a new path we don’t catch up with until much later in the film. It’s no spoiler to reveal that, left stranded in space, the now good Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do return to Earth courtesy of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), her appearances bookending the film, reunited with the surviving Avengers who are trying to move on. Five years later, he and Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow) are married with a daughter. Then, in a freak accident back pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man, left trapped in the quantum realm in his last film, with a theory that they may be able to use quantum physics to travel back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them. Stark refusing to get involved lest it just makes matters worse, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has now managed to merge his human and Hulk selves, is recruited to help. Suffice to say, Stark does eventually join the ranks as Hawkeye, Iron Man, Banner and the other the remaining Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s rather gone to pot in self-recrimination and now sports a beer belly, along with Lang, Nebula and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are divided into three teams, each sent off on a quantum realm mission into different points in time (which involves them watching – and in one case battling – themselves in scenes from the previous films) to retrieve their assigned stones and then return to the present, destinations involving New York, Asgard, Vormir, Morag and, in 1970, the army base where Rogers was transformed into Captain America, two of which involve poignant moments between three of them and characters from their past.
After assorted run ins, struggles and an act of sacrifice, they do, indeed, return and reverse the process. But there’s still a twist to come that sets up the final epic confrontation between Thanos and his hordes and, well, pretty much every super-hero from the Disney Marvel Universe, as the likes of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) get to weigh in too. Indeed, it seems anyone who’s ever been in one of the films – or TV spin-offs – puts in appearance, there’s even a (final?) cameo from the late Stan Lee in a 70s hippie incarnation.
Along with the grand-scale action, there’s plenty of the trademark humour, particular highlights between a drunk Thor, a gag about time travel movies and Hulk/Banner posing for a selfie with fans, not to mention several flourishes, one involving Thor’s hammer, that roused cheers from the audience, but there’s also tear-jerking sadness and pathos as the film draws a heroic line under or passes the torch in certain franchises. The culmination to which everything over the past years and twenty-two films has been building, it redefines the term spectacle while having a heart so big it needs an IMAX screen to contain it. Fittingly, there no bonus end credit scenes pointing to the future, but whatever paths it takes and whatever new partnerships are forged there’ll be a legion assembled ready to follow. NB: Now with added deleted scene. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)
An interesting idea that starts off well but has nowhere to go, this sort of blends together the origin of Superman with a dash of The Omen as Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), a childless farming couple from Brightburn in rural Kansas get their prayers for a miracle answered when a spacecraft crashes to earth containing a baby boy. They take him in, name him Brandon (a suitably creepy Jackson A. Dunn), hide the evidence and raise him as their own, but, come puberty, the kid starts zoning out, hearing voices and is drawn to the barn (naturally glowing red) where his folks have hidden his cosmic cradle. An encounter with the lawnmower reveals to Brandon he’s superstrong and impervious to harm, while his latent maliciousness manifests itself when he breaks the hand of a girl classmate (Emmie Hunter) after he’s been bullied. Clearly getting a taste for it, he proceeds to use his powers (superspeed, flight, laser beam eyes) to slaughter the family chickens before building up to dispatching anyone who crosses him, starting with the girl’s unpleasant waitress mother and moving on to the husband (Matt Jones) of his school counsellor aunt (Meredith Hagner) and two of the local cops before turning his attention to mom and dad who, by now, have discovered the drawings under his bed. Wearing a sack with peepholes over his head and a scrappy red cape, he also leaves a trademark symbol (his initials) at the scene of his crimes. Mom, meanwhile, remains determined to protect him despite everything.
Directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, respectively brother and cousin of producer James Gunn, the super-hero horror concept is promising, but once Brandon embarks on his murder spree, it’s clear none of them have much idea of where to take it other than throwing in more gore and some confused planetary domination babble as he keeps repeating ‘Take the world’.
