Movie Round-up: this week’s new film releases, Apr 22-Apr 28

NEW RELEASE

Bastille Day (15) Functional rather than inspired, following on from Eden Lake and The Woman In Black, British director James Watkins has a stab at a Hollywood action thriller with somewhat mixed results. When American pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden) lifts a bag in the Sacre Coeur square in Paris, he removes the mobile phone and tosses the bag, A few seconds later there’s an enormous explosion killing four people. The bag contained a bomb that the girl, Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), was supposed to have left at the Paris headquarters of the French Nationalist Party, but changed her mind when she found there were cleaners at work. Now, his image captured on CCTV, Mason is being fingered as the chief terrorist suspect. To which end, to get to him before French Intelligence (so they don’t realise the CIA have been monitoring them), loose cannon agent Sean Briar, (Idris Elba), who, were told from the start, is “reckless, insubordinate and irresponsible”, sets out to bring him in.

Suffice to say, Mason convinces Briar he was just in the wrong place stealing the wrong bah at the wrong time (this he does simply by lifting the money from his wallet), who drags him along to track down Zoe so she can identify where the bomb came from, before Gamieux (Robert Downey Jr. lookalike Jose Garcia), the French anti-terrorism head) manages to identify who Mason is. However, when the pair are attacked by a couple of heavily tooled men also looking for Zoe it swiftly transpires that – a la Triple 9 – the elite team of cops charged with preventing terrorism are not what they would appear.

Without giving away too much of the frankly rather ridiculous and credibility-challenged plot, the anti-terror squad are involved in a conspiracy (using social media and hashtags of all things) to incite the crowd to rise up riot and rise up against the fascist cops, like they did back on the original Bastille Day, creating a diversion while they pull off their real agenda.

It’s nonsense, but it does have a certain style  and, with Elba, a decidedly charismatic presence while, albeit reminiscent of Now You See Me, Mason’s sleight of hand tricks and distractions have a pleasing slickness. There is, naturally, the obligatory banter between the mismatched reluctant partners, the desk jockey boss who things Brier is barking up the wrong tree and the inevitable characters who marked for death in the equally inevitable betrayal reveal. The action sequences are solid, especially the Brier/Mason rooftops chase and a fight inside a speeding police wagon, and the film ultimately delivers enough fun for you to overlook the contrivances it employs in the process.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Dheepan (15)

dheepDirector Jacques Audiard’s much acclaimed feature concerns a Tamil Tiger freedom fighter, who, as Civil War in Sri Lanka is reaching its end, with  defeat near, decides to flee, taking with him a woman and a little girl in the hope they will make it easier for him to claim asylum in Europe. Arriving in Paris, the ‘family’ moves from one temporary home to another until Dheepan finds work as the caretaker of a run-down housing block in the suburbs.  Working to build a new life and a real home for his ‘wife’ and his ‘daughter’, the daily violence he confronts quickly reopens his war wounds, and Dheepan is forced to reconnect with his warrior’s instincts to protect the his new  family. (Electric

Friend Request (15)

Friend-Request-sThe latest in the new social network  horror genre, this one places Facebook centre stage. Having taken pity on  college loner misfit Marina  and becoming her only Facebook friend, when her neediness turns into obsession, popular classmate Laura (Alycia Debnam Carey) unfriends her.  Resulting in Marina committing suicide,. That, inevitably, is not the end of it as Laura and her friends start getting a flood of posts from Marina’s account and find themselves unable to remove the feeds. Naturally, the hate campaign from beyond the grave doesn’t stop there and, as per the genre,  Laura’s mates find themselves not only subjected to an assortment of psychological and physical assaults via the likes of insects and mirrors, but also start winding up dead. In obligatory violent ways. Other than the medium, there’s nothing new here and the  predictably useless cops were probably not a good idea, but if all you’re looking for is impressive visuals and a steady stream of  boo moments, you might want to log on.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Jane Got A Gun (15)

janeThere has, of late, been a minor revival in the revisionist  gritty Western, headed up, of course, by The Revenant. This looks to put a vaguely feminist spin on the genre, but, even so,  our determined heroine, Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) still feels the need to seek out a man,  Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), to help her do what a woman’s got to do. Which, here, involves seeing off a gang of ruthless outlaws, headed up by the urbane John Bishop (an unrecognisable Ewan McGregor all but twirling his moustache), who would like to put a bullet in her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich). In fact they already have, several, Hammond managing to make it back to the homestead where the missus extracts the one  she can as he warns her to get out because the Bishop boys are coming and he’s clearly in no shape to take them on.

