Alien: Covenant (15)
Set 10 years after Prometheus (2012), Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the seemingly endless sci fi horror Alien saga offers further insights into the creatures’ origins, although the film itself feels more like a bridging link to the next chapter rather than a self-contained narrative in its own right. It’s 2104 and Covenant is taking a 2000 sleeping colonists and several trays of embryos to a new habitable world. The ship and its systems (Mother) are under the control of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the latest upgrade of the original David model from the last film, the latter seen as the film opens, talking with his creator (Guy Pearce) in an airless, sterile white room, naming himself after Michelangelo’s statue and already displaying a sense of superiority over his human ‘father’.
Fast forward and, aboard the ship, a solar storm causes malfunctions that requires the crew to be woken from their hyper-sleep early, unfortunately one of them (James Franco, seen via a home video), the husband of first officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is burned to death in his pod, leaving the faith-driven Oram (Billy Crudup) as next in charge/In the process of making re[airs, they intercept a radio signal which Tennessee (David McBride) identifies as someone singing Take Me Home Country Roads. With the signal’s source tracked to a planet that seems to be the perfect new Eden they’re seeking, Oram decides to investigate and possibly use this as the resettlement base rather than the one planned, which will take a further seven years to reach. Daniels advises otherwise, but is overruled. So you already have a good idea of what’s in store.
Headed up by Oram and Daniels, the search team includes a clutch of assorted disposable characters, among them Oram’s own wife, and, ploughing through the cosmic storm and landing they find not only fields of wheat, but also the rusting remains of the Prometheus. With things already looking ominous, they get trouser-soilingly worse when two of the team are infected by some sort of spores and have baby aliens bursting out of their bodies, resulting in the landing ship and anyone onboard going kaboom and leaving the survivors stranded. Clearly being hunted by the creatures, they’re rescued (not not before Walter sacrifices his hand to save Daniels) by a mysterious cloaked figure who leads them to an abandoned city full of Pompeii-like petrified corpses. The figure, of course, turns out to be David (Fassbender again) who tells how they crashed, killing expedition leader Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in the process as well as releasing the deadly pathogens they were carrying and wiping out all life.
Naturally, that’s not strictly how it happened, David’s flashback revealing he deliberately dropped the virus and himself killed Shaw as part of his God-complex experiments on destroying and creating life, essentially an excuse for Scott to serve up several genetic-mutation variations on the familiar alien, including one of spookily humanoid form, at least save for its bulbous head.
So, their numbers gradually being whittled down, it’s up to Tennessee to rescue those left alive. However, even though they he, Daniels, Walter and one of the remaining disposables make it back aboard the Covenant, that’s not the end of things by far, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, with two synthetic lookalikes, which on is on the ship and which is lifeless back on the planet.
Given the franchise trajectory and the in-production sequel, none of this is much of a spoiler, the real disappointment is how generic it all becomes with the assorted gun battles, acid sprays, dismemberments, face huggers and running through dark narrow spaces pausing only for a discussion between Walter and the cool but patently deranged David on their different natures and the purpose of creation, although the screenplay seems to use the latter more as a plot engine than any serious existential philosophising.
Fassbender does a great job in both roles, including an unsettling scene of sibling homoeroticism, Crudup layers complexity into his insecure, reluctant leader trying to do the right things and McBride gets to play the reliable man of action you need when it’s all going to hell. However, despite everyones somewhat limited characterisation, it’s Waterson who is clearly the heart and soul of the film, delivering a spunky, gritty determination clearly intended to echo Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
There’s nothing particularly new in this story of a washed up boxer fighting his demons (almost obligatory alcoholism) and taking on one last fight that serves as both a reaffirmation of who he is and the springboard to face and seek help for his problems. However, in the hands of Thomas Napper, stepping up from second unit director and both starring and written by Johnny Harris, who brings a touch of Ken Loach to the film’s social issues, this really does deliver a punch.
