MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Sept 8-Thu Sept 14

It (15)

Originally adapted as a mini-series back in 1990, Stephen King’s mammoth novel now gets a  feature-length outing under the auspices of  director Andy Muschietti  making his English language debut.  Creepy without ever being as chilling or as scary as it should, events spread over nine months, it’s been updated to the late 1980s and opens in smalltown Derry in Maine as young Georgie runs outside into the rain to float the paper boat made for his by his stutter-afflicted older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). When the boat drops into a culvert, he the kids looks into it and is confronted by the face of a clown (Bill Skarsgarg), calling himself Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who lures him closer, bites off an arm and the drags the boy into the sewers.

A year later, Bill still believes his brother is alive, enlisting three  schoolfriends, know-it-all wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and sceptical Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), to explore the sewer system looking for him. Bullied at school by the psychotic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang, they’re the self-styled Losers Club, their number eventually swelled by shy chubby new kid Ben and homeschooled Mike  (Chosen Jacobs), seemingly the only black kid in town, both of whom are also targeted by Bowers, and  the supposedly promiscuous tomboy  Beverly (Sophia Lillis), another bullied outsider.

All have their own terrifying encounters with It, as the film gradually reveals the shapeshifting monster preys on his victims’ fears and Ben’s research uncovers that it appears every 27 years, each period characterised by children going missing, but something the two seems unwilling to confront.

Naturally, all the kids (Bowers included) have their own torments, among them abusive or demanding fathers, an overprotective mother, guilt and, for Richie, a fear of clowns. But, while individually vulnerable, as Beverly points out, by staying together they may have a chance of surviving and destroying their nemesis.

Echoing the themes of friendship  and coming of age on which Stand By Me was founded (along with the cruelty of the adult world) with an added serving of horror as, following various individual close calls, they all head to the decrepit old house they’ve identified as the clown’s lair.

The film makes effective use of its haunting imagery, most especially the red balloon while, although bereft of backstory,  Skarsgard’s white-faced monster, whispering “you’ll float too”, is a striking visual presence, but. while the opening is especially striking  the more setpieces that are introduced to give each youngster a turn in the spotlight, the more repetitive  and the less effective they become. Likewise, the romantic rivalry between Bill and Ben over Beverly is never  developed.  Nevertheless, it’s an effective if slightly overlong piece of work and the young cast acquit themselves well, Lillis ably living up to the Molly Ringwald reference tossed her way by Richie. Of course, however, with the film closing on their vow to return in 27 years time to take on It once again, the best they can look forward to in the as yet unconfirmed Chapter Two are some fleeting flashbacks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Odyssey (PG)

In the early 60s, one of the must watch programmes on British TV was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, a documentary series in with the French star, inventor of the Aqua-Lung, explored the oceans. In 1965 he’d won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his feature documentary The Silent World and, sporting the iconic red work by himself and his ‘oceanauts’ had even proved the man could live in underwater cities. John Denver even wrote a song called Calypso after the boat that served for both his explorations and the family home.

A sort of marine version of David Attenborough, Cousteau was an international celebrity and when the moon lands  shifted attention to space rather than the sea, leading him to virtual bankruptcy, he reinvented himself as an environmentalist, dedicated to protecting the planet’s seas and oceans from mankind’s exploitation and pollution.

He also led a colourful behind the scenes life, with his inveterate womanising and blatant disregard for financial matters in pursuing his obsessions. All of which should make for a fascinating and rich biopic. Sadly, that’ proves not to be  the case with director Jérôme Salle’s rather workmanlike film that never really gets beneath the surface.

Framed by the 1979 plane crash death of his younger son, Phillipe (Pierre Niney),, reunited in the environmental crusade after a period of estrangement, it takes a chronological course following the driven determination of Cousteau (Lambert Wilson) to make the world more aware of the  blue in the blue planet, embracing securing funding to buy Calypso and finance his many projects, negotiating with the American TV network to back a series of documentaries, furthering his underwater living  concepts and much more. Meanwhile,  loyal wife Simone (Audrey Tautou) is sidelined and cheated on while, self-centred and single-minded in his quest for fame,  he proves as lousy a father to Phillipe and  Jean-Michel (Benjamin Lavernhe, largely reduced to a cipher) as he is a husband.

Certainly the film packs a lot into the thirty years it compresses into two hours , but much is just given a  surface treatment and, while it notes Cousteau’s flaws as well as his achievements, there’s not a  great deal of character development, either of him or those in his orbit, none of whom have much focus.  There’s some magnificent underwater photography, most notably  scene in which Phillipe and one of the crew are surrounded by sharks as he continues to film them, but, while Lambert hits all right the marks, unlike those documentaries, this lack any real sense of depth.. (MAC)

Wind River (15)

Having written Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan now makes an impressive bow behind the camera with another of his screenplays. Loosely based on real events, it’s set in a world of ‘snow and silence’, in the wintery landscape of the titular Native American reservation in Wyoming where, spending time with his young son while also out keeping predators  from the livestock,  in this case a mountain lion, divorced local game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) comes upon the  frozen body of 18-year-old Native American. This is Natalie (Kelsey Asbille),  once the best friend of his own daughter, who died in similar  tragic circumstances for which he blames himself and led  to the collapse of his marriage to his Native American ex-wife (Julia Jones). The fact that the dead girl, who died from inhaling sub-zero air,  also turns out to have been assaulted and raped compounds his determination to find those responsible and from whom she was running, barefoot. As it’s determined to be a homicide,  along comes no-nonsense but inexperienced FBI agent Jane Banner (a superbly nuanced Elizabeth Olsen) to take over from the tribal police chief   (Graham Greene) and, realising she’s in over her head, enlisting Lambert  to assist her.

Unfolding as a brooding procedural as the pair put the clues together, it would be unfair to real much more of the plot, but suffice to say the investigations lead to the dead girl’s druggie brother and subsequently her boyfriend, part of a local oil rig crew who were holed up for the winter and that, after long simmering tension that film erupts into violence with both a harrowing flashback to what happened to Natalie, a bloody Peckinpah-like shoot-out and a final act of vengeance/justice.