However, rather than leave she parks her daughter with a friend, and sets off to ask Frost for help. The hitch here being that they were once an item, engaged even, until he went off to fight in the Civil War and, not know if he was alive or dead, she got fed up of waiting and marred Hammond, who, it turns out, rescued her from being part of Bishop’s whorehouse. Another daughter also forms part of the backstory.

Needless to say, the bitter Frost, who’s as handy with a gun as he is with a bottle, isn’t exactly in a welcoming mood, but, eventually turns up in time to save Jane from one of the gang and agree to help face off the others when they duly arrive, taking a leaf out of the Magnificent Seven by booby-trapping the approach to the cabin.

Punctuated by a series of flashbacks detailing her story with both Front and Hammond, it’s a little jerky in the telling, but even so it hangs together rather better than its troubled production history (director Lynne Ramsey quit to be replaced by Gavin O’Connor, while original cast members included Bradley Cooper) would suggest.

With Emmerich mostly confined to bed and McGregor chewing scenery, it’s down to Edgerton and Portman to do the heavy lifting, something they do persuasively well, Edgerton swinging between grouchy and soulful and Portman making Jane someone who, while not the best shot over a distance, is formidable up close, something that she proves to potent effect in the eventual firefight, much of which is staged in near blackness.

Shot in widescreen, it looks good, evoking feel of those old John Ford Westerns while Leone is clearly an influence once the guns come out of the holsters, and, while it certainly won’t be chasing Tarantino or Inarritu up the box office ladder, fans of the genre should not be disappointed. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Miles Ahead (15)

-Miles-Ahead In  1974, jazz  trumpet legend Miles Davis released Get Up With It. It would be his last album of new material until the arrival of The Man With The Horn in 1981, during which time he effectively retired from music. Making his directorial debut as well as co-writing and taking the lead role, Don Cheadle picks up  his fictionalised biopic ahead of Davis’ re-emergence, pivoting the story around a couple of days in the company of  Scottish journalist Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), who turns up at the musician’s home claiming he’s been by assigned by Columbia, Davis’s label, to write up his comeback for Rolling Stone.

Based around the Maguffin of the theft of the potentially highly lucrative new recordings by an opportunistic  smarmy producer (Michael Stuhlbarg) looking to leverage an opening for his new trumpet protégé (Lakeith Lee Stanfield), the film flits back and forth in time for an impressionistic look at what led to Davis dropping out (a combination of cocaine, domestic abuse and the falling apart of his marriage to muse and first wife Frances Taylor – Emayatzy Corinealdi –  whose face appeared in the cover of 1961’s Someday My Prince Will Come) and his difficult relationship with his own mythology.

Riffing facts (Davis’ infamous racially motivated 1959 arrest outside New York’s Birdland nightclub) and fiction (including a car chase and some gunplay), drama and dark comedy, it’s an erratic affair as unpredictable as some of the trumpeter’s music (which, according to a scene with Braden, he called social music – a phrase he actually used about rock bands in a 1969 Rolling Stone interview – not the invented term of jazz), but, whether as the slick suited Davis of the late 50s or the more straggly, frizzed  afro-sporting blaxploitation version of the 70s, Cheadle is a hypnotic presence, superbly capturing his characters mix of paranoia, arrogance, self-loathing  and vulnerability and, steeped in the man’s music (including an end credits sequence featuring Herbie Hancock), while it’s hardly a conventional biopic, as Miles tells Braden in the film’s opening scene, “If you’re gonna tell a story, come with some attitude.”, Cheadle brings plenty.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City)

Speed Sisters (PG)

speed-sistersDocumentary about the first all-female race car team in the Middle East, five women from the West Bank who have taken on the male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene. (Mon-Thu: MAC)

Flatpack Festival

Fri: The Green Room (18)

greenOpening next week, a preview of director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to Blue Ruin as a punk band take a gig at a private club in the Oregon backwoods only to wind up locked in a room and besieged by neo-Nazis after stumbling on a murder body. (Electric)

 

Sat: When We Were B-Boys (12A) Documentary about the mid 1980s breakdancing scene that swept through UK cities, focusing on Nottingham Rock City, where crews from across the country gathered on Saturdays to battle it out. Featuring interviews with those involved, it reveals how the scene offered hope to kids with limited options, only to leave them stranded when fashions changed. (Electric)

Remainder (15) Tom Sturridge stars in Israeli artist Omer Fast’s adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s cult novel where, losing his memory after being hit by something falling from the sky, a man sets about carefully recreating a particular building, first in cardboard and then – thanks to £8.5 million compensation – in life size, complete with cats tethered to the roof and a woman downstairs who is paid to spend all day cooking liver. . (Electric)

 

Sun:

Love and Peace (PG)

love_peaceFollowing on from last year’s festival hit with hip hop musical Tokyo Tribe, Sion Sono draws on everything from Godzilla to Babe: Pig In The City for a family film about a magic turtle, accidentally flushed down a toilet and, thereby, sparking a series of events that lead to unlikely stardom. (Electric)