Harris stars as Jimmy McCabe, a former South London child boxing champion who pissed it all away and who, between his addiction, unemployable nature and the recent death of his mother, finds himself facing eviction and without benefits, or dignity. Although it’s clear old friends care about him, he’s too proud to ask for help, even when he’s hungry and homeless, as to do so would mean acknowledging how far he’s sunk. Hence, why he never speaks at the AA meetings he attends. He does, however, fetch up at the local amateur boxing gym owned by gruff but warm-hearted former mentor Bill Carney (Ray Winston) where he learned to box and gets to do some training and occasionally help out Bill and his partner Eddie (Michael Smiley) with the boys there to learn the craft. Evicted, he also ends up sleeping there.
Desperate for money, he turns to a shady promoter (a briefly cameoing Ian McShane) who sets him up with an unlicenced bout up north where he can at least earn £2,500 by getting beaten by the local bully boy hot shot. At which point Bill breaks some dark news.
It all unfolds in predictable underdog comeback fashion (albeit not in some stadium but a tiny back street ring), but Harris’ screenplay delivers a deeply felt character study on which melancholy and sadness hangs heavy while, looking a little like a battered and broken Jason Statham, his complex, brooding and nuanced performance is outstanding. Although his rage does explode at times, for the most he keeps the main and self-loathing internalised, a restraint that also extends to Winstone who gives his subtlest performance in years.
Landing emotional body blows every bit as powerful as the physical ones served up in the well-staged brutal match on which the film climaxes, downbeat yet ultimately optimistic it may lack the flash and brash of a Rocky, but it still delivers a knockout that deserves far more than its single screen showing. (Everyman)
The Journey (12A)
Held in Fife between October 11 to 13, 2006, the Northern Ireland peace talks concluded with the historic St. Andrews Agreement, with both sides in the Troubles agreeing to share power with prudist Protestant firebrand preacher Ian Paisley as First Minister and his sworn Catholic enemy Martin McGuiness, the alleged former IRA Chief of Staff turned Sinn Fein MP, as his deputy.
It seemed an almost impossible outcome, but, directed by Nick Hamm and written by Colin Bateman, this film speculates on how the rapprochement between the two (who went on to become great friends and were dubbed the Chuckle Brothers) came about during an imagined and wholly fictional car journey they share as, for political protocol, McGuiness (Colm Meaney) insists on accompanying Paisley (a pursed lips Timothy Spall) as he’s driven to Edinburgh to catch a plane home for his 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.
Their apparently naïve young driver (Freddie Highmore) is a covert security agent getting instructions from his MI5 boss (the late John Hurt) through an earpiece while, the car fitted out with security cameras, he and the others back at the hotel, among them Gerry Adams (Ian Beattie) and Tony Blair (Toby Stephens), watch what’s going on between the two men, hoping that, if they’re given enough time, they’ll somehow find common ground. As such, while there are diversions such as the pair wandering through the woods and into an abandoned church, when the car collides with a deer and has a puncture, the bulk of the film takes place in the back seats, the garrulous McGuiness trying to get the terse Paisley to talk to him, lend him his phone or simply crack a smile.
Naturally, there’s plenty of politically focused dialogue with the pair exchanging accusations about things done by both sides, but the tone is generally light with a considerable degree of comedic banter, mostly on McGuiness’s part, though Paisley reveals a dry wit too; a particular high note is a shared joke over Irish figures of speech, while a sequence when the latter confronts a recalcitrant petrol station cashier is as funny as any road trip comedy you might care to name.
The whole set-up is, of course, too fanciful to take seriously, the film’s comic sensibilities underscored by Stephens playing Blair as his caricature rather than his character. But, thanks to the two splendidly offset lead performances that brilliantly channel the two rivals capturing the humanity behind the public image, McGuiness’s explanation of his change of heart after the Enniskillen bombings especially effective. It never happened like this of course, but the film makes you wish it had. (Electric)
Hailed as the British comedy of the year, a title it might earn by default given the opposition so far, this big screen outing by the Mighty Boosh partnership of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay) is more accurately a second division Hot Fuzz that spoofs such naff 70s secret agent series as The Six Million Dollar Man. Indeed, that’s clearly the inspiration behind Mindhorn, both the name of the character and the TV show, in which the smugly arrogant Richard Thorncroft played the titular Isle of Man detective with a bionic eye that could reveal the truth.