But, as with his previous screenplays, hauntingly complemented by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave’s score, this is about troubled characters and troubled times rather than action, and Renner gives a magnetically compelling performance as the taciturn Lambert, a man of few, but meaningful words,  the  intimate scene between him and the dead girl’s father (Gil Birmingham) and the spare conversations with Olson weighed down with talk  of loss, grief and the hard path to recovery.  It may not have quite the same box office clout as his previous work, but this is quality filmmaking through and through. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

 

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American Made (15)

In 1978, tapped for smuggling illegal Cuban cigars, TWA pilot Barry Seal was approached by the CIA to run secret surveillance missions over Colombia, a success that, through the early 80s,  led to him becoming a bag man between the CIA and Nicaragua’s General Noriega, delivering pay offs in return for information on Communist operations in South America. Then, he was approached by the Medelin Cartel, the biggest drugs operation in Colombia, headed up by Pablo Escobar, who recruited him to transport their cocaine to  the United States. Then, further concerned about the Communist-run Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the CIA got him to fly arms to the supposedly opposing Contras, except instead, he ended up flying the guns to the Cartel  who armed their forces and  then got the Contras to smuggle cocaine into America. Before long Seal, who by now had been relocated by the CIA from Louisiana to Mena in smalltown Arkansas  was making so much money he was having to set up any number of front businesses to launder it, and even then he was still burying it in the garden and stuffing it into cupboards. And even when it went pear-shaped, and he was being pursued variously by state police, the FBI, CIA  and the DEA, he was still able to come out on top.

Unfolding between 1985 top 1986, it was one of the biggest covert operations ever run by the US government. His story’s been told before, but, screenwriter Gary Spinelli taking a cue from GoodFellas,  never as well or as entertainingly as here by director Doug Liman (whose father investigated the Iran-Contra affair) with a permagrin Tom Cruise donning the aviator sunglasses as Seals. Played with an eye on the comedic element in the whole situation (rather akin to the recent similarly-themed War Dogs), it romps from one implausible but real scenario to the next as Seal’s ‘business’ empire continues to expand. Although initially wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) is oblivious to Barry’s double life, but when you’ve got wads of dollar bills all over the house, it’s hard to keep things that secret and she readily takes to the  wealth and the life, although things almost come crashing down thanks her to her self-serving slacker brother (Caleb Landry Jones) who reckons he can deal himself an easy hand in the cash flow.

Not until the final act when, now working for the White House and Colonel Oliver North, he’s inadvertently outed as betraying the Cartel and becomes a marked man, while the Iran-Contra scandal blows up in the government’s face does it really involve any real tension, and even then, as he moves from motel to motel, recording the videotapes that would eventually reveal his story (and provide the film’s to camera framing device), it still manages to play for  edgy laughs as, each morning, he wonders if his car will explode.

Following the disappointment of The Mummy and a series of autopilot Jack Reacher  turns, Cruise is on peak form here, bringing a winning charm and charisma to the film’s anti-hero embodiment of the American Dream on speed. Liman’s also well served by a solid supporting turn from Domhnall Gleeson as Seal’s CIA handler Monty Shafer who gets to bask in the reflected glory of his protégé’s successes while turning a knowing blind eye to extracurricular activities as long as they serve to further the political agenda, and burning any trail when compromised. There’s evidence of some edit room chops (Jesse Plemons’ local sheriff and his suspicious wife  seemingly the biggest victims), but even so the film flows at an exhilarating rush, making it easily Cruise’s best since Collateral.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Annabelle : Creation (15)

A second attempt to establish a franchise for The Conjuring spin-off,  Lights Out director David F. Sandberg scores in relying on old-school horror tactics with half-glimpsed figures, shadows, doors opening of their own accord and teasing the audience with anticipation that’s not always fulfilled. This goes back to the 1950’s origins of the devil doll, as 12 years after their beloved daughter Bee (Samara Lee) is killed in an auto accident, former doll maker Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) opens up the rural California farmhouse he shares with his mysteriously invalided wife (Miranda Otto)  to serve as an orphanage for a group of young Catholic girls and their accompanying nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).

Central to the narrative are young  best friends Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman), the latter in a  leg brace after being stricken with polio. Shut out by the older girls, they end up sharing  room to themselves, next to a door which, Mulls advises them, is locked and will stay that way. So, naturally, when, one night, Janice is awoken by someone slipping  a note under the door bearing the words ‘find me’ (the same game the dead daughter played with her parents) and finds the forbidden room unlocked, she duly enters and discovers a white-frocked wooden doll locked  in a  cupboard. From which point, things start to get even more creepy with the doll mysteriously shifting locations (though you never actually see it move), scary noises and, eventually, Janice coming face to face with the dead daughter, who, naturally turns out to be a demon in disguise (the back story’s explained towards the end) which wants her soul.

The film makes effective use of the set and lighting design to build the tension, plus, of course, the soundtrack, as Janice draws ever closer to her ultimate fate (as detailed in previous instalments, to which the coda provides a direct link), Curiously, the film does little with its religious elements as regards the possession theme and is, at times, a little too cryptic for logic but, by placing two resourceful but nevertheless still young and vulnerable children (very effectively played Bateman and Wilson, respectively seen in Nine Lives and  Ouija: Origin of Evil) at the centre of the gathering horror, it adds to the suspense it seeks to evoke. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Atomic Blonde (15)

Doctor Who notwithstanding, the chances of there ever being a female 007 seem pretty slim. But now there’s no need, Charlize Theron makes the whole question redundant in this adaptation of  Antony Johnston’s graphic novel, The Coldest City. She plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent who is pretty much the dictionary definition of cool. Not to mention lethal. Set in 1989, in the days prior to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, events are framed by a debriefing of a bruised and battered (but still ice cool) Broughton by her handler, Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and his CIA counterpart (John Goodman) regarding her recent mission to Berlin. Her ostensible purpose was to retrieve a list of operatives hidden inside a wristwatch stolen from a fellow agent, seen being bumped off by a  KGB hitman in the opening sequence, and prevent it falling into the wrong hands and extending the Cold War, but also to unmask a double agent known as Satchel, whose identity could well be on the list.

As such, she’s supposed to work with the head of the Berlin station, David Percival (James McEvoy), except he, as Gray puts it, has gone ‘feral’ and clearly has his own agenda involving the source of  the list, a Russian defector, codenamed Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who has it committed to memory. Advised, rather unnecessarily given her cynicism,  by MI6 chief C  to trust no one, the mission inevitably becomes both complex and increasingly dangerous, with an inevitable plethora of double crosses and violent repercussions. All of which involves along the way a brutal KBG boss (Roland Møller) and his psychotic henchmen, a young dissident (Bill Skarsgård) who heads up a resistance network, an enigmatic watchmaker (Til Schweiger) and a rookie French agent (Sofia Boutella) with whom Broughton has some hot girl on girl action. On top of which, the people of East Berlin are flooding the streets in the ongoing protest and resistance to Communist control.