 

Symptoms (15) A forgotten British psychological horror from 1974 starring Angela Pleasance as Helen, a woman living in an English country mansion, whose friend, Anne, comes to stay. Before too long odd things begin to happen on the estate. (Electric)

 

The Boy and the Beast (12A) Japanese animation set in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, as nine year-old runaway Ren discovers a portal which leads to a parallel realm populated by all manner of strange, semi-human creatures. (Electric)

 

Heart of a Dog (PG)

HEARTOFADOGHer first feature film in almost 30 years, part essay, part documentary, and part home movie, it sees Laurie Anderson take the death of her beloved piano-playing rat terrier, Lolabelle, as a starting point for  a dreamy, comic, philosophical and emotional journey through  family memories, surveillance and Buddhist teachings using drawings, super 8 and animation. (Electric)

 

Sympathy for the Devil (15)  Documentary by Birmingham director Neil Edwards about the Process Church of the Final Judgment, founded by  two Scientologists in the early 60s, which became a cult magnet for disaffected, well-off youngsters as well as various music celebrities, finally collapsing after being linked, unfoundedly, to  the Manson. Features interviews with former cult members as well as the likes of John Waters and George Clinton, the latter providing music from Funkadelic. (Electric)

 

Chuck Norris vs. Communism (12A)

chucknorrisAn intriguing documentary about  the underground world of VHS tapes in communist-era Romania where smuggled in films starring the likes of Van Damme, Stallone and Norris were highly sought after as regime clamped down on any kind of communal screenings. A one man/one woman team supplied and dubbed the tapes on a daily basis, becoming one of the greatest threats to Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. (Electric)

 

NOW PLAYING

10 Cloverfield Lane (12A)

10CloverfieldLaneA successor  to 2008’s alien invasion found footage disaster blockbuster in name only (the setting is Louisiana not New York), director Dan Trachtenberg’s debut is a far more compelling and human affair. The scale’s different too. This is a three-hander chamber piece with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Howard (John Goodman) and  Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) in a breezeblock  bunker, sealed off from the outside world, which, according to survivalist Goodman, has been devastated in a mass chemical attack, from which he rescued Winstead after her car crashed (the last thing she remembers before she woke up chained) and brought her here. Outside, the air is, he says, unbreathable and they might be the last of humanity. That there’s no cell phone reception makes it difficult to be sure. Fortunately, he’s got in enough provisions to sit it out until it’s safe to leave.

However, while there seems to be evidence that what Howard claims is true (a couple of blistered dead pigs can be seen through the door’s small window along with a later jump shock) , it’s also possible, as Michelle begins to think, that, given his rants about Russia, North Korea, al-Qaeda, and aliens, he may be a paranoid, delusional conspiracy nut. Which, given his controlling behaviour and simmering rage, is why she feels she needs to escape. Whatever may be outside the door.

After Room, this is another claustrophobic piece, thick with an air of menace and psychological tension as Trachtenbergh ratchets up the pressure cooker to a point about which it would be unfair to say more. Suffice to say,  compellingly filmed and featuring outstanding turns from both Winstead and a multi-layered, complex Goodman, it burns a slow fuse to a last act that is as unsettling as its is brief. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Arabian Nights (12A) Showing across two nights, this epic, three-part contemporary fable by Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes adopts the structure from the Arabian Nights in order to explore Portugal’s plunge into austerity. (Fri/Sat; MAC)

 

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (12A) Despite a somewhat messy plot that has to shoehorn in some backstory and teasers for the Justice League movies (cue cameos by The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg), this should more than satisfy the fans. Following a prologue detailing Man of Steel’s  final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and  General Zod,  with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing in from Gotham in time to see one of his buildings collapse, crushing the legs of an employee (Scoot McNairy), things fast forward 18 months and, while a hero many, others, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) included,  regard him as a potential super-powered alien threat. Wayne is one of those who reckons such power should not be allowed to go unchecked, while, over at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is having concerns over Batman’s increasingly brutal vigilante actions in Gotham.

Someone else who’d like to see an end to Superman (for reasons that probably won’t be clear until; the extended cut DVD) is billionaire industrialist Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s got his hands on a chunk of kryptonite and persuaded the authorities to give him access to Zod’s downed ship. It’s his intention to turn the tide against Superman and to manoeuvre Batman into taking him down.