Niceties such as character development, satirical wit and depth of narrative don’t get a look in, but you do get to see a sliver a glass in someone’s eyeball and a rather grisly severed jaw and admire how the cast can keep a straight face while delivering lines like “He’s not our son! He’s something we found in the woods!” While agreeably unpleasant in a B-movie manner, without even attempting to offer any explanation or motivation to Brandon’s actions (he protests to mom, “I want to be good” but shows no evidence of any inner struggle), this is ultimately more silly than scary, a sort of Drab Phoenix. (Vue Star City)
Child’s Play (15)
A different kind of toy story, this reboots the Chucky franchise, a sort of older male cousin to Annabelle. In the original, it was Good Guy doll which became possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer seeking a human body to inhabit, here it’s a Buddi doll who, voiced by Mark Hamill, becomes a murder machine after its AI is sabotaged in the production plant. The remake follows the same basic set up in that the doll’s bought by busy single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) as a companion for her adolescent (and, here, deaf) son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and subsequently takes on a life if its own, getting a taste for butchery after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, and murdering the babysitter, for which Andy gets the blame and put in a psychiatric hospital. Variations this time around include a bunch of neighbourhood kids straight out of Stranger Things who team up to defeat the doll, mom’s jerk boyfriend and a creepy handyman with Mike Norris (Bryan Tyree Henry), the detective on the case, being the son of a neighbour. There are, naturally, plenty of grisly deaths (including by lawnmower), stupid decisions and some woolly cautionary messages about technology out of control and the toxic influence of mankind, but nothing to warrant resurrecting a franchise that had worn out its invention and welcome long before it got the axe. (Mockingbird; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Diego Maradona (12A)
“A bit of cheating and a lot of genius”, someone says in summing up Argentinian football megastar Diego Maradona whose ‘Hand of God’ moment in the quarter final against England sealed the 1986 World Cup as Argentina went on to defeat West Germany 3-2. Directed by Asif Kapadia, but largely using existing TV footage alongside some modern day reminiscences from its subject, the two-hour plus documentary traces Maradona’s life and career from the slums of Buenos Aires through a less than glorious 80s stint at Barcelona to Naples and subsequent superstar status, the disastrous fall out of the Argentina vs. Italy clash in the 1990 World Cup and a crash back down through assorted extramarital affairs, pregnancy controversies, cocaine habit, mobster associations, weight gain, media ostracisation, drugs bust and despair.
Very much one for soccer enthusiasts, but even less than casual viewers are likely to be impressed by footage of the man in action; however, it’s the story away from the pitch, one fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fierce determination to win and rampant hubris that makes this, as one historian puts it, “tremendous and terrible” story worth going well into extra time. (Electric)
The Dish (12A)
You’d probably never have found any of the NASA team playing baseball on the surface of the satellite dish tracking Apollo XI on its way to the first moon landing. But Australians are a whole different breed. Of course, the team staffing the massive radio antenna dish situated in a field full of sheep in small town Parkes, New South Wales, might not actually have ever played cricket on it, but watching this wonderful feelgood movie makes you feel they should have.
Although there’s some dispute Down Under as to the precise historical accuracy of Parkes role in events, as Rob Sitch’s film tells it, when a last minute flight change meant Apollo XI would be out of contact with the prime receiver in California then the responsibility for transmitting live images of that one giant leap for mankind fell to the back up dish in Australia. Seconded NASA rep Al Patrick Warburton) is a little anxious that the team aren’t up to the job. Understandable really. I mean this is a long way from the hyper-intensity of Mission Control. Shy Glenn (Tom Long) seems more worried about plucking up courage to ask out the girl who brings them lunch. Resentful engineer Mitch (Kevin Harrington) is a bit on the over-excitable side and Cliff (Sam Neil), the man in charge, puffs a pipe, wears a cardie and never seems to let anything bother him. So, you can imagine Al’s panic when he discovers that, due to a small oversight, they’ve actually managed to lose track of Apollo and aren’t too sure how to find it again. Oh, and NASA’s on the radio and the US Ambassador’s paying a visit.