Helmed by John Wick co-director David Leitch, it grabs you by the balls and never lets go until the end, the energy and intensity bolstered by a bass throbbing, amped up soundtrack that papers the  film with the likes of Blue Monday, Cat People (Putting Out Fire),  99 Luftballons and I Ran, not to mention the atmospheric use of lighting and camera angles. Needless to say, the script has more twists than a double-jointed, contortionist pole dancer

Effortlessly and compellingly flowing  through the narrative, building on the casual sociopathic qualities evidenced in Split, McEvoy keeps the audience guessing as to which way he rolls in terms of loyalties. But there’s no doubt as to whom the film belongs. Dressed in predominantly black-and-white, an intense and steely-focused Theron, on a roll after Mad Max revived a somewhat stagnating career, is electrifying as Broughton who, even if her style (like some of the futuristic settings) at  times seems rather at odds with the period, plays by her own tightly defined rules that demand no emotional involvement and the ability to dish out gymnastic martial arts moves and bullets with the best, not least in a  brilliantly staged apartment to staircase fight with two Stasi goons. Blondes clearly have more fun. (Mockingbird)

 

The Big Sick (15)

Taking self-reflexiveness to the extreme, Pakistani-born Chicago Muslim Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, not only co-wrote the screenplay of  the true story of how he and his wife got together, but he also plays himself opposite  Zoe Kazan as Emily (here Gardner).   Working as a  cabbie while trying to make his name as a stand-up comic, Kumail meets the equally deadpan Emily, a recent graduate, when she heckles him at one of his shows. Although neither is actively seeking a relationship, a  tentative romance develops and,  charted through evenings watching horror B movies, all is going well until Emily discovers a box of photographs of women in his room. These, it transpires, are the girls his conservative-minded mother (Zenobia Shroff) has been having ‘drop by’ for dinner since like herself  and fellow immigrant husband (Anupam Kher) and her other son,  Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), and his wife, Fatima (Shenaz Treasury), she expects him to follow tradition with an arranged marriage. Kumail dutifully goes along with  her arrangements, but, just as he pretends to pray in the basement, it’s all a charade. When he tells Naveed he’s dating a white girl, he’s reminded that their cousin was disowned by the family for doing the same thing.

However, knowing what he risks losing whatever decision he makes, before he gets a chance to work out what to do or explain things, Emily storms out and the next thing you know he finds she’s in hospital in a medically-induced coma witha rare lung condition. Which is where she remains for the movie’s middle act, during which time it introduces her parents, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter) and the more acquiescent Terry (Ray Romano), the former understandably angry at the way he’s treated her daughter. But, as they all attend on Emily as her condition gradually worsens, the hostility defuses and they and Kumail begin to bond.  As it turns out, her parents also have a relationship problem. Given the film’s background, it’s no spoiler to reveal Emily eventually wakes up and the couple get back together, but it’s the fraught journey between those two points and the reactions of Kumail’s family that provide the poignant fuel for the third act.

Alongside all this is the subplot involving Kumail and his fellow stand-ups, CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Andy Bryant) and room-mate Chris (Kurt Braunohler) looking to be selected for the upcoming Montreal Showcase and well as  Kumail’s awkward one-man show about Pakistani culture.

Reminiscent of 2014 documentary Meet The Patels, which detailed a similar culture clash scenario (without the coma), founded on superb performances throughout, its balance of comedy and drama is confidently directed by Michael Showalter . Both poignant and sharply funny, daringly introducing terrorist and even 9/11 jokes while exploring notions of identity, family, religion, racism and integration alongside its core love story  and, if not endorsing Kumail’s parents’ traditional views, at least empathising with them. Veined with an optimism that love  actually can conquer everything and the observation that life, like stand-up, is about constant improvisation, it’s easily one of the year’s best. (Sat/Sun: MAC)

Captain Underpants – The First Epic Movie (U)

Having bonded over hearing the word Uranus as tots, first graders George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are firm friends with a mission to enliven school boredom with wild pranks. However, finally caught in the act by joyless principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), they face being put in separate classes to end their friendship. To prevent this, George uses a toy hypno-ring  from a cereal box to make Mr. Krupps think he’s really Captain Underpants, the decidedly dumb superhero character in red cape and white pants with a “Tra La Laaaa!” catchphrase in the comics they create together. Naturally chaos follows as he keeps switching between nice and nasty (the change triggered by splashes of water. However, with the arrival of their new Einstein-lookalike mad scientist teacher (Nick Kroll),  who, with the help of humour-challenged (“Like a chair, or a supermodel!”) class nerd Melvin, is determined to ride the world of laughter after being ridiculed because of his name, maybe, together, they can save the day and transform Krupps (who’s really just lonely) into a more pleasant person as well.

The fact that Kroll’s character is named Professor Poopypants should tell grown-ups not familiar with Dav Pilkey’s best-selling books what to expect from this animated big screen adaptation. The better news is that, although clearly aimed at the immature humour of  seven-year-olds with its giant robot toilet  with a smattering of subversive  adult jokes, it’s also  an enjoyably good-natured silly gigglefest about the power of friendship and laughter.   (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)

 

Cars 3 (U)

After the underevved Cars 2, Pixar shifts back up a gear as past his prime race car champ Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is dethroned by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), one of the new generation of faster, more hi-tech models with their number-crunching strategies. Following a nasty crash, it seems his track days are over, but, with the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonz), a young female trainer at the revamped state of the art Rust-eze Racing Centre run by his  sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion),  Smokey Yunick (Chris Cooper), the repair truck of his former mentor, Doc Hudson and the support of loyal buddies like  Luigi, Guido and goofball tow truck Mater, the humiliated McQueen trains hard to learn the tricks he needs to beat Storm in the Florida 500, getting back to his roots after a disastrous VR session, by taking part –  anonymously and not entirely successfully – in a demolition derby.

Carrying a believe in yourself message, this is very much a passing the torch story (Cruz never had the confidence to be a racer herself) and, while it lacks the emotional edge of the first film, it is sufficiently warm, funny and inspiring enough to make it to the finish line. (Reel; Showcase Walsall)

 

The Dark Tower (12A)

When Robert Browning wrote his epic ballad Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came he could have no idea that it, along with Arthurian legends, Lord of the Ring and Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,  would prove the inspiration for Stephen King’s eight part multi-genre series about  the struggle between Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers (read knights), whose sworn duty is to protect the Dark Tower, which stands at the middle of the multiverse  protecting it from the demons and darkness seeking to enter and destroy it.