Now, years after cancellation, he’s a bald washed-up has been with a paunch and a toupee reduced to doing commercials for male corsets and orthopaedic socks. Until, that is, his agent (Harriet Walter) sets him up with a job back on the Isle of Man where the police are trying to catch a killer (Russel Tovey), a mentally disturbed youth who calls himself Kestrel and will only talk to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The idea is that Thorncroft will talk to him on the phone in character while the cops, headed up by DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough), trace the call, while Thorncroft tries to milk the publicity with the help of his seedy old agent Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) and his former romantic interest co-star and old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) who now works for a local TV channel.
Naturally, nothing goes to plan, and as the plot thickens, Thorncroft discovers the suspect may not be the real killer, that his former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), is now married to Patricia and that he apparently has a daughter he knew nothing about.
There’s a high degree of silliness, some inspired, some not, as well as frankly embarrassing cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow as themselves while, as played by Steve Coogan, the character of Peter Eastman who went on to mega success in the Windjammer spin-off series, just feels half-written. Coogan’s appearance also can’t help but prompt comparison with his own Alpha Papa, and not one that does this any favours.
Everyone plays it with tongues firmly in cheek and Barratt’s deadpan turn is especially good in capturing the inner desperation of a battered male ego, but, ultimately, while fitfully funny, and occasionally more so, the comedy of the year position is still vacant. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman)
Miss Sloan (12A)
An insomniac, unable to sleep, when high-powered lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) goes to bed, she usually grabs a John Grisham courtroom thriller to read. The plot here wouldn’t be out of place, and, while there may not be a courtroom, there is a Senate hearing, chaired by Congressman Sperling (John Lithgow), to which Sloane has been summoned accused of violating ethics. It’s here that the film begins, but then rolls back in time to find Sloane, who’s employed by Cole, Kravitz & Waterman, a top DC consulting film (headed by Sam Waterson), laughing down a Senator who wants her to campaign on behalf of the NRA and turn images of mothers crying for their shot children into a women for guns message to secure a vote against gun registration.
She duly quits on moral principle ground and, taking with her all of her team save for assistant Jane (Alison Pill) .who reckons her career’s better served staying put with top associate Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), sets up camp with the a smalltime boutique lobbying firm run by idealist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong in an underwritten role) who are trying to swing the vote in favour of registration
Although you need a reasonable working knowledge of how lobbyists work (especially in America), director John Madden sweeps you along, cutting back and forth between the hearing and the events leading up to it, with Sloane’s attorney (David Wilson Barnes) bemused and frustrated at her tactics. A driven character whose sacrificed private life for career (there’s never explored hints of a trouble childhood) who releases her tensions in hotel rooms with a hunky Southern male escort (Jake Lacy), Sloane is a compelling figure, but far from sympathetic. Determined to win, she’s willing to exploit anything and everyone to do so, something her gun violence survivor new colleague Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) learns to her cost, but, as a lobbyist, she believes the end justifies the means. She also operates on the principle that “It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”, a credo which reveals itself in an implausible third act which that may well defy narrative logic and require a credibility straining foresight that chess grandmasters would envy, but undeniably delivers a crowd pleasing sting.
While the supporting turns are solid, Mbatha-Raw in particular, this is firmly Chastain’s film, her Elizabeth Sloane an obsessive, coolly efficient Lady Macbeth without the guilty conscience who makes it her business to not only know where all the bodies are buried, but who made the shovels, but yet still with flashes of humanity behind that implacable exterior. More likely to share the box office fate of Sandra Bullock’s political consultant drama Our Brand Is Crisis than George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, both of which mined similar territory, even so, this is well worth voting for with your ticket money. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza)
A Dog’s Purpose (PG)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.
This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who becomes the police dog partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.
As you’ll have worked out the meaning of canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.
There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Beauty and the Beast (PG)
Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating. And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.
The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.
You’ll know the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.
Lost during a storm, Belle’s father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere, her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.