Cosily acted and very much in the manner of Ealing or the gentle comedies of Bill Forsythe, there’s nothing likely to crack ribs with uncontrollable laughter (though a cricket ball gag comes very close) but whether it’s the guys faking a transmission from Neil Armstrong or, back in town, Mayor Bob (Roy Billing) looking to put Parkes on the map only to have the welcoming band launch into the Hawaii Five-O theme rather than the Star Spangled Banner it never fails to engage or amuse. And, while those immortal images and words from the lunar surface still bring a tingle, showing as part of Moonfest to mark the Apollo landing’s 50th anniversary, this is a welcome reminder that smaller human triumphs over adversity are equally a part of history. (Thu: MAC)
John Wick: Chapter 3 (15)
Save for Constantine, after the end of the Matrix series Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much in the commercial doldrums, then, five years ago, along came John Wick and, while he can still be found in low budget indie fare like Replicas and Destination Wedding, his formerly retired soulful loner, one-man-army assassin has put him back in the A list.
Its title coming from the Latin phrase meaning ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’, this picks up immediately after the end of John Wick 2, with an hour to go before he’s declared ex-communicado after breaking the Masonic-like High Table’s rules by killing someone inside the Continental Hotel, after which, with a $14million bounty on his head, he’s fair game for every assassin going. The first of the bone-crunching fights, in the New York Public Library, giving a new meaning to doing things by the book, what follows is pretty much two hours of constant bloody shootings and stabbings, including a knife through an eye, with occasional breathers to move the narrative to the next level as, calling on his Belarus heritage and bearing a talisman, Wick first calls in a debt and asks for passage to Casablanca from Anjelica Huston’s Russian crime boss The Director (who trained the orphaned young Wick in ballet moves and wrestling), then seeks out the local Continental’s manager, Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a backstory (and another marker) that doesn’t occur in either of the first two chapters, to secure a meeting with her Italian boss (Jerome Flynn) and from there out into the Sahara desert to strike a deal with a High Table Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), albeit at the cost of a finger.
Meanwhile, back in New York the script introduces a new character in the Adjudicator (a superbly frosty Asia Kate Dillon) who’s there to bring to account the Continental’s Manager, Winston (Ian McShane, as cooly imperious as ever), and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick after the hotel killing and who recruits top Japanese assassin and Wick fan Zero (Mark Dacasos) and his goons (including Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid) as muscle.
Again directed by Chad Stahelski and saturated with colour, it not only looks amazing but delivers one breathtaking and often close-up action set piece after another (notably a frenetic melee in a weapons museum lined with glass knife display cases) as Wick variously takes on his assailants with fists, guns, knives, swords, motorbikes and even the hind legs of a horse while, in the Casablanca shoot-out, teamed up with Sofia, they also have the help of her two German Shepherd attack dogs (echoing the canine theme running through the series) who know just where to bite a man, all climaxing in a showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass maze.
Reeves again delivers droll line delivery perfection alongside incredible physicality while those around him rise to the glorious absurdity and excess of the occasion as the film ends ready to launch into a revenge/payback themed John Wick Chapter 4. Bring it on. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Men In Black International (12A)
Seven years on from the third and final instalment starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (who get a tip of the hat in a painting, and almost 22 since the MiB started protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe, director F Gary Gray reboots the franchise, reuniting Thor and Valkyrie, okay Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, for a more globe-spanning outing that takes in Paris, London, Naples and Marrakesh.
It opens with Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent High T (Liam Neeson), the boss of the London bureau atop the Eiffel Tower, saving the world from The Hive, an alien race bent on galactic-scale destruction, “with nothing but their wits and series-70 atomizers.” Flashback twenty years with Molly witnessing her parents being neurolised by two MiB and helping a fluffball alien to escape, an incident that sparks a deep obsession that will, in the present, lead to her tracking down the MiB New York HQ and convincing station boss Agent O (Emma Thompson) to take her on as a probationer as Agent M complete with trademark Paul Smith suit, white shirt and skinny black tie.
To which end, she’s despatched to London and assigned to work with Agent H, who, as everyone observes, hasn’t been the same since Paris, generally assumed to be the result of breaking up with arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson). Given the job of babysitting visiting royalty, Vungus the Ugly, an old alien friend of H, things go pear-shaped when he’s murdered by two lookalike alien trackers (Larry Bouregois) who can absorb the appearance of those they have killed, but not before he passes on a purple crystal device to M, the only one he can trust.
