Baby Driver (15)
His first film since polishing off the Three Cornettos trilogy with World’s End in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright turns his attention to lovingly subverting the car chase/heist movie with what he’s described as “a car film driven by music”, the scenes built around the songs rather than the songs added later. It hinges on a gimmick with a plot that puts a spin on the familiar one last job scenario and stars Ansel Elgort as man of few words Baby who, thanks to an ill-advised car theft now finds himself in debt to acerbic, smooth criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s enlisted his skills behind the wheel to serve as his regular getaway driver for whatever bank job his ever changing gang are pulling off.
The twist is that, as a result of the car accident that killed his mother when he was a kid, Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, which he drowns out by constantly listening to music on his headphones, and which he synchronised to the time taken for his manoeuvres. This is, however, really just an excuse for Wright to serve up his answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tapes since listening to the music has nothing to actually do with his driving skills and in the several scenes where he doesn’t have the earphones plugged in, there’s no indication that the tinnitus affects his ability to function in any way. But, really, who cares when you’re watching him tearing up the city streets, avoiding the pursuing cops, to the strains of anything from The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and Focus’ Hocus Pocus.
The first of the heists teams him with Buddy (Jon Hamm), his sexy wife Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and the surly Griff (Jon Bernthal), whose sceptism about Baby sets up the scene that lets us know he can lip read too. The second heist introduces a new crew, among them the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) who doesn’t trust anyone, let along some kid with an iPod, and sets up an hysterically inspired mix up involving confusion between Michael Myers and Mike Myers masks. Between jobs, however, Baby’s met diner waitress Debora (Lily James), naturally prompting burst of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, while not letting on what he actually does, the pair fall in love in the laundromat and make loose plans to hit the open road together. He is, after all, now free of any debt to Doc. But not, it would appear of Doc who regards him as his lucky charm and insists on him doing the proverbial one last big job, knocking off a post office to steal a fortune in money orders.
For this one, he’s reunited with Buddy and Darling who are also joined by Bats and, as you’ll doubtless of guessed by now, it doesn’t go smoothly, leaving them on the run with Baby burning with rage and his, Debora and his invalided deaf foster father’s lives under threat.
Naturally, the film’s stuffed with movie homages and references (among them Heat, Reservoir Dogs and even Monsters Inc while the courtroom scene features the voice of Walter Hill, director of 1978 classic The Driver) as well as music, but they never get in the way of the storytelling, the burning rubber thrills or the emotional heft. Hamm and Foxx subvert their usual good guy roles (the latter has a particularly inspired exit), Spacey does his familiar dry menace to perfection (but turns out to have a surprising sentimental streak) while James is just perfect as Debora, the chemistry between her and Elgort everything a meet cute could ask. However, it’s Elgort who, whether behind the wheel or dancing through the streets, carries the film, often called on to do little more than give a quizzical, knowing look.
Arguably, the coda feels a touch tacked on, but given the unbridled adrenaline flooding the screen during the many highly choreographed car chases, the bristling tension when the gang gather in the diner, unaware of Baby’s connection to Debora, and such idiosyractic touches as Baby recording conversation between the gang members to make mash up music mixes, you can forgive it anything. Its engines feel just great. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Alone in Berlin (12A)
When their son, a German soldier fighting in France, was killed, his father, Otto Hampel, a factory foreman, took to writing anonymous postcards calling for the downfall of Hitkler’s regime, bearing such messages as Mother! The Führer has murdered my son! and Hitler’s war is the worker’s death! and, with the help of his wife, Elise, depositing them around Berlin. They placed around 250 before they were caught and executed, their story told in of Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel, Every Man Dies Alone, albeit the pair being renamed Otto and Anna Quangel.