At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately, when it isn’t, it falls rather short, and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Belko Experiment (18)
Director Greg McLean and Guardians of the Galaxy writer James Gunn give another spin to the Battle Royale scenario in which a bunch of characters have to kill one another in order to survive. Here it’s a group of office drones working in a Colombian high-rise for Belko, a government funded corporate whose day goes belly up when, over the intercom, a voice announces that in eight hours most of them will be dead and that they have to kill two people in the next thirty minutes or face the consequences. At which point the place goes into lock down, cutting off communication with metal shutters covering all the exits and windows. The CEO, Barry (Tony Goldwyn), reassures the staff it’s just some prank, but, when explosive chips implanted in their heads start going off, that’s clearly not the case.
At which point, with middle manager Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), who’s romantically involved with fellow employee Leandra (Adria Arjona), removing the explosive from his neck things basically settle into a rather you than me scenario when they’re told another 30 have to die in the next four hours. So, on the one hand you have good guy Mike in favour of resistance and, on the other, there’s Barry assisted by creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) assigning who lives and dies. All of which is being monitored by hidden cameras by the unseen figures in the nearby warehouse and whose snipers are on hand to prevent anyone trying to get a message out.
Rather inevitably, it descends into a who’s next situation (contenders include new hire Melonie Diaz, maintenance worker Michael Rooker, stoner Sean Gunn and security guard James Earl) and where, given the place is plunged into darkness, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but there is a liberal helping of splatter as well as a strong seam of black and bleak humour, The perfunctory coda involving the lone survivor about it all being an experiment by a global bunch of demented social scientists is a half-hearted attempt at explanation that defies logic but, as you might expect, does end on a set up for phase 2. (Showcase Walsall)
The Boss Baby (U)
If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to BabyCorp management. The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work, which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty Staci and the gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.
Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.
Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Fast And Furious 8 (12A)
Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.
Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.
Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family, is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.
As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye, she now wants him to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.
Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a heart to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Get Out (15)
Bringing a welcome injection of fresh blood to horror movies, writer-director Jordan Peele deftly revives the genre’s element of social commentary, constructing his film as a racial satire which chimes powerfully in America’s current climate. Indeed, Peele’s darkly funny film riffs on the idea of whites finding a new way of subjugating blacks to slavery.
A rising star in the photography world, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is persuaded to visit the new girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family in their upstate home. He’s just a little wary of their reaction, specifically since she hasn’t told them he’s black. Indeed, his best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery providing the broad comedy) , a Homeland Security agent with the TSA who reckons white folk want black sex slaves, thinks it’s a really bad idea. However, Rose reassures him that they’re progressive thinkers and will be totally accepting. Indeed, neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist wife Missy (Catherine Keener) prove to be just that. Even so, Chris isn’t totally at ease and, even though Dean says that he’s almost embarrassed at having live-in black servants, handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), kept on after caring for his elderly parents, but they’re like part of the family. Chris finds their almost zombie-like behaviour a little unsettling, likewise, Rose’s spoiled brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who goes on about his “genetic makeup” and Missy’s insistence on hypnotising him to cure his smoking habit.
Clearly all is not what it might appear. The visit coinciding with an annual bash when all the rich folks come over, Chris feels there’s something familiar about the quietly polite black husband (Lakeith Stanfield) of one of the middle-aged women. Audiences will too, since he was seen abducted on a deserted street at the start of the film. When Rod suggests he take a photo on his phone and send it to him to check out, the flash causes something in the man to snap, his meek demeanour falls away and he lurches at Chris telling him to ‘get out!’
It is, of course, rather too late for that and it’s not long before Chris wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair and discovering just what is going on, why the servants act like they do and why so many black men have been vanishing in the area. To say more would spoil things, but suffice to say The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are not idle comparisons.
Peele cleverly marries the growing tension and horror with comedy and barbed casual racism before cranking things up to a bloody and gory climax as well as a final gotcha. Scary, funny, thought-provoking and resonantly timely, this has the makings of a future classic. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Going In Style (12A)
A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns and Art Carney, Zach Braff’s update has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as, respectively, Joe, Willie and Albert, three retirees who, on learning the pension fund of the steel company where they worked is being dissolved following a corporate restructuring, decide to rob the Brooklyn bank handling the deal. Albert, the grouch always going on about how he could die any day, shares a house with Willie, who is hiding a kidney problem and would like to be able to see more of his daughter and grandchildren who have moved out of town, while Joe is facing foreclosure and wants to hang on to his home and keep the family together. When he’s caught up in an armed robbery at the same bank, the ease at which it goes down inspires him to persuade his friends to take their own shot. Naturally, being geriatrics, things aren’t likely to run quite as smoothly, and the dry run in the local supermarket is, to say the least, a shambles, although it does serve to bring Albert and his sexy neighbour Annie (Ann-Margret) rather closer together.