This, it turns out, is some sort of superweapon involving a compressed star that could potentially obliterate the planet and needleless to say, the two aliens aren’t the only ones who want to get their hands on it, plus there’s suggestions that the London office has been compromised, while priggish Agent C (Rafe Spall) seeks to put his oar into the mission and it all winds up back in Paris with a not too hard to see coming twist, albeit with a twist inside itself.
Visually, it sometimes falls short and Gray never quite manages to successfully integrate the live action with the action-heavy effects. But this is more than compensated by the hugely enjoyable screwball comedy interplay and banter between Hemsworth, in typical laconic mode, and Thompson as the eager to impress Agent M, boosted in the latter half by the amusing addition of Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a sort of living green alien chess piece in a red uniform that resembles an acorn pod, who adopts M as his new Queen. Ultimately, it’s not all it might have been, but there’s more than enough fun and chemistry (as well as some unresolved plot lines) here to make you hope they’re back in black again in the not too distant future. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Given it involves a troubled visitor to a reclusive, isolated community that practices ancient fertility and renewal rites, including a sacrificial offering, it’s hard not to think of this as a Swedish-set version of The Wicker Man. Except that was 88 minutes and this is almost an hour longer.
Written and directed by Ari Aster as his follow-up to Hereditary, it pivots on a terrific performance by Florence Pugh (increasily resembling a young Kate Winslet) as the traumatised Dani who, having experienced a family tragedy (a brilliant opening of panic and a wordless reveal that her unbalanced sister’s committed suicide and murdered their parents), is grudgingly invited by her less than committed boyfriend. Christian (Jack Reynor), to join him and his loosely sketched university friends, fellow PhD student Josh (William Jackson Harper), ever horny Mark (Will Poulter), and the just graduated Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the latter’s Swedish commune. Indeed, the latter’s especially keen for her to come.
On arrival, they link up with two English tourists, Connie and Simon, who are essentially redundant to the mix other than for body count purposes, and they’re all invited to take part in a nine-day celebration that’s only held once every 90 years. With everyone wearing white, forever waving their hands in the air, an unexplained caged bear and ritualistic group meals, it’s all a bit odd. Things take a rather more startling turn, however, when, following tradition, two elderly members of the community hurl themselves from a cliff to be dashed, in gruseome rubbery rootage, on the rock below. Dani is understandably rattled, but her travelling companions seem less so, Christian and Josh seeing it as anthropologicaly fascinating and the culturally insensitive Mark, well, frankly not giving a toss since he only appears to have tagged along to get laid. Which will, of course, not turn out for the best.
From hereonin, things start to get creepier, what with all those disturbing paintings in to the communal sleeping quarters, the assorted ululations and hallucinogenic drinks, until the group’s been whittled down to just Dani and the increasingly bemused Christian, the former invited to take part in the dance to choose the May Queen and the other reluctantly becoming a central player in an impregnation ritual. And, for those unaware of Edward Woodward’s wicker man fate, we’ve still to find out why the bear’s there.
Making effective use of the constant daylight, Aster takes his time in building the gathering sense of dread, dropping in small suggestions and details, relying on imagery rather than carnage, while the narrative’s peppered with bursts of humour (some more intentional than others as it descends into giggle-inducing silliness) as it finally builds to a genuinely disturbing finale that gives Pugh the last unsettling freeze frame.
It’s a muddled and mostly predictable journey in which much happens off camera and, as obligatory in such films, no one ever says let’s get the fuck out of here,., but while it will try the patience, those last fifteen minutes are well worth the wait. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)
Not even the most ardent Pokemon fan would have thought another animated feature would be a good idea, so relief all round that, directed by Rob Letterman, who made Goosebumps, this is a live action/CGI reboot of the franchise, a sort of family friendly answer to The Happytime Murders. Following his detective father Harry’s apparent death in a car accident, estranged son Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City, a sprawling metropolis created by tech-visionary Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as a place where humans and their Pokemons can live together in peace and Pokemon battles are illegal (though they still happen). Here, Tim (a loner who has no Pokémon of his own) runs into his dad’s amnesiac, electricity-discharging furry yellow Pokémon partner, Pikechu (voiced in Deadpool sardonic manner by Ryan Reynolds), and discovers that, after inhaling the purple gas from a capsule in dad’s apartment, that, unlike other humans and Pokémons, they can understand one another. Unfortunately, the gas has a different effect on Pokémons, turning their ultra-violent. All of which, it seems, is part of a plan by Clifford’s resentful son Roger (Chris Geere) to destroy his father’s vision by unleashing mayhem during the upcoming celebratory parade, something in which a genetically created Mewtwo (seen sending Harry’s car off the bridge in the opening) would seem to be instrumental.