The courageous small scale resistance against the Nazis has now been adapted in an equally small scale feature directed, in English, by Vincent Perez and starring Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson adopting unconvincing German accents as the dour bereaved parents with Daniel Bruhl as Escherich, the police inspector charged with tracking down the culprits. It’s an undeniably compelling story, but the telling is rather less so. Gleeson and Thompson both deliver understated, modulated performances that rein in the grief so tightly it barely registers and, while Bruhl develops as a complex character, shifting from typical Nazi to a more sympathetic position after being roughed up by his SS superior, the rest of the supporting cast are at best flat and at worst painfully wooden. The same holds true for the dialogue and screenplay that rarely suggests the tension that must have been involved in the couple’s mission with its narrow escapes, which renders it something of a plodding thriller with no real thrills or suspense, nor indeed much by way of an emotional grip. If you want a truly gripping account of how ordinary Germans resisted Hitler at the cost of their lives, then track down the German drama Sophie Scholl, and leave this well alone. (Electric)
All Eyez On Me (15)
On September 13, 1996, aged just 25, Tupac Shakur, actor and a rap supersdtar, was gunned down in his car while waiting at an intersection. His killers have never been found and his story has already been told in numerous documentaries, most notably Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac which charted the friend to feud relationship with Biggie Smalls, himself gunned down, which pointed the finger of blame for Shakur’s murder at Death Row label boss Suge Knight, from whom he was intending to split.
He’s also figured in assorted rapper biopics, among them The Notorious B.I.G and, more recently, Straight Outta Compton, F Gary Gray’s film about N.W.A. He now gets his own, named after his fourth album, directed by Benny Boom and starring convincing lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. But, despite a solid lead performance, Boom is no Gray and this is no Compton.
Much is clunkily recounted through flashbacks during a 1995 TV interview while he’s doing time after being found guilty of convicted of the illegal touching of a woman who claimed he and members of his entourage raped her), essentially serving up a wedge of exposition that begins with his East Harlem childhood, the son of Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira) her fellow activist Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector) being his stepfather. A series of further flashbacks take us through his growing up, his distancing from his mother as she descends into drug addition, his platonic Baltimore School of friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) , his initial exploration of rap poetry, his emergence onto the scene via the Digital Underground and his breakthrough with 2Pacalypse Now.
It’s all rather rote in both the way it unfolds and is told, charting his ascendency to the superstar ranks, his embracing of the hedonistic lifestyle that goes with the territory, his ill-advised signing with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) after his release from prison and the feuds with Biggy (Jamal Woolard, who also played the character in Notorious) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis).
But, given the huge amount he packed into a short life, the film ends up feeling just like a series of visual sound bites, checking off assorted incidents and episodes (and missingouta fair few too, like his first prison sentence and marriage), while ensuring to keep the hagiography glowing even while acknowledging Tupac’s more negative traits, not least a somewhat combustible temper. The recreations of the videos and live shows are first rate and a soundtrack that rolls out such hits as Hit Em Up ,Who Shot Ya? and the crossover breakthrough California Love ensures its always pumped, but, while it may be true, it’s a familiar and much told story, but messily, sketchily and uninspiringly delivered here with little of the passion or insight it needs and deserves. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Despicable Me 3 (U)
The third (fourth if you count the Minions spin-off) in the animated series finds itself having to work hard to keep the spark going. Following their failure to capture 80s-obsessed washed-up Hollywood child star turned criminal, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru (Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their jobs as Anti-Villain League agents and, when he refuses to return to his super-villain ways, all but two of the Minions walk out on him too. His depression’s lifted when he learns he has a twin brother, Dru (Carrell), the pair apparently being separated when their parents (Julie Andrews voices their sour mom) divorced. The super cool Dru, who wears white in contrast to Gru’s black (cue a clever Yin/Yang symbol gag) not only has blonde hair but is a fabulously rich pig farm owner, but what he wants most is to follow in his brother’s – and as it turns out – father’s footsteps and become a villain. Seeing this as a chance to recover the world’s biggest diamond, which Bratt has now stolen, and finally capture him, Gru pretends to go along with the idea, he just doesn’t tell Lucy.
The problem is that film’s split into three storylines. Gru and Dru’s assault on Bratt’s HQ, the quest by Agnes, the youngest of Gru’s young foster daughter, to find a unicorn, and the misadventures of the Minions (who wind up in and escaping from prison), as well as Lucy trying to get a handle on this mom thing, the disparate characters finally coming together as Bratt, in his giant size Bratt doll, seeks to send Hollywood into space on giant bubblegum balloons. Switching between them all rather saps the film’s energy.