Needing some professional advice, they cut dodgy low life Jesus in on the deal while Joe pulls his weed-dealing ex son in law (Peter Serafinowicz) back into the family circle to fulfil his responsibilities as father to feisty daughter Brooklyn while he’s off on his crime spree. Then, once the hold up goes down, the three wearing Rat Pack masks, Matt Dillon is the FBI agent who takes on the case and determines to pin the robbery on the trio.
Generic, but nevertheless sweet and watchable, the three elderly leads spark well together as well as having their own spotlight moments, Caine having the bigger emotional tug and Arkin providing his trademark sardonic humour. There’s also an amusing turn from Christopher Lloyd as one of their befuddled fellow OAPs .It does waffle around slightly in the final stretch, but it’s undemanding fun and, given the timely concerns about pension fund entitlements and rip off banks, maybe it’ll spark some equally successful copycats here. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)
It starts brilliantly. As, hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.
Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell), who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of 70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s a Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.
It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.
Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child trafficking by its leader, a cameoing Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign. Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.
Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan lee appearance, this time in the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Lady Macbeth (15)
Adapted from Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s 1860 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and relocated to the bleak County Durham moors of Victorian England , while its titular character may have the single-minded ruthlessness of Shakespeare’s schemer, there’s also a strong touch of Lady Chatterley too, along with the gothic sensibilities of Emily Bronte.
The feature debut of theatre director William Oldroyd, there’s some effective theatrical touches to his period piece in the use of still moments in which the camera simply focuses on the character as she sits staring out of the screen that compound the unease that permeates this bleak and emotionally brutal work.
Bought as domestic property by elderly and sadistic wealthy miner Boris (a loathsome Christopher Fairbank) as a bride for his hard-drinking obnoxious and ineffectual son Alexander (Paul Hilton), who runs their large farm, the young Katherine (Florence Pugh) quickly finds her life is not one she relishes, her husband showing no hint of affection (he never consummates the marriage) and even the servants treating her with disdain. Often left alone save for her black maid Anna (Naomie Ackie), a virtual prisoner in her own home, she’s bored and restless, until she meets mixed race stable-hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) whose sexual magnetism quickly brings out her wild side as they embark on frenzied and frequent sex while Alexander is off dealing with some colliery incident and his father’s in London.
When Boris returns and sniffs out what’s been going on, Katherine disposes of him with poison mushrooms and then, when his son returns and confronts her with the same accusations, he too meets a bloody fate. However, Katherine and Sebastian’s murderous lustful union then faces another setback with the arrival of a refined black woman and her child claiming a connection to the family. Clearly further obstacles need to be removed.
Oppressed by a patriarchal tyranny, initially a figure of sympathy whose actions could be argued as justifiable, her subsequent crime, with Sebastian as accomplice, and her manipulation of blame in her power games are decidedly less so, the film confronting audiences with one especially hard to watch sequence. Rarely off screen, Pugh is mesmerising while, creating the sense of oppressive claustrophobia, both physically and psychology, Oldroyd delivers a very different sort of period piece from the usual heritage cinema that also touches on questions of class and race. Stunning. (MAC)
Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche, in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.
Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down. Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them. To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.
So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?
The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Their Finest (12A)
Taking its title from a line in Churchill’s speech about the Battle of Britain, this is clearly pitched at an older audience and those with an affection for 40s British romantic melodramas. Relocated to wartime London from Wales to share a flat with her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston), copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry Of Information Film Division to work on a propaganda shorts, to provide “the slop”, as the female dialogue is patronisingly termed, which, in turns, sees her assigned to join tetchy and cynical fellow screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on a morale-boosting feature about Dunkirk.