Directed by Zack Snyder, although sometimes hard to keep up with the narrative tangents,  it basically sees a soulful Superman questioning if it’s possible to remain good in the face of evil and an obsessed Batman shedding any scruples about taking lives. Just as it takes a while to see the fully cowled and caped crusader, so the film holds back the appearance of  Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) until the final battle as Luthor unleashes his hybrid monster, Doomsday, on the world

Balancing the action with more intimate moments, including more sage wisdom from Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and a contrived ghostly Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Cavill again does sterling work as Superman while Affleck proves the best Batman this side of Christian Bale, and an even better Bruce Wayne. Gadot makes a suitably dramatic appearance while Jeremy Irons provides a world weary turn as Alfred and Amy Adams serves as the usual woman in peril Lois Lane. The fact that the big showdown fizzles out when both protagonists realise their mothers have the same name (had someone been listening to Rupert Holmes?) may induce more mirth than poignancy, while the already announced JLA roster rather undercuts The Force Awakens style shocker here, but, while it doesn’t scale the same heights as The Avengers: Age Of Ultron it’s definitely on the same playing field.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Boy (15) Yet another in a long line of possessed doll horror movies, this sees Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) bailing on a bad relationship by landing a job as   nanny for a wealthy elderly couple at a remote English estate. However, she’s understandably taken aback to discover their 8-year-old ‘son’, Brahms, is actually a life-size porcelain doll. It seems their actual son died 20 years earlier in a fire following a girl’s murder in the woods, and the doll is their way of coping with the grief. Greta’s expected to care for it as if it were a real boy and given a whole list of rules (never cover his face, never go in the attic, etc) she’s told she must, under no circumstances, break. At which point the pair take off, leaving her alone with the doll save for occasional visits from Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who delivers the groceries.  Naturally, Greta reckons the rules are ridiculous and quickly dispenses with them. Which is when strange things start to happen. Like the doll inexplicably moving from where she left it.

It’s a well worn premise and plays out the scenario with all the usual bells and whistles, including strange noises, windows that don’t open, vermin infestations and dream sequences. So, is Greta going nuts or is it all for Chucky real? Effective enough as creepy goes, but the last act twist (a touch of Phantom of the Opera perhaps) is less of a surprise than it thinks and makes what’s gone before even more implausible. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Vue  Star City)

 

Criminal (15) Ryan Reynolds is Bill Pope, a CIA operative on a mission in London to track down a dangerous hacker.  He’s tortured and left for dead by thugs working for a Spanish anarchist industrialist. However, he was in possession of some important data  that his bosses, headed up by London  bureau chief Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), need to get their hands on.

So, with the help of a maverick neurosurgeon (Tommy Lee-Jones), Pope’s memories are transplanted into Jerico (Kevin Costner), a murderous psychopathic hillbilly currently on Death Row. Jerico has, thanks to a childhood head injury, no sense of empathy, so, as you would assume, once he inevitably escapes (after he’s earmarked for death when he fails to deliver the information) he starts to find Pope’s presence in his mind causing him to act irrationally, especially when he meets his mental-partner’s widow (Gal Gadot) and finds himself feeling an unexpected sense of protectiveness to her and her daughter.

An obvious Bourne knock-off,  it’s not especially great, but it does what it says on the tin, offering the requisite amount of action, emoting and overacting with Costner in cracking growly form.  (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

Deadpool (15) This latest addition to the Marvel movie universe has proven itself the polar opposite of Ryan Reynolds’ last outing as a superhero, Green Lantern, which gets an amusing reference here.  Following an experiment to give him superpowers (by triggering his mutant genes) after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, former urban mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) dons the black and red spandex and sets out for revenge on the equally enhanced sadist (Ed Skrein) and his superstrong sidekick (Gina Carano), who left him hideously scarred, determined to have the process reversed so he can get his life and his girl (Morena Baccarin) back. With cameo appearances by a couple of X-Men (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) trying to keep him in line, it’s not only viscerally ultra-violent and peppered with inventive sexually explicit dialogue, but knowingly self-aware, Deadpool constantly stepping out of the action to address the audience and acknowledge they’re watching a movie, poking fun at the superhero franchise conventions as he goes. Blackly comic and explosively entertaining, with Reynolds letting rip with razor sharp timing and inspired  repartee that references everything from Sinead O’Connor to, well, Ryan Reynolds, it’s like a Grindhouse Guardians of the Galaxy on ecstasy with the dial turned up to 11. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

Despite The Falling Snow (12A) Directed by Shamin Sharif, adapting his own novel, this very limited release is a 50s  Cold War thriller set in Moscow where, working for Misha,  Katya (Rebecca Ferguson) is a communist spying for the Americans. However, when she’s handed her biggest job to date, stealing secrets from idealistic rising government star Alexander (Sam Reid(, she finds herself falling in love with him, leading to her having to make the ultimate sacrifice. All of which is unfolded as the film shifts back in forth in time, with the elderly Alexander (Charles Dance), who fled Russia,  finally discovering what actually happened to his wife all those years back when his niece (Ferguson again) heads to Moscow to meet the now aged Misha (Anthony Head) and do some digging.   (Vue Star City)