Nor could he have imagined what a lumberingly uninvolving and incoherent 95 minute feature director Nikolaj Arcel would make of the first volume which, compressing elements from the entire series, pits Roland (Idris Elba) against evil sorcerer the Man in Black, who he knows by the not entirely scary name of Walter (Mathew McConaughey). For reasons never  properly explained, Walter (sniggerly surnamed o’Dim in the novel) is out to destroy the tower, to which end he’s using the Taheen, his rat-featured underlings, known as Skins because of their fake human faces, to abduct children from the other assorted worlds and use their latent psychic powers, termed ‘the shine’, as energy bolts.

On Earth, or keynote Earth, New York adolescent Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having troubling nightmares involving, well, all of the above, which, of course, no-one, especially loving mom (Katheryn Winnick), and not so loving step-dad, believe. Jake, apparently is pure shine, and just what Walter’s been looking for.  However, he manages to give his would-be captors the slip and discovers  a portal that enables him to cross to Mid-World, a sort of feudal post-apocalyptic version of Earth, only to find his would-be hero in a depressive funk after Walter killed his dad (Dennis Haysbert), resigned to having lost the battle and the inevitable doom of the universe. No longer in the Gunslinger creed that ““He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father,” he just wants to kill Walter.

Naturally, Jake reignites Roland’s spark, leading to a rambling fantasy western narrative that variously crosses between the two worlds as cosmic good takes on cosmic evil. Despite the deaths of any number of characters, there’s no emotional tug to be felt nor does the developing son and surrogate father bond between the two unlikely allies much convince. Elba looks nifty in his leathers and gun belt, his gun apparently forced from the steel of Excalibur, but his mind never seems to be much engaged with the narrative (given the clunky dialogue. that’s hardly surprising), though, sporting spiky black hair, long coat and smug icy smile,  McConaughey is clearly having a gleeful time, nonchalantly offing people by just telling them to stop breathing,. Despite being stuff with shine, Taylor, meanwhile, radiates almost no presence at all.

Indifferently directed and featuring equally indifferent CGI, there’s a couple of  zippy shoot’em up sequences, but nothing to get overly excited about and, clearly the result of some desperate cutting room surgery,  the film does pretty much nothing with the fleeting appearances of  a couple of demons and a red cloud, before finally hobbling to its anti-climax and the overly optimistic suggestion that this is just the start of a series. (Cineworld NEC;  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  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,  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; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Detroit (15)

In the early hours of Sunday, July 23, during the hot summer of 1967, the police raided an all-black after-hours club in Detroit. Unable to access the rear of the building, the  men and women were taken out the front to be loaded into the police wagons. A crowd gathered and, despite pleas by the local Congressman for calm, the already brittle racial tension swiftly escalated into riots and looting, setting the almost exclusively African-American neighbourhood ablaze. A curfew was imposed and members of Michigan’s National Guard were brought in to help restore order.

Across town, Larry Reed (Algee Smith), lead singer with aspiring unsigned R&B outfit The Dramatics, smarting at having the group’s big-break at a show featuring Martha & The Vandellas cut short on account of the riots, takes a room at the Algiers Motel, and he and his younger friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore), hook up with a couple of white girls (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) looking to experience the sexual revolution. They  all go up to a room for drinks where, illustrating a familiar white cop black guy scenario,  one of the guests Carl (Jason Mitchell) pulls a prank with a starting pistol and then thinks it might be fun to shoot it out of the window at the National Guard. At this point everything goes to shit, as, believing there to be a sniper in the motel, bigot cops Krauss (a terrifyingly chilling Will Poulter) and Demens (Jack Reynor), storm the place and line all the guests, among them a Vietnam veteran , (Anthony Mackie), against the wall demanding to know who fired the gun and where it is. Before long, Carl is lying dead and things are going from bad to worse as Krauss, a baby-faced  bullying racist with a power complex, who’s already shot one looter in the back and is disgusted at what he assumes to be miscegenation,  seeks to torture and terrorise the others into giving up the shooter. Inevitably, either because they don’t know or are unwilling to talk, no one is saying anything. Also involved in this increasingly tense situation is Melvin Dismukes (a magnetically underplaying John Boyega), a black security guard who seeks to try and diffuse things, but  also wary of getting too involved.

Based on historical records, including news reports, eye-witness testimonies and the subsequent murder trials of  Krauss and his two fellow officers, albeit with a fair dose of dramatic licence, working from a  screenplay Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted an electrifying and often uncomfortable drama about racial divides and police terrorism that, adopting documentary style techniques, both turns a spotlight on largely forgotten events and the domestic terrorism power keg that is a divided America today.

Combining archival footage with dramatic recreation, Bigelow gradually ratchets up the claustrophobia and horror until it explodes in sudden harrowing violence before the judicial proceedings aftermath that made a mockery of justice. It will, no doubt, be held up as an example of the police brutality that has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, but, as a microcosm of racial violence and prejudices embracing the fears and attitudes of whites and blacks alike, it’s about far more than that.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Dunkirk  (12A)

His shortest feature at a concise 106 mins, Christopher Nolan has executed a technical if not necessarily emotional triumph in his account of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940 with the help of a flotilla of small privately-owned vessels, dubbed Operation Dynamo,  following their collapse under the German offensive.

Essentially, this is more about the operation itself, and splitting the narrative into three interconnected stories (and, indeed, time frames), on land, sea and air, means there’s only limited engagement with  any of the characters involved. Unfolding over the course of a week, we’re first introduced to one of the soldiers, the generically named teenage Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he narrowly escapes German bullets (in a departure from the usual war films, the enemy are never seen other than as aircraft and two blurry figures in the final scene) to make it to the beach where the British Expeditionary Force  troops (some 400,000 in all) are awaiting a miracle. Hooking up with another soldier (Aneurin Barnard), they initially manage to get aboard a rescue ship berthed at the jetty by stretchering a wounded soldier, only for the ship to be sunk, leaving them back where they started.

Very much evoking 40s wartime features, the sea section, which takes place over one day,  begins back in England with Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a local civilian skipper, his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and, seeking to prove himself,  enthusiastic schoolfriend  George (Barry Keoghan) setting sail for Dunkirk to help with the rescue. En route they rescue an unnamed shellshocked sailor (Cillian Murphy) from  the wreck of his torpedoed ship, his reluctance to return to Dunkirk setting up a subsequent tragedy.