There’s some inspired touches, Bratt challenges Gru to a dance battle and pulls off his heists to 80s tunes by the likes of Michael Jackson and Van Halen, there’s a dose of sentiment in the scenes with the three girls, and it always looks good, but the jokes are fewer and more far between this time round. Once again, the Minions steal the film, most notably with their gibberish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance on a TV talent show, and, while this will undoubtedly keep the kids amused, it may be time for Gru to retire and let his yellow accomplices take over keeping the franchise alive. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The House (15)
Another film that opened here and in the US without the press being allowed to see previews, which should give you the hint that it’s a bit of a stinker. As indeed it is. Delighted when their daughter (Ryan Simpkins) gets accepted to a prestigious university, Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are knocked back to be told that, due to budget problems (i.e. funding a new community pool and a little skimming from the top), the weaselling town councilman (Nick Kroll) won’t be giving her the scholarship she needs. Unable to afford to pay her tuition themselves, they hit on an ingenious way to raise money when, in after losing all their winnings in the final roll of the dice on a fund-raising trip to Vegas with their neighbour, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), who’s about to be divorced on account of his gambling habits, they come up with the idea of setting up an illegal casino in his house, because, after all, the house always wins.
With the bored locals all piling in to chance their luck, the money soon starts piling up, but with success Scott and Kate change, he becoming less of a wuss and more badass and she developing a weed habit, and there’s also a couple of major hiccups in the form of the creepy town councillor who raids them and confiscates the taking and a ruthless mobster (a cameoing Jeremy Renner) one of whose henchman accidentally had his finger chopped off by Scott (earning him the nickname The Butcher) after being caught cheating.
The fact that the casino allows everyone to unleash their inner repressed self (two sniping neighbours get into a girl fight, with everyone betting on the outcome), is a nice touch but never really developed and the simple fact is that very little is even remotely funny, while the geysers of blood feel like a forced attempt to up the black comedy ante. Ferrell can be funny given the right script, but he hasn’t had one of those in years and here he’s somewhere between annoying and embarrassing (the running gag about him being awful with numbers is just squirm-inducing), taking Poehler down with him. The house may always win,. but it’s the audiences who’ve paid for a ticket who are the biggest losers. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Following on from Citizenfour, her Oscar-winning documentary about Edward Snowdon, Laura Poitras turns her attention to an even more celebrated whistle blower with an intimate portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his activities prior to seeking refuge London’s Ecuadorian embassy following sexual assault allegations. Previews weren’t available, but the film, shot between 2010-2013 and often playing like a spy thriller, charts the early sessions between Assange and Sarah Harrison and Jacob Appelbaum in exposing government subterfuge, the leaking of FBI tapes and, bizarrely, a rambling interview with Assange in the embassy by Lady Gaga. (Electric)
Seth Gordon’s big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly soap opera cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character). However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy (Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.
Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.
It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable 12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Released to mark the June anniversary of D-Day, Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky delivers a solid character story and meditation on the nature of leadership that goes behind the scenes of the preparations for Operation Overlord as, haunted by the slaughter at Gallipoli in WWI, for which he carries a sense of guilt, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) is having serious reservations about the plans to invade Normandy drawn up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill reckons they are ill-advised and will cost the lives of thousands of young men, if not the war, and, in company with King George VI (James Purefoy, who gets a scene-stealing moment when he has to tell Churchill neither of them can be allowed to go with the troops) and, just a few days before the launch, announces to the allied commanders that he intends to draw up his own alternatives.
What follows is essentially a battle about who’s running the war, Eisenhower, Montgomery and even his close personal advisor, Boer War veteran Jan Smuts (Richard Durden) trying to persuade him that warfare has changed since he last saw action. Indeed, even his loyal wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson), their marriage sidelined by his single focus on the conflict, feels he may have lost his way and should step back and play the role of the country’s political leader rather than the warrior.