 

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (12A) The first of the two part conclusion to the post-apocalyptic saga has proven a box office washout as it picks up events following the end of Insurgent, wherein Tris (Shailene Woodley) overcame Jeanine, opening the box to reveal that Chicago and the Factions system had been an experiment devised by a group beyond the wall and of which the Divergents were the successful result. So, she, brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), action man boyfriend Four (Theo James), ever unreliable Peter (Miles Teller) and underused token black buddy Christina (Zoe Kravitz) escape over the wall and head out into the devastated toxic world beyond. Here they’re picked up by forces working for David (Jeff Daniel), who heads The Bureau of Genetic Welfare which originally established the population of Chicago and has been monitoring it, and Tris especially, in an experiment to cure the ‘damaged’ and make them ‘pure’.  Naturally, there’s more to this than meets the eye, as the storyline wends its laborious way to inciting a civil war between Four’s rebel leader mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), and her followers and the Allegiant forces. All of which also involves some sort of memory wiping serum.

Saddled with contrived exposition and long stretches of dialogue, pretty much nothing happens until the final stretch, by which time the uneven CGI, plodding plot and the fact that Tris gets less interesting with each instalment may have you wishing you too could be affected by the serum, so you’d mercifully forget this and the fact there’s still one more to go before it’s all over. (Vue Star City)

 

Eddie the Eagle (PG) The British love an underdog makes good story and, in 1988, there was no bigger underdog than Michael Edwards, the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. He came last in both the 70m and 90m events (though he did set a new British record), but became internationally famous as a heroic failure and his  perseverance in the face of the hostility of the British Olympic Committee, who saw him as an embarrassment.

Now, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton with Hugh Jackman as Eddie’s fictional coach, Bronson Peary, a former ski jump champion with a drink problem and in need of redemption, his story is the feelgood movie of the year.

Charting young Eddie’s early failed Olympian ambitions (much to the irritation of his builder dad, Keith Allen), it follows his rejection as a skier by the establishment (Tim McInnery as snooty British Olympics executive Dustin Target) and his decision to switch to ski jumping, since  there were no other British participants for selection.  Self-training in Germany, much to the disparagement of pretty much every other skier, he seems destined for further failure until his refusal to give up eventually persuades Peary to become his coach. With all the odds against him, he eventually heads to Calgary and the 1988 Winter Olympics to prove he can truly fly.

Warm, funny and inspirational, with Jo Hartley as Eddie’s supportive mom, Christopher Walken as Peary’s grouchy former coach Warren Sharp, and driven by an irresistible open-hearted performance by Egerton and a nicely tuned comedic turn from Jackman, this soars on wings of sheer joy. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

Eye In The Sky (12A)

eye 2Directed by Gavin Hood, this is basically a UK answer to Andrew Niccol’s drone debate thriller Good Kill, here with Helen Mirren’s Col. Powell overseeing an operation to capture an Englishwoman who’s joined up with Al-Shabaab terrorists and who, intelligence reveals,. Is having a meeting at a safe house in a Nairobi neighbourhood, However, when high-tech surveillance courtesy of a Somali agent (Barkhad Abdi) reveals the group preparing to carry out a  couple of   suicide-bomb attacks, Powell contacts her superior,  Lt. Gen. Benson (Alan Rickman) and requests the mission be changed from  capture to kill.

This is to be carried out using a US military drone operated by Steve Watts (Aaron Paul). However, when a young girl sets up a stall selling bread in the kill zone, he insists the mission demands clarification. And so the film devolves into an argument as to whether the loss of one civilian justifies potentially saving the lives of countless others. Meanwhile, as the politicians dither, the window of opportunity is slowly closing. Taut and claustrophobic, it juxtaposes serious moral issues with dashes of incongruous humour (the British Foreign Secretary with an upset stomach and the US Secretary of State playing ping-pong with the Chinese) while underlining the use of sanitised evasive language about prosecuting the target and collateral damage. With a solid performance from Mirren and an even better one from Rickman in his last film, it may adopt familiar clichés, but it ultimately subverts these to leave you with more questions than answers. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Fifty Shades of Black (15) A hit and mostly miss parody of Fifty Shades of Grey with Marlon Wayans as super rich Christian Black and Kali Hawk as the impressionable virgin who gets lured into his web and world.  Jokes about hairy legs and premature ejaculation pretty much define the level of hilarity in a film that tries to wring humour out of rape gags and that classic chestnut about a bloke getting something stuck up his arse. Naturally, there’s Bill Cosby reference too. Mildly inspired touches like a spoof of Magic Mike are eclipsed by such groan-inducing scenes as Jane Seymour (playing Black’s mother) imitating talking Chinese to her adopted daughter, not realising she’s actually Korean. (Vue Star City)