The air section, which covers just one hour, involves two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) as. mostly behind oxygen masks, they take on the Messerschmitts and Heinkels wreaking havoc on the troops and ships, the three time scales coming together for the final moments as Dawson’s boat heads towards a bombed minesweeper while Tommy and a fellow soldier (singer Harry Styles acquitting himself well) flounder in the sea after their appropriated trawler, strafed by the unseen enemy as target practice, sinks. Rounding out the cast, Kenneth Branagh gives a quietly impressive performance as the highest-ranking naval offer at the scene, while James D’Arcy is his opposite number in the Army

As ever, making very effective use of sound design, especially in the opening gunshot moments, and keeping the dialogue sparse and to the point, Nolan delivers massive spectacle (no less than three ships sink, spewing survivors into the waves), but without feeling the need to offer the visceral graphics of a Saving Private Ryan (indeed, there’s almost no blood to be seen), tightly winding up the tension which, even if it circumvents the heart, has a firm grip on the nerves.

The film is largely shot in 70mm which, should you be fortunate to have a cinema capable of screening it as such, gives it an extra sense of immersion and depth, but whatever the format, this is the work of a master, if perhaps slightly clinical,  filmmaker and stunning stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Emoji Movie: Express Yourself (U)

Basically, Inside Out in a Smartphone with a dash of Divergence, without the poignancy or existential philosophising.  The son of the morose Mel (Steven Wright) and Mary (Jennifer Coolidge) Meh, young Gene (T.J. Miller) is about to make his debut in the Cube as the new indifferent emoji. However, unable to control the fact that he’s actually happily upbeat and not limited to one expression when selcted, everything in Textopolis goes into meltdown, with Cube controller Smiler (Maya Rudolph) declaring him a malfunction and ordering his deletion. To which end, he and out of fashion emoji Hi-5 (James Cordon) recruit hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who, it turns out has her own secret,  to help him navigate the apps (Spotify, YouTube, etc), avoid  the Internet Trolls and getting lost in the Trash, escape into the Cloud and get reprogrammed so he can fit in. All the while trying to avoid the illegal upgrade malware Smiler’s sent to eradicate them. Meanwhile, the phone’s owner, high schooler freshman Alex, whose texts to his crush, Addie, keep going awry, decides to have it wiped and reset, prompting the obligatory race against the clock.

Retreading the message about being who you are, individuality and not being defined by one trait, as well as the usual stuff about friendship, it’s a colourful affair populated with dozens of familiar emojis, among them Poop (Patrick Stewart) and Akiko Glitter (Christina Aguilera), allowing for any number of groan-inducing puns, although the comments about how emojis and texting limit real communication seem at odds with the film’s concept per se.  It may not be deep, but it’s undeniably fun.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Everything Everything (12A)

Diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease as a todder, following the accident that killed her father and brother, African-American Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) has spent most  of her 18 years inside her home, cared for by her protective doctor mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) and longtime nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), having no contact with the outside world other than Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo), as she’s unable to venture outside less exposure prove fatal.

Then, one day, they get new neighbours, specifically Olly (Nick Robinson), a good-hearted white teenager who dresses in black (she, mostly in white) and has problems with an abusive father. The pair strike up a friendship from their windows and through texts and, without her mother’s knowledge,  Maddy persuades Carla to allow him into the house so they can meet in person. The idea is for them to keep their distance, but inevitably attraction leads to to a 4th of July kiss,  romance and further secret meetings. However, when an incident sees Maddy running outside to Olly’s aid, realising what’s been going on, her mother puts her foot down and bans further contact. Of course, love and concern for personal safety do not necessarily go hand in hand, determining that there’s no point being alive unless you’re actually living, Maddy embarks on a plan that will have life-changing consequences.

Adapted from Nicola Yoon’s fairy-tale inspired young-adult romantic novel and directed by Stella Meghie, who punctuates proceedings with several excursions into Maddy’s fantasies (based on the  architectural models she builds and including  a symbolic astronaut figure), this has its target audience firmly delineated. One which, seduces by  the likeability of the two leads and the naturalness of the  chemistry between them, is unlikely to pick apart the implausibilities or question the credibility of a twist that’s not exactly difficult to see coming.  (Empire Great Park)

A Ghost Story (15)  

Reteaming Ain’t Them Bodies Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, director David Lowery explores grief and loss in the story of a nameless married couple who have moved home for a new start. But then he’s killed in a car crash only to return in the traditional Halloween representation of a ghost as a white sheet with two black cut-out eyes, turning up in the corner of the living room and elsewhere, even when Mara moves out and a new family take over the house. An experimental work that features a lengthy single take of Mara eating  pie left by a friend, it’s a compelling study in how life – and sadness – goes on, for the dead as well as the living as they attempt to come to terms with their new situations. (Electric)

Girls Trip (15)

At times feeling like an exercise to prove that  African-American women getting together for a riotous weekend can be every bit as filthy – yet also poignant – as Bridesmaids or the Hangovers  series, this brings together Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and newcomer Tiffany Haddish as four college friends back in the 90s (somewhat stretching credibility given the age differences), the infamous Flossy Posse, who’ve not seen each other for five years, having lost touch as they’ve followed their separate lives and careers. Ryan Pierce (Hall) has become a best-selling self-help author in partnership with her  retired NFL hero husband Stewart (Mike Colter); former top Times journalist Sasha (Latifah) now runs a failing scandal  blog after a business partnership with Ryan fell through when she got into bed with Stewart instead;  Dina (Haddish), a  libido-rampant hot-head with no filters,  is recently  unemployed after assaulting a co-worker for using her cup; and, once a wild child,  Lisa (Pinkett Smith) is now a divorced romance-challenged mother of two nurse who lives with her mother.

The four are reunited when Ryan invited them to join her at the upcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans where she’ll be  the keynote speaker on female empowerment  and where her agent, Liz (Kate Walsh), is looking to close a deal that will set up her and Stewart with a lucrative product line and talk show. This is being sold on her You Can Have It All ethos and her perfect marriage. Except Sasha has a paparazzi shot of Stewart cheating with Instagram model Simone (Deborah Ayorinde), an affair Dina can’t stop herself revealing to Ryan. As it turns out, she’s aware of it and argues that the pair of them are working things out, so why let it spoil their weekend, although Dina’s haranguing of Stewart has got them thrown out of their five star hotel and shacked up in a cheap flea pit  where some leary old bloke in search of his regular hooker flashes himself at the window. That’s just the first of many many moments involving male genitalia, either in reference, in the flesh or through Dina’s simulation of the, ahem, grapefruit technique (if you don’t know, don’t ask).