Condensing months into just a few days, it’s loosely based on historical fact (though one suspects the admiring new secretary – Ella Purnell – who gets to deliver a wake-up call and whom Churchill personally reassures her that her fiancé, who was in the first wave, is alive and well – may be dramatic licence), but paints a somewhat different picture of the man often referred to as the greatest ever Briton; an irascible, cantankerous figure, prone to depression and doubt, overly fond of the whisky, plagued by uncertainty, fearful of his post-war position and realising he has less power and control than he likes to imagine. As such, Cox delivers a bravura performance, not just physically resembling Churchill but perfectly capturing his voice and delivery, while Richardson is excellent as the exasperated but redoubtable long-suffering Clemmie. The supporting cast are essentially just that, but all serve well, just as Teplitzky does a commendably serviceable job on a limited budget and, while ultimately very much a drama about people talking in rooms, it’s engagingly watchable. (Empire Great Park, Vue Star City)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (PG)
Although set only a year after Dog Days, the five-year gap between films means the young cast are now too old to reprise their characters, so returning director David Bowers, who co-scripted with the books’ creator, Jeff Kinney has opted to give everyone a new face. So, young Greg Heffley is now played by Jason Drucker, while his here older, and rather dumber, rock drummer brother. Rodrick is Charlie Wright, although facially it’s hard to believe they’re from the same gene pool, while stepping into the slightly younger skewed mom and dad shoes are Reese Witherspoon and Tom Everett Scott. The youngest Heffley, toddler Manny, is played by twins Dylan and Wyatt Walters while Owen Asztalos makes a brief appearance as Rowley.
As the title would suggest, this is a road trip movie and, essentially, it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation but with more poop jokes. The set-up is that this year’s annual Heffley trip in the name of family time will be cross country to Meemaw’s 90th, all the luggage piled into the boat the’re trailing behind them. Needless to say, neither Greg nor Rodrick are keen on going, especially not since mom’s insisted on everyone, her husband included, checking in their cellphones, laptops, etc for the duration. However,Greg’s persuaded that, if he can engineer some change in directions, this is an opportunity to visit a big video gamers’ convention and get to appear in the next YouTube video with his hero, Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover), which, he figures, will make everyone forget about the video of him getting a diaper stuck to his hand at a family diner that went viral and earned him the humiliating sobriquet of Diaper Hand. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan, with Greg accidentally getting on the wrong side of the beefy beardo father of a snotty family at one of the motel stopovers and Manny accidentally winning a piglet at a county fair, giving rise to just one of the many scatological gags.
Cast change aside, this pretty much sticks to the familiar formula with Kinney’s stickman line drawings punctuating the live action, Greg’s voiceover and a steady stream of broad physical slapstick and getting covered in assorted liquids as its cranks out its message about the importance of family and spending time together.
It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)
Basically a cross between Little Man Tate and Kramer versus Kramer, director Marc Webb delivers an unsentimental tearjerker involving a child maths prodigy and custody battle. When her unmarried mother, Diane Adler, a brilliant mathematician, committed suicide, leaving him with her baby daughter, her bachelor brother, Frank (Chris Evans), gave up his university professorship, moved to a low rent neighbourhood and took up work as a self-employed Florida boat repairman to raise and home-school his niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), as an ordinary child away from a world that would stigmatise her talent as ‘special’, as it did her mother. However, now she’s six, he feels she should enter the official education system so she can mix with kids her own age and enrols her at the local elementary school, against the advice of his neighbour, Roberta (Octavia Spencer, warm but somewhat wasted) who warns nothing good will come of it.
She’s right of course. Understandably thinking that 1+1 is 2 is a bit below her intellectual capabilities, Mary quickly startles her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) with her mathematical prowess. Likewise the headmistress (Elizabeth Marvel) who, when she has to haul Frank in after Mary breaks the school bully’s nose for wrecking her classmate’s zoo model, now well aware of her background, offers to get a place and a scholarship at an academy where her gifts can be nurtured. Frank refuses, insisting he wants to let her grow up an ordinary child, free from the pressures that drove his sister to kill herself.
The next thing he knows, his domineering, estranged English mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), herself a former maths prodigy, is in town, demanding Mary be given the education befitting her gifts and taking her son to court in order to gain custody of her granddaughter. It’s at the cross-examining that the real reasons why Frank is resisting his mother’s demands and the relationship between her and Diane are powerfully laid bare.