 

Hardcore Henry (18) One for first-person shooter gamers only, the conceit being that the entire film is shown from the perspective of the titular character, a cybernetic super-soldier (reconstructed RoboCop style from his mangled body in an airborne Moscow lab), who sets out to discover who he is, or was, and, under the direction of a multi-guised manic guide (Sharlto Copley) rescue the equally robotically enhanced Estelle (Haley Bennett), who says she’s his wife, from the clutches of albino super-villain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) who, rather inevitably, has some sort of plan to destroy the world. Unfolding at hyper-kinetic pace and with female characters straight out of extreme macho fantasies, this doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together and create a spark of intellect, but, if all you want is a cyberpunk visual rush with lots of ultra-violence, essentially committed by you, then plug in and prepare for the migraine.   (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (12A) Both a prequel and a sequel to Snow White and Huntsman, Snow herself has been dismissed from the story as being unwell, but Chris Hemsworth’s back as the hunky if oddly Scottish-accented Eric who, as we learn in the prologue, was abducted from his family, along with other children, by Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), the younger sister of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil queen despatched in the first film. She was once all nice, but turned into a literal ice queen when her baby was apparently burned to death by her lover, leading her to take off and form her own frozen kingdom, raising an army of Huntsmen forbidden to ever fall in love.

As one of them, Eric grows up to become her best, alongside deadly archer Sara (Jessica Chastain), helping her conquer all the territories up north, only for the pair to break the rules and secretly get wed. Well, not that secretly, Freya having Sara killed before Eric’s eyes and him tossed into a river.

So, on to the sequel. Seven years later, the magic mirror, containing Ravenna’s essence, has gone missing while being transported to somewhere called Sanctuary and Eric’s enlisted to find it and ensure it gets there. So, off he sets, accompanied by a couple of comic sidekick dwarves, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon). They’re subsequently joined by two female dwarves, Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), allowing for yet more bickering banter as the four hurls insults at each other.  Along the way, Eric’s also reunited with Sara, who turns out not to be dead after all, but who thinks he ran out on her.

Eventually tracking the stolen mirror to a goblin infested forest, they recover it only to have Freya arrive and, in another turnabout of events, make off with it, apparently leaving Eric for dead. This is about halfway in, and the actual thrust of the sequel still hasn’t kicked off. That comes when Freya resurrects her sister, expecting them to work together to conquer the remaining lands, only to find Ravenna isn’t about to take orders from anyone.  Meanwhile, Eric (not dead, surprise), Gryff and Mrs. B are sneaking into Freya’s castle to try and put an end to things once and for all.

Padded out, it’s an uneven, at times overly busy affair, the middle-section only there only to justify a battle with the Goblin King. The visual effects are impressive, there’s some fascinating background detail and the action sequences with Hemsworth and Chastain are well handled. However, when a fabulously wicked Theron isn’t devouring things wholesale, it’s the dwarves (Smith especially) who steal the film.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

The Jungle Book (PG)

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ?2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Directed by Jon Favreau, Disney deliver a visually spectacular live action version of their iconic 1967 animation. Featuring impressive newcomer Neel Sethi as pretty much the only human on screen, it combines Kipling’s original book (the Water Truce appears here) with much-loved elements from the animation, including Baloo – voiced by Bill Murray –singing The Bare Necessities and, splendidly voiced by Christopher Walken, King Louie, here the last surviving Gigantopithecus, bringing a sense of menace to I Wanna Be Like You. The story, should you need reminding, tells how, having been found in the jungle by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the panther, and raised by wolves Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), the animals have to keep Mowgli safe from the one-eyed human-hating tiger, Shere-Khan (Idris Elba), and python Kaa (a brief but memorable and chilling turn by Scarlett Johannson) and return him to the human world.

Jumping straight in with its mix of tension and action as Mowgli, racing through the jungle canopy,  initially appears to be trying to outrun a wolf pack intent on bringing him down, the film combines humour, emotional clout  and scares (some of the scenes centred around King Louie may be a bit intense for younger eyes) in equal measure.

Sethi makes for a winning screen presence, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the scene stealers here are a magnificently laid back Bill Murray as a slacker Baloo and Walken’s raspy-voiced, mafioso-like King Louie who wants the man-cub to give him the secret of man’s red flower. They, like the other talking animals are so incredibly photorealistic you’d swear they were flesh and blood, Shere-Khan being a particular triumph of detail. Likewise the digital creation of the lush jungle is breathtaking, all the more given the whole film was shot inside a building in Los Angeles.