Essentially a vulgarity-enhanced black riff on Sex and the City, although intermittently taking time out to address friendship bonds, relationship cracks and lost self-belief, the bulk of  this wildly overlong largely entails moving from one crude or rowdy sequence to the next. Some of these, such as the girls tripping on absinthe at a nightclub, are hilarious, others, such as Pinkett Smith urinating on a crowd while hanging from a  trip wire between a New Orleans street are decidedly not.

The plot is as formulaic as the characters are generic (Haddish is basically the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis’ overbearingly irresponsible character in The Hangover), but the four leads give a cocktail of ebullient and nuanced performances above and beyond such tired clichés (there’s even a dance off), Pinkett Smith especially good.

En route to its sentimental happy ending, it’s symptomatic of the film’s ‘noise’ that director Malcolm Lee feels the need to stuff it to overflowing with cameos from the likes of Common, Sean Combs, Mike Epps,  Ne-Yo, Morris Chestnut and, clearly with more tolerance than The House filmmakers, even a  brief glimpse of Mariah Carey.

Some it works, a lot of it doesn’t and you have to ask whether a comedy  with a  white director and cast could ever have gotten away with the liberal use of the N word like this does and, a mark of its uneven nature,  it undermines its feminist principles when it seems to say that all women need to get them out of a funk is big dick. Still, cheaper than a pair of Manolo Blahniks I guess. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

God’s Own Country (15)

Dubbed  a  Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain, first time writer-director as Francis Lee unfolds the relationship between teenager Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), who, forced to stay behind and look after the family farm while his friends take off  for pastures new when his hardened, seemingly joyless father (Ian Hart) suffers a stroke, numbs his pain and frustrations with  binge drinking and casual sex with women he picks up at the livestock auctions. But then, one day, along comes Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), a reserved, quietly soulful Romanian migrant who his dad  hires for the  lambing season and whose presence prompts unexpected feelings in Johnny and a questioning of his sexuality, as well as his own relationship to the land,  as they work together repairing walls up on the moors.

Driven by terrific  lead performances, with solid support from Hart and Gemma Jones as Johnny’s stoic grandmother, it confidently balances its unsentimental but tender coming out romantic drama narrative with a gritty, almost documentary style depiction of the tough and often brutal realities of farm life, not least Gheorghe’s skinning of a dead lamb  so he can put the pelt on another, tricking the dead animal’s mother into feeding it. However, learning that his father will never recover sufficiently to resume running the farm, brings an almost catastrophic pressure to bear. It’s slow, but absorbingly affecting. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (15)

Ryan Reynolds teams with Samuel L Jackson for an empty but thoroughly entertaining variation on the mismatched enemies turned buddies road trip  that involves the former’s bodyguard, Michael Bryce, and the latter’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, in a  race against the clock to travel from Manchester to The Hague. The purpose being that Kincaid has been persuaded to give testimony  at the war crimes trial of genocidal Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (a suitably evil Gary Oldman) in exchange for immunity and freedom for his imprisoned wife (Selma Hayek, marvellously foul-mouthed in her  few scenes). Since that means that, with the help of the inevitable Interpol traitor (revealed early as Joaquim de Almeid’s Assistant Director), Dukhovich’s thugs are out to ensure he never gets there, Bryce has been brought in to facilitate self-passage.

He’s less than enthusiastic since, as the prologue reveals, formerly Triple A-rated, he’s slipped considerably down the personal security food chain since one of his clients was popped after safely boarding a plane. He’s still good at his job, but he’s gone from top of the range Jags to battered jalopies and from top diplomats and arms dealers to Richard E Grant’s cameoing coke-dealing London businessman.  On top of which, Kincaid has tried to kill him 28 times and , following an assault on the convoy transporting him, the Interpol agent whose enlisted him is Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung), his former girlfriend whom he blames for selling him out on that airport job. The truth about which provides a particularly amusing reveal in a film that balances lethal and laughter in equal measure.

Essentially, it boils down to a series of  hops between cities (Coventry included) en route to the Amsterdam courtroom, including hitching  lift with a busload of nuns, punctuated by constant banter between the two, innumerable shoot outs and action sequences and some particularly thrilling high speeds chances, most notably one involving Amsterdam’s canals, vans, a motorbike and speedboat.

Jackson provides the larger than life side of the pairing, Kincaid regarding himself as one of the good guys and proving to be a hopeless romantic at heart (a flashback reveals how he and Sonia met and bonded when she slashed a guy’s carotid in a Cuban bar-fight) as he offers relationship advice to wounded soul Bryce, Reynolds handling the deadpan sarcasm and dry quips with Bryce’s plays safe approach constantly undermined by Kincaid’s street-smart bull by the horns attitude.

The whole romance element is, frankly, fairly superfluous to requirements other than as motivation drivers, and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the spark and interplay between the two stars, who are clearly having a  lot of fun, and the frenetic, action-crammed energy with which it unfolds. It’s infectious. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power  (PG)

In 2006, An Inconvenient Truth saw former Vice President Al Gore essentially delivering a PowerPoint lecture, albeit a compelling one, about global warming and climate change. Eleve n years later, he return with an equally compelling and statistics-fuelled, but more documentary-like, look at the ongoing environmental crisis, travelling around the globe to meet and talk to those at the sharp end, including  trainees in his programmes to combat change, such as those in the Philippines, trainees dealing with the devastating 2013 typhoon, post-Katrina New Orleans and Florida where streets were flooded with fish.

The pivotal point is his successful attempt to get India to sign up to the 2016 Paris agreement. although, as it timely manages to include, Donald Trump has, of course, come along and jammed a very big spanner in the works with his advocacy of fossil fuels. Even so, despite the naysayers at home and abroad, the film feels more hopeful than its predecessor in its indication that political leaders can come together  and what the results can be.  (Sun-Tue:MAC)

 

The Limehouse Golem (15)

Riding on the back of the popularity of Penny Dreadful, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Ripper Street, with Jane Goldman adapting Peter Ackroyd’s novel (and bringing a feminist note) director Juan Carlos Median’s thriller carefully blends historical fact with police procedural fiction, and a liberal helping of gore. Adopting the technique of starting at the end and then showing how matters arrived there, it’s set in 1880 London with Bill Nighy as Scotland Yard Inspector John Kildare, who’s assigned to investigate a series of brutal murders by a killer the press has dubbed the Limehouse Golem. A cautious,  methodical and reserved man who’s been passed over for promotion because of rumours about “not being the marrying kind”, he suspects he’s got the job as the force’s fall guy. None the less, taking on  constable  George Flood (Daniel Mays) as his assistant, linking the killings to an earlier slaughter of a family,  he sets about examining four potential suspects, all of whom visited the British Library Reading Room on a specific day, musical hall female impersonator comic Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), Karl Marx (Henry Goodman),  novelist George Gissing (Morgan Watkins), all three real life characters, and fictional journalist and aspiring playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). The problem is Cree has just been found poisoned  and his wife, music hall star Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), is being tried for his murder.