All of which has the potential to wallow in syrup and schmaltz. Thankfully, a sharp, emotionally satisfying script by Tom Flynn and assured direction by Webb, who, before webslinging with The Amazing Spider-Man films, made the affectingly poignant 500 Days of Summer, keep it from movie of the week territory, ensuring the tears (and there will be several) are well earned, even if more might have been made of the budding romance between Frank and Bonnie. Likewise, in terms of parenting issues, while the script inevitably has to come down on one side, more considered questioning as to whether Frank’s actions really are in Mary’s best interests might not have gone amiss. Such niggles aside, the film is also well served by a strong central cast, Evans showing an unexpected soulful side and, while, ostensibly the villain of the piece, Duncan making the snobbish Evelyn a far from one-dimensional character, driven by demons of her own. However, it’s Grace, top front teeth missing, who truly elevates the film into the ranks of one of the year’s best, giving an unprecocious turn that spins between smartass, vulnerability, anger, joy, alienation and sadness with a naturalness and charm that is by far the best child actor performance since Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. The one-eyed cat’s just a bonus. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
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. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
Loosely inspired by the true story of Harry Hallowes, the Irish hermit whose long-term residency on Hampstead Heath resulted in a successful squatters rights claim to a small area of land when property develops sought to evict him, Joel Hopkins’ film plays firmly to the grey pound audience, throwing in an autumn years romance for good measure.
Channelling Annie Hall, both sartorially and in kookiness, Diane Keaton is Emily, a recently widowed American who lives in a mansion block apartment and finds herself with serious financial problems thanks to her late husband, who, she discovered after his death, was also having an affair.
Staring out from loft through a pair of antique binoculars, scanning the heath she lights upon a man swimming in a nearby pond and, from there, the shack in which he lives near an old Victorian hospital. He turns out to be Donald (Brendan Gleason), a self-sufficient, and highly articulate, well-read elective recluse who’s being threatened with eviction by property developers looking to build luxury flats, the boss of which happens to be the husband (Brian Protheroe) of Emily’s bossy, obnoxiously unctuous neighbour, Fiona (Lesley Manville). She wants Emily and the block’s other privileged harpies to write letters of support for the project and is also trying to set her up with James, the touchy-feely, not to say creepy, accountant doing her books in the expectation of ‘something’ in return.
Suffice to say circumstances bring Emily and Donald together and, while initially reluctant to accept help when she starts a Save the Shack campaign, friendship and, ultimately, romance blossoms between them. As such it follows a fairly predictable path en route to the court hearing, presided over by Simon Callow’s judge and featuring a fine cantankerous cameo by Phil Davis providing the obligatory last minute save the day evidence.
If you can overlook the fact that Emily has apparently never seen or heard of Donald, despite having lived just across the road from him for umpteen years, a totally wasted James Norton as Emily’s somewhat neglectful son, the half-hearted nature of the eco-message, Donald’s clunkily vague backstory, and the array of stereotypes, while this may not do for Notting Hill what Richard Curtis did, as genial, whimsical, feelgood and all rather twee fluff with a tacked on happy ending that, like the fictional Emily, bears no relation to the true story, it’s undemanding charm will pass a pleasant enough 100 minutes. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)
The Mummy (15)
Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.
This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.
This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener, holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.
Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board. Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all. Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.
While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.
All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.
Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
My Cousin Rachel (12A)
Directed by Roger Michell, this is a handsome rework of the Daphne Du Maurier novel about obsession that originally saw big screen life back in B&W 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This time round, it’s Rachel Weisz as Rachel, the Anglo-Italian widow of Philip (Sam Clafin), a young and frankly rather dull 19th century Englishman whose adult cousin Ambrose was both his guardian and her husband.
The film opens with him having received a letter from his late cousin describing how his wife was terrorising him and driving him to his death. Understandably then, he’s not ready to welcome her with open arms when he learns she’s coming to visit the farm that, since she wasn’t named in the will, he’s now inherited. He determined to give her the cold shoulder and, on the day of her arrival, takes off leaving instructions that she’s not to be fed until he returns. However, arriving home late at night, he learns she’s taken to her room, already charmed the servants, won over the dogs and politely invited him to call on her after he’s eaten.