Naturally, as Tim and Pikechu join forces with Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an aspirant TV news reporter with a Nancy Drew streak and a Psyduck Pokémon (basically a passive-aggressive walking bomb), not everything is as it seems.
A film noir for kids that echoes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? it possesses a knowing sense of humour, the wisecracking Pikechu sporting a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and a coffee addiction, to complement the often dizzying action sequences. An encounter with a jester-like Pokémon mime is particularly funny, but there’s many amusing throwaways to keep youngsters and grown-ups happy as the plot wanders through some inevitable bonding, friendship, father-son issues and keep them distracted from a somewhat obvious twist. Smith immerses himself in the whole Pokémon world to natural effect while Reynolds tosses off his snarky asides and one-liners with precision timing while Rita Ora puts in a brief flashback cameo as a Pokémon neurologist. For once, the prospect of a sequel is actually something to look forward to rather than dread. (MAC)
The Queen’s Corgi (PG)
Given to the Queen (Julie Walters) by Prince Philip (Tom Courteney) as a present, Rex (Jack Whitellla) becomes her favourite corgi. But, when he disgraces himself during a state visit by Donald and Melania Trump when they want him to mate with their dog, he’s persuaded by cunning rival Charlie (Matt Lucas), who wants to be topdog (spot the in-joke), to leave the palace and finds himself locked up in an animal shelter. Here he falls for slinky Saluki Wanda (Sheridan Smith), which sees him fall foul of shelter bully Tyson (Ray Winstone). Now he has to persuade the other dogs to help him survive a showdown, escape and get back to Buckingham Palace before Charlie officially takes his place.
A competently made and functionally written Belgian animation revoiced with an all star English cast, this has its amusing moments (and, of course, pooh and widdle jokes) and the canine capers will entertain younger kids, though parents might have a tough time explaining the Fight Club references, pole dancing and corgi couplings. Not exactly Secret Life of Pets pedigree, but Trump taking a selfie with Liz and telling Melania to ‘grab some puppy’ offer some compensation. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.
Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).
Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.
But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.
All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.
Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.
At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals, Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)
A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax. His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.
Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.
Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.
Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots and weeing up trees with more anarchic and subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)
Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes), returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that has Ned christening him Night Monkey.
Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.
Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.
Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Toy Story 4 (U)
The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home. He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.
Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.
At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk. “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”
The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.
What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.
Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)
Set in 1992, ten years after the events of Apocalypse (and serving as a prequel to 2006’s The Last Stand), the X-Men are now national heroes, called on by the President in times of need. Such as when something goes wrong with a space shuttle mission and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), already disillusioned with the direction things are going, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are despatched by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to save them. Arriving at the shuttle, they find it in the grip of a powerful cosmic energy force that’s tearing it apart and, using their teleporting and super speed powers, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver rescue the astronauts, only to find one’s still onboard. Nightcrawler returns, this time with Jean who uses her mental powers to keep the craft together. However, before she can return to the X-craft, the force engulfs the ship, flooding her with its energy. It should have killed her, but she somehow survives and is returned to Earth where a medical shows her to be perfectly fine. In fact, rather more than fine.
It would seem that the force she’s absorbed has interacted with her own powers, enhancing them to the extent that she’s now the most powerful being on the planet, her skin glowing with cracks revealing the pulsating inner light. Unfortunately, she’s not in control of them and the psychic walls Xavier put in place to protect her when he took her in after she was orphaned in a car crash as a child are starting to collapse, flooding her with suppressed memories. Worse, she likes the feeling she gets when she exercises the power. On top of which a shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari and led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain channelling Tilda Swinton) are on Earth to drain the power inside Jean so they can take Earth for themselves.