Persuaded that she’s innocent, Kildare makes it his mission to prove her husband was the Golem, eliminating the others by comparing their handwriting to the lurid  notes written by the killer in a Thomas de Quincey book as a diary of his self-styled acts of creation. These are staged as imagined  recreations of the murders with each of the suspects in turn embodying the Golem. Meanwhile, in the trial and interviews with the imprisoned Lizzie sequences, the film delivers flashbacks to her rise from abused street urchin to music hall star under Leno’s tutelage to her unhappy marriage to Cree, taking in the vindictive jealousy of romantic rival and fellow entertainer Aveline (Maria Valverde) and the deaths of two other members of the company, dwarf  Victor and theatre manager Uncle (a creepy Eddie Marsan), both of whom, it is suggested, were killed by Cree in response to the way they treated Lizzie.

Enfolded in fog and shadows and with some suitably saucy music hall humour and melodrama, the film eventually becomes a race against the clock to save Lizzie from the gallows. There’s any number of  twists and turns to divert audience suspicions, although the hide in plain sight approach won’t be missed by armchair detectives, building the tension along with the increasingly visceral flashbacks. Departing from his recent comedic roles, Nighy is terrific, as indeed are Cooke and Booth, both of whom afford their characters intriguing complexities in what is a clever, literate and hugely involving work.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield)

Logan Lucky (12A)

The return of director Steven Soderbergh to feature filmmaking should be cause for celebration, but instead what you get is a rather lacklustre and flat blue collar  retread of his Oceans trilogy, one which may have a cleverly intricate plot mechanism to the heist, but lacks any of those previous films’ fluidity,  comedic spark and banter. For reasons never quite made clear (but presumably involve being able to afford to follow his ex-wife –Katie Holmes – from Virginia  to Pittsburgh so he can still see his young daughter),  recently let go from a construction company on account of his insurance risk dodgy knee, former high school football star Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), persuades his one-armed Iraq-veteran bar tender brother  Clyde (Adam Driver) to join him in a  plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, to which end, with their flaky hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) already onboard, they enlist the services of  celebrated safecracker Jo Bang (a scenery-chewing Daniel Craig with a white buzzcut); they just have to get him out of jail to do the job and back again before he’s missed. Which means they also need the assistance of his two dimwit brothers (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson).

Unfortunately, there’s a hiccup that means they have to bring the plan forward a week, which means that, instead of some low profile race meet, they’re hitting the NASCAR Coca -Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. And, on top of which, after they pull the job, Jimmy’s got to get to his daughter’s pageant show.

It’s the first screenplay by Rebecca Blunt and, as such, you can often hear the gears grinding while things like the running gags about the supposed Logan family curse, Clyde’s hand  and John Denver’s music feel like Blunt being consciously ‘eccentric’ rather than an organic part of the plot. Likewise scenes involving Seth McFarlane’s loudmouth British energy drink creator race driver Max Chilblain which could have been cut without any loss to the narrative.

Admittedly, the way it all falls into place is well-handled and ( as with the Oceans films), there’s the inevitable reveals of things you didn’t see in the main narrative, but even so the late arrival of Hilary Swank’s FBI agent means the film has to try and crank things up again just after they’ve wound down post heist, something it never quite manages to do.  The cast are game enough, but never quite sparks in the way that Clooney et al. did and, while there’s some amusing touches, not least an amusing Game of Thrones gag as part of a prison riot demands and a witty background reference to Ocean’s Eleven,  ultimately this is enjoyable but forgettable fare. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Star City)

 

 

The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature (U)  

The original 2014 animation about a bunch of critters living in a  park and their search for food was amiable enough, but surely didn’t warrant a second trip. Which no doubt explains why it’s proven a box office disaster. Perhaps most notable for the fact that the fart gag in the trailer isn’t actually in the film itself, this is a largely joyless and laugh free affair in which everyone dashes maniacally about when, the Nut Store having exploded, and the lifetime of nuts along with it, the animals are forced to return to the park, only to see it torn down and dug up by the corrupt city mayor  and a ramshackle amusement park erected in place of the trees and grass. The film basically entails the fight by the animals, led by Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) and his mute rat buddy, to regain their home while romantic interest squirrel Andie (Katherine Heigl) keeps admonishing him about how they should get back to their natural instincts and forage for food rather than taking the easy option.

There’s very little inspiration or flair in evidence, the best bits being a subplot in which slobbering pooch Precious (Maya Rudolph) is abducted by the mayor’s brattish daughter and forms a bond with her put-upon bull dog Frankie (Bobby Canavale) and the spirited contribution of Jackie Chan as Mr. Feng, a martial arts city mouse who leads an army of similarly garbed rodents who come to the aid of Surly and co. Among the laboured gags and repetitive plot there may be just enough to satisfy undemanding six-year-olds, but otherwise these nuts are decidedly stale. (Empire Great Park)

Patti Cake$ (15)

While there’s been several biopics centred around the genre, there hasn’t been a decent rap-based movie since Eminem’s 8-Mile, at least not one with a  heart in its narrative. Directed and written by Geremy Jaspar, making his feature debut, and who also wrote the original songs, this ably remedies that with his quasi-autobiographical story about the transformative power of music. It stars  Australian actress Danielle Macdonald as  Patricia Dombrowski, an overweight New Jersey (the film opens with Springsteen’s The Time That Never Was) bartender who dreams of becoming a rap star to escape the  dead-end life  and  home she shares with her brash, equally plus-sized  boozy mother, Barb (Bridgett Everett), herself a failed rock star, and her sick, cantankerous Nana (Cathy Moriarty).

Calling herself Killer P, but disparagingly dubbed  Dumbo by the local youths in her working-class North Jersey neighbourhood, she hangs out with loyal friend and supporter, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), who works the local pharmacy and fantasises of being feted by her rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), spending her days regularly creating her own self-driven raps, such as the sardonic “mylifesfuckinawesome”.