The moment he sets eyes on her, he’s a lost cause, initial fascination giving way to an obsessive love, falling totally under her spell, to the extent that he has his uncle Nick (Iain Glen), who’s managing the estate until he comes of age, sign the document he’s had drawn up assigning everything to her from the moment he turns 25.
The question is, of course, whether Rachel is truly the grieving widow who takes a shine to her cousin by marriage or a scheming and free-spending manipulator who, in cahoots with her Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), is conspiring to get her hands on the estate and inheritance and poisoning him with her herbal teas, or whether Philip is just a jealous paranoid.
It’s all beautifully shot and the supporting cast features notable turns from Holliday Grainger as Louise, Nick’s daughter and Philip’s childhood friend with the secret crush, and Tim Barlow as his manservant Seecombe (who gets to deliver the film’s single expletive); however, while a subtly nuanced Weisz is as mesmerising as the role requires, there’s not enough of the enigma about her character to give it the edge of menace it needs, nor (save for one of Philip’s feverish dreams in which she seems to be being rogered by the vicar) her much talked about ‘limitless appetite’. With an unnecessary coda that might compound the tragedy, but blows the ambiguity, it’s well made and absorbing, but all a little too chaste and a little too tame for its gothic nature. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (12A)
After the last instalment, On Stranger Tides, it would have seemed a good idea to consign the franchise to dry dock, but no, six years on and this time with Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg at the helm, the core cast have been reassembled for a further folly. This one also sees the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will and Elizabeth, albeit only in book-ending sequences, the latter not putting in an appearance until just before the end credits.
It opens with their young son, Henry, tracking down The Flying Dutchman on which dad’s cursed to sail for eternity and promising to find Poseidon’s Trident, an artefact that can reputedly lift all sea curses. Fast forward five years and the now adult Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is still in pursuit of the trident, a quest that brings him into contact with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), whose skills in astronomy have seen her condemned as a witch, and who, guided by her unknown father’s diary, is searching for an unseen map to an uncharted island, though she has no time for myths or supernatural mumbo jumbo. Inevitably both their paths also cross with that of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), first seen quite literally stealing a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence) and hauling the entire building through the town in an impressive set piece of destruction.
Now, as it happens, Henry was part of a British Navy crew pursuing a pirate ship that sailed into the infamous Devil’s Triangle and was overrun by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish former pirate hunter who, along with his mutilated crew, are cursed to live as dead men (some of them missing assorted body parts). He spared Henry to deliver a message to Sparrow with whom he has unfinished businesss (you’ve not forgotten anything, their connection is later explained in a backstory about how Jack – a CGI youthful Depp – got his surname and captain’s hat), but is unable to escape his watery prison unless Sparrow parts with his magical compass. Which, of course, he duly does, sending Salazar back to the world to resume his pirate killing spree, which, in turn, leads to him striking a deal with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s now the pirate top dog, to get his hands on Jack.
Narratively bloated, there’s about three different plots going on at the same time, gradually coming together as yet more backstory is thrown into the mix with, essentially, everyone, including David Wenham’s colonial naval captain, chasing Jack, Henry and Carina. All of which results into a lot of noise, action and some spectacular CGI (Salazar’s crew and zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. Thwaites and Scodelario basically take the Bloom and Knightley roles from the first two films, and do so engagingly enough, while, as ever, Rush brings more heart and gravity to proceedings than they warrant. Bardem makes for a driven obsessed villain, but his character and performance are eclipsed by the special effects of his seaweedy hair, squid ink blood and ravaged face. Which brings us to Depp. He does pretty much what he always does with his pirate parody, the drunken slurring, the sexual innuendos, but what was once amusing is now just tediously annoying. There’s times when it captures the spark of the original, but, when a cameoing Paul McCartney as Jack’s Uncle is one of the highlights, perhaps, despite the post credits clip, it’s time to consign this to Davy Jones’ locker once and for all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)
Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth box-office bombing instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.
The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard populated by, among others, gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.
Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator, Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.
All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally, and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that King Arthur – with the help of a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon – defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck deal with the TRF, are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.
Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!
There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Wonder Woman (12A)
Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and four men standing in a Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.
Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a facially disfigured chemist working for Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.
Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming he’s actually Ludendorff.
Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet, their mission to destroy the gas is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.
Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.
It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
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