The film is to be based on the story of twin sisters who sailed their small boat to Dunkirk to rescue some of the troops. However, in interviewing them, Cole learns that engine failure meant they actually never got there and that, charisma vacuums, both live in fear of their intimidating father. Nevertheless, given the Ministry’s head (Richard E Grant) has demanded “authenticity informed by optimism”, she overlooks the inconvenient facts and the screenplay starts to take shape along with the casting. Along with the actor who’ll play Johnny, the hero and romantic interest, this will also include faded star and inveterate ham Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who, after his no-nonsense new agent (a bizarrely accented Helen McCrory taking over when her brother, Eddie Marsan’s killed in an air raid) points out his recent lack of work, begrudgingly agrees to take on the role of drunken uncle Jack, although he’s not happy about being killed off halfway
Then, to the consternation of all concerned, looking to get the US into the war, the Ministry demands an American character, to be played by handsome but wooden pilot hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, naturally proves complete incapable of delivering a line. Still, over endless rewrites (many at the behest of Hilliard), the film gradually comes together and, inevitably the bickering between Catrin and Tom plays out as you expect, only for the film to throw an unexpected spanner into the happy ever after works.
Directed by Lone Scherfig (who made An Education with which this shares some themes), it never quite knows what it wants to be, an Ealingesque comedy, a romantic dramady, a behind the scenes look at movie making, a feminist commentary on the role played by women during WWII and their struggles for equality with men or what, and, as a result, it never quite gels as any of them. On top of which, even as a homage, I suspect the CGI backdrops of a blitzed London weren’t intended to look like some 40s back lot.
Clafin underplays nicely as Tom and Arterton does her best with an awkwardly underwritten role, wringing some genuinely affecting emotion in the final stretch, while Rachel Stirling sparks as the team’s lesbian supervisor and there’s an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons reciting Henry V’s Crispin’s Day speech as the Secretary of War, Perhaps inevitably though, it’s Nighy who steals everything, his dry delivery and mannerisms may now be overly familiar, but they’re still very funny. As recent homefront British wartime movies go, this is nothing like The Imitation Game, the good news is it’s nothing like Dad’s Army either. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
It’s not going to win any awards, but, efficiently directed by Michael Apted, this terrorist-themed thriller does a watchable enough job despite its convoluted plot’s twists and turns and unreliable characters.
Blaming herself for not cracking the code soon enough to prevent the deaths of numerous civilians during a terrorist bombing in Paris, former CIA agent Alice (Noomi Rapace) is working for an counselling agency in London’s East End, feeding back any hints of terrorist activity to the head of MI5 (Toni Collette).
Then she’s approached by a CIA agent who says she’s needed to interrogate a courier they’ve snatched who’s supposed to be delivering message from a local Imam suspected of being behind terrorist attacks. They need her to unlock his message so they can switch their man to meet the mastermind behind what they believe to be an upcoming biological attack. Which she duly does, only to get a call from MI5 at a crucial moment asking her to interrogate the self-same courier. Clocking that she’s been played, she escapes and seeks help from her former CIA mentor (Michael Douglas), only for him to be gunned down, giving her the address of a safe house apartment. However, arriving there she finds it being burgled by Jack (Orlando Bloom) who says he’s a former marine who served in Iraq and, after rescuing her from a couple of armed officers sent to apprehend her (CIA station boss John Malkovich acting on the assumption she’s gone rogue), they set off to try and track down the guy the courier was supposed to meet, enlisting the help of one of her agency’s clients in the process.
Given it’s established early on that the CIA has been ‘penetrated’, Alice has no idea of who to trust, and the audience are pretty much in the same position as characters motivations and alliances seem to switch at the drop of a plot twist hat.
Riddled with heavy handed expositionary dialogue and preposterous set-ups, it rumbles along merrily enough, punching up the tension as it goes and slotting into the recent niche of thrillers adopting cynical view about the lengths to which government agencies will go to achieve their ends.
If it’s a little hard to take Bloom as an East End macho man, Rapace delivers an intense performance worthier of a far better film while Collette plays things with a twinkle in her eye and Malkovich adds a wry sense of fun with his dry humour and comic timing. Ultimately, though., it feels a bit like a poor man’s Spooks and the sort of B movie opportunist zeigeist thriller you’d expect to go straight to DVD or on-demand when you can use the remote to switch between plot holes as you watch. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
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