After a  failed attempt at making a demo, when she and Hareesh encounter self-styled but far from talkative anarchist guitarist  Bastered (Mamoudou Athie) during a  showcase night, she tracks him down to his shack near the graveyard (just beyond the subway tunnel named the Gates of Hell)  and persuades him to record her, and, joined by Hareesh and, unlikely as it seems, Nana , they make a CD and form a band called PBnJ, arranging  launch night at a local strip bar. Things do not, however, go as well as they do in the many surreal fantasy sequences,

Meanwhile, Patti’s working all hours in the local bar and with a  catering company to make the money she and the family desperately need,  her mother’s hooked up with a cop to front his  blues band (sporting a not entirely flattering orange jump suit), a  meeting with her idol crushes her dreams into the ground and the challenge of facing an audience at the launch night turns into a self-confidence meltdown that sees her  deciding to give it all up.

Naturally,  despite some bumps in the road, the film delivers the obligatory feelgood ending at a rap contest, one which, involving Barb and a power ballad from the one album she made, proves unexpectedly moving.

Stylishly filmed by Jaspar with plenty of moody lighting and close-ups, while both Moriarty and Everett (who proves to have a powerful set of lungs) have scene stealing moments, the film would be nothing without  Macdonald’s charismatic personality and performance,  who uses her body shape to full advantage, but never for laughs or pity. Disappointingly, without any star names,  it’s failed to attract the multiplex audiences, so try and catch it while you still can . (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

Rough Night (12A)

While inevitably suffering in arriving in the wake of the far more outrageous and much cruder Girls Trip, this female buddy movie from director Lucia Aniello, who co-wrote the Paul Downs, still doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it.  The basic plot is much the same, a group of former college buddies who’ve not seen each for some years, reunite for a weekend away, the excuse being a bachelorette party for bride to be aspiring senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson) who, frankly, would rather stay home  with her fiancé (Downs) and try and salvage her failing campaign.

Nevertheless, she’s off to Miami with real estate agent Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who’s in the middle of a custody battle, her  activist former girlfriend Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and self-proclaimed best friend party organiser Alice (Jillian Bell), the obligatory needy, over-enthusiastic  outsize,  arrested development jealous loner with no social life.  They’re subsequently joined by another of Jess’s friends, Australian oddball Pippa (Kate McKinnon).

Where the plot (essentially a gender reversal of 1998’s Very Bad Things) diverges is that Alice accidentally ends up killing the stripper Blair has arranged and the subsequent attempts to get rid of the body and evidence of their involvement (something which entails Kravitz in a ménage a trois with beachside swinger neighbours Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), while, in a silly subplot contrived to facilitate the climax, Peter, fuelled by pills and Red Bull, is driving to Miami in the belief that Jess wants to call off the wedding.

Although there’s a twist to come regarding the dead man, the film takes its time getting there with a series of aborted attempts to dispose of the body that are never as amusing as they think they are. Johanssen handles the dramatic and emotional moments well enough, but it’s clear she’s not a  natural comic, standing even less chance than Kravitz and Glazer to withstand the primal force of Bell (essentially in the Melissa McCarthy Bridesmaids  role) or the scene-stealing off the wall delivery and humour of McKinnon. But, even so, while there are laughs to be had, it’s not a  night  to remember. (Cineworld  NEC)

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

The third actor to play the webslinger on the big screen, Tom Holland made his debut cameoing in Captain America: Civil War, and this latest reboot is set a few months after those events. It opens, however, in the wake of the first Avengers movie as, mid-way through salvage work, New York contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is told all such operations involving alien material now comes under Damage Control. Still, he and his crew have stowed away enough to go into the super-weapons business, which is where we pick up events eight years later (no Spidey origin stories here). On a high after helping out The Avengers, making his own web diary footage of events to revel in on playback, gawky 15-year-old Queens high schooler Peter Parker (Holland) is keen to see more action in his Stark ‘internship’, but, with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his babysitter,  is advised by Tony (a typically snarky Robert Downey Jr) to keep his super-heroing on a neighbourhood level, although he does get a  new hi-tech suit (with its very own Jarvis in the vocal form of Jennifer Connelly) to go with the job, even if he has no idea what all its powers are or how to use them.

As such, things toddle along with his handling petty crime and helping out old ladies until he stumbles on a heist with a gang using alien-technology weapons. This, in turn, leads him to track down the suppliers and run foul of Toomes who now sports a pair of armoured flying wings (he’s essentially The Vulture, but is never really referred to as such until the end), and, although warned off from getting involved by Stark, climaxes in a near disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry (in a sequence that mirrors Tobey Maguire saving the elevated train in the original movie) that requires Iron Man to come to the rescue and take back the suit.

On top of all this, Peter’s having to deal with the usual high school problems, such as the class bully, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and the senior on whom he has a crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), but is too shy to say anything. Plus the fact that he’s accidentally revealed his secret identity to science partner and equally geeky best buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and that his webslinging heroics force him to both duck out on the  Academic Decathlon (he’s busy saving the other students in the Washington Tower) and, finally going places with Liz, the homecoming ball. And now he’s stuck with his old homemade suit too.

It’s a little ADD in the early going, reflecting Peter’s uber-enthusiasm and desire to impress Stark, but it soon settles down into a solid and, importantly, hugely entertaining fanboy addition to the Marvel Universe. Although things have been tweaked, there’s still plenty of familiar notes from the comics, including a new spin on MJ (a dry, scene stealing Zendaya), a much younger Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), nods to the many variations the costume’s been through and even the theme from the animated 60s TV series, not to mention a tease of Maguire’s famous upside down kiss.

Holland brings a likeable wide-eyed boyish glee as well as a disarming vulnerability to Parker, regularly screwing up but always getting back on his feet,  while Keaton, who, like Doctor Octopus, is a human-scaled villain with mechanical appendages  and a moral ambiguity, is menacingly compelling and, essentially a victim of the Avengers fall-out himself,  comes with a truly unexpected kick of a twist. Downey Jr and Favreau reprise their familiar shtick and the film also finds room for cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and, albeit by  way of school training videos, the now disgraced Captain America. Filling out the supporting cast, Martin Starr makes the most of his scenes as the Decathlon coach and Bokeem Woodbine does duty as one of Toomes’ crew aka the Shocker. Climaxing in a mid-air battle atop an Avengers  jet, it may ultimately resort to the usual super-hero tropes, but getting there is a whole web of fun. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

Following on from the Rise Of and Dawn Of  remakes, director Matt Reeves winds up the trilogy in triumphant, epic form. Picking things up after the end of Dawn, that saw