Turning her back on the X-Men after learning what a well-intentioned but misguided Xavier did to her as a child and in the wake of a tragedy caused by the inner Phoenix taking her over, a traumatised and increasingly out of control Jean initially seeks help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), culminating in him joining forces with the Beast, who feels betrayed by Xavier (who seems to be on a bit of PR ego trip), in a revenge-driven attempt to kill her while the other X-Men seek to reach out to the inner Jean and the Vuk marshal their forces for first a tumultuous New York-set show down followed by the climax aboard a speeding train.
The culmination of the franchise, it’s dark affair that sees the death of two major characters and a change in the X-Men leadership but, it never quite has the same emotional punch as Wolverine’s send-off in Logan, Writer and first time director Simon Kinberg (who also co-wrote The Last Stand), handles things well enough, welding the somewhat functional narrative and dazzling effects together and lacing things with a vein of gender politics about powerful women, but somehow the film never really soars as it should. It may be the end, but it’s no Endgame. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.
Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.
The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained. In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.
There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.
Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Wild Rose (15)
Named one of the BAFTA Breakthrough Brits in 2017 and a nominee for BAFTA’s 2019 Rising Star award on the back of her performance in Beast, Jessie Buckley consolidates her growing reputation with a knockout performance as a Glaswegian single mother dreaming of making it in country music. Unfortunately, Tom Cooper’s film never matches the fire of its star.
Just out of prison for supplying heroin to the inmates, ankle-tag under her white cowboy boots, bolshie Rose-Lynn Harlan returns home to her two young kids and tough-love mother Marion (Julie Walters), looking to reclaim her job singing at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry and still nurturing an ambition to seek fame and fortune in Nashville, despite her mother forever pouring cold water on such ambitions. She gets a cleaning job in an upmarket part of Glasgow, singing as she hoovers away for the wealthy Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who, having been introduced by Rose to the joys of Dolly Parton and the like improbably becomes her fairy godmother, seeking to further her dreams. This includes sending a demo off to Bob Harris and facilitating meeting at the BBC with him and his producer, Mark Hagen, in quite possibly the most excruciatingly embarrassing five minutes you’ll see on screen this year. In another cloud of wish-fulfilment, a lawyer also manages to convince a judge to have her ankle tag removed so she can further he singing career and provide for her kids.
Despite blowing a fundraising opportunity thrown by Susannah, Rose, thanks to mom, gets to go to Nashville after all (cue a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Kasey Musgraves) and even sing on the Opry stage before she has yet another epiphany about her parental responsibilities. But, even then, the film still gets to sprinkle fairy dust over things as, Whispering Bob in the audience, she gets to have her cake and eat it by playing one of Scotland’s biggest Americana-based music festivals.
Uncynical and unabashedly feelgood to the point of parody, it almost drowns in clichés about discovering who you are and what truly matters, Walters (clearly there were no actual Scottish actresses available) lays on the Glasgow accent so thickly she’s often impossible to understand and Okenado, a gifted actress, is forced to be so gushy as to make Mary Poppins seem like Nurse Ratched. The saving grace in all this is Buckley, fiercely playing a character who can be blinkered and self-deluded in the selfish single-minded pursuit of her dream but still has you rooting for her. On top of which, doing her own vocal work (a theatrical background, she first came to notice in the TV auditions for Oliver!), while no Lady GaGa, she also turns out to be a pretty good country singer too, the film’s soundtrack album serving as her own musical debut, including the excellent Cigarette Street (Five O’Clock Freedom) written and sung in the film by The Southern Companion. A star is indeed born. (Tue:MAC)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
Cineworld – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000
The Electric Cinema – 47–49 Station Street, 0121 643 7879
Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield
0871 471 4714
The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060
MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232
Mockingbird, Custard Factory 0121 224 7456.
Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007
Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777
Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich 0333 006 7777
Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316
Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240