If you’re being picky, then some of the contemporary dialogue (“you’re kidding, right”, says Mowgli) doesn’t gel with the setting, but that’s a very minor niggle in a very terrific film. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) The third outing for  the fat and furry martial arts master offers a perfect conclusion to the saga, the culmination of the journey that Po (Jack Black) began in the first film when Master  Ooglay proclaimed him the Dragon Warrior of prophecy.  Now it’s time to really fulfil that destiny as Kai (J.K. Simmons), a  blade-wielding  yak, escapes from the Spirit Realm having  stolen the life chi of all its kung fu masters,  returning to the world of mortals to mop up the rest

Po, meanwhile, has his own problems, having being appointed teacher to replace the retiring Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a task neither Po nor the Furious Five reckon he’s up to. Then, who should reappear but Po’s long lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). Rejoicing’s cut short, however, when Kai’s jade zombies to attack the village and Po  has to return with his father to the secret Panda village and master his own chi if he has any chance of defeating Kai. The plot pretty much follows a similar path to the first film, and again delivers a message about discovering who you truly are and believing in yourself. Terrifically animated, Black, as ever, superbly brings Po to life with all his insecurities and vanities  A fitting end to Po’s journey to enlightenment, let’s not, ahem, panda to the box office and set him off on another (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Vue Star City)

 

London Has Fallen (15) London’s historic landmarks get blown up, a lot of people get killed, quite a few of them by Gerald Butler. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. In London for the PM’s funeral, pretty much all the world’s heads of state get assassinated by an army of terrorists working for a vengeance-seeking Pakistani arms dealer who plans to execute President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) live on global TV. Well, not if his apparently indestructible personal bodyguard Mike Banning (Butler) has anything to do with it. A follow-up to Olympus Has Fallen, it has little truck with anything resembling three dimensional characters or logic (how come no one in charge notices the entire London police force seems to have been replaced by terrorists) while the likes of Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster and Jackie Earle Haley stand around looking shocked and saying things like ‘oh, my God’. To be fair, it cracks along and there’s a particularly good chase scene through the capital, but, while he does give good tough guy, this is no Die Hard and Butler’s no Bruce. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

 

The Man Who Knew Infinity (12A) Writer-director Matthew Brown’s biopic of Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a name that will mean bugger all to the vast majority, but make the pulses of mathematicians beat faster. Growing up poor in Madras, self-taught he earned a place at Cambridge in 1914 and, under the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy, became a pioneer in mathematical theories, something to do with the negative values of the gamma function, apparently, which he said came to him from God. Not as sexy a story as that of fellow troubled mathematicians Alan Turing or John Nash, it’s still an earnest and absorbing maths bromance with Dev Patal as Ramanujan and, on a bit of renaissance at present, Jeremy Irons as the martinet atheist Hardy, alongside a brief Stephen Fry cameo as civil engineer Sir Francis Spring and Toby Jones and Jeremy Northam as Hardy’s fellow Dons, John Littlewood and Bertrand Russell, respectively. (Vue Star City)

 

Midnight Special (12A)

MIDNIGHT SPECIALWriter-director Jeff Nichols returns with another enigmatic thriller that plays its cards close to its chest, revealing its hand only in the final moments, Again, like Mud and Shotgun Stories, set in grassroots America, here the bible belt swathe, it echoes a vast array of paranormal-tinged sci fi films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.,  The Man Who Fell To Earth, and, in the final scenes, even a touch of Tomorrowland, among them.

It opens in motel room, any source of light covered with cardboard. Inside are Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), childhood friend state trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), an 8-year-old boy whom they’re accused of kidnapping from a Doomsday cult run by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), the boy’s adoptive father. As it turns out, Roy’s his real father, the boy having given up to Meyer when his mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), ran off, unable to cope with the boy’s ‘special’ gifts. This being that he emits bright white light from his eyes and is given to talking on tongues, speaking numbers Meyer which has used as apocalyptic sermons, but which are, in fact, heavily encrypted top secret government transmissions, hence the FBI’s raid on the Ranch and their interest in recovering the boy. To which end, rookie NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) is enlisted to try and decipher the messages and track the trio cross-country to wherever they’re heading. Given Alton cannot bear exposure to sunlight, and wears blue goggles to shield his eyes, they can only travel at night, and have only a small window in which to reach the place where Alton needs to be, reuniting with Sarah and causing a satellite to plunge from orbit along the way.

This is pretty much all the information Nichols releases until the big reveal, allowing your imagination to work overtime to piece together whatever clues might litter the journey, the film’s dominant low-light further deepening the sense of mystery. But even when the CGI-heavy climax finally arrives, it remains open as to who or what Alton actually is, underpinning the film’s theme of belief and faith, whatever form that takes. There are flaws, the whole cult sub-plot is, along with Shepard and, to a large extent, the FBI, dismissed once the main thrust is underway, but, bolstering the intrigue with first rate performances, Shannon especially good as the devoted father, its slow burning fuse is compelling viewing. (Cineworld Solihull;  Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel)

 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (12A) Fourteen years on, writer/star Nina Vardalos gets the cast back together for a sequel. Now married  (albeit with the spark faded) to non-Greek Ian (John Corbett), Toula turned into a   clingy mom  having to deal with  acerbic 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who reckons mom and dad are just as controlling and embarrassing as Toula found her own parents (Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan). And it’s Gus and Maria  who provide the latest titular nuptials after its discovered that their marriage licence was never validated before they left Greece. Gus wants to put matters straight as soon as possible, but Maria reckons this is a good time, after 50 years, to reconsider her options.

None of which is played out with anything resembling subtlety (Kazan, as ever, gives a performance even larger than her hair do), or, indeed many big laughs. The Greek gags having been largely exhausted first time round, Vardalos seems to be casting round for inspiration, leading to someone coming out of the closet and the arrival of a long lost family member so the episodic script can throw in some sitcom clichés, none of which is much helped by the flat direction. Vardolos is still an engagingly warm character, but whatever the title may say, this is thin stuff.  (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)

Second City Firsts (15) The 70s were  golden years for the drama department at BBC Pebble Mill, not least for its  Second City Firsts strand which ran for ten series from 1973. Directed by such names as Mike Leigh, Mike Newell and Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the half-hour films were a showcase for new  ‘regional talent’ including Willy Russell, Julie Walters and  Brian Glover. Joined by former series producer Tara Prem, the programme features  six episodes. (Sun: MAC)

Tokyo Story (U) Yasujirô Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece, an exploration of filial duty, expectation and regret unfolded in the simple tale of an elderly husband and wife’s visit to Tokyo to see their grown-up children. (Sat: Electric)

The Witch (15)  First time director  Robert Eggers delivers an  art house horror cocktail of religion, superstition, fairy tale and sexual awakening set against the early days of America’s colonisation. Ostracised from their fellow New England settlers over doctrinal differences, Puritan Yorkshireman William (Ralph Ineson) and his family take up residence on the edge of a forest which the children are warned not to enter. One day, eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya-Taylor Joy) takes young baby brother Samuel to the brook, from where he abruptly disappears, abducted, as a subsequent bloody scene suggests by a witch,  the mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), blaming her daughter for the loss. What with the young twins’ unsettling attachment to the family’s black goat and  the fate of brother Caleb, it seems there may be the devil’s work afoot.  Gradually the family begins to fall apart and, in a  move designed to conjure thoughts of the Salem witch trials that would happen some years later, the film poses the question as to whether Thomasin may be a witch, as she is accused of by the not so innocent twins, or a victim of  the devil, and whether what we see is a manifestation of real evil or shared hysteria brought on by obsessive faith. Slow and measured, relying on psychological tension and menace rather than the usual jump scares, it’s less effective in the final moments when the supernatural takes over, but even so it’s a strikingly atmospheric work that ably lives up to its Shining influences. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

Zootropolis (U) Already the prime contender for  next year’s best animated feature, Disney’s allegorical tale about prejudice, tolerance, stereotyping  and  following your dreams offers   plenty of food for thought for audiences young and old to chew over while being treated to an entertaining feast for the eyes and emotions.

Predators and prey now living together in harmony, regardless of species and classifications,  perky Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) aspires to become the first bunny cop in Zootropolis,  the titular city with its  four  climate-based hubs, ruled over by preening Mayor Lionheart (J.K.Simmons). However, despite coming all obstacles to pass first of her academy, buffalo Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) consigns Judy to parking meter duty and its only through the fortuitous appearance at the station of the Mayor’s sheepish assistant Bellwether (Judy Slate) reminding him of  her boss’s mammal-inclusion initiative, that she’s given the job of investigating the disappearance of Mr. Ottetton, one of several predators that have gone missing.  With only 48 hours to crack the case of reign, she ‘enlists’ the help of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a laid-back con artist fox with whom she had an earlier run in. Together, and with a little help from Mr. Big, the shrew Godfather of Zootropolis, they uncover a dark conspiracy causing predators to revert to their original savage nature.  Brilliantly animated, it marries its noir moods and police procedural narrative with sharp humour, most memorably so in Judy’s visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles staffed by sloths. Perfectly voiced, Judy and Nick make for a classic mismatched buddy cop teaming and their shared further adventures as the Starsky and Rabbit Hutch of the animal world are something to be eagerly anticipated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch,  Star City)

 

 

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – 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 Redditch – Kingfisher Centre, Redditch 08712 240 240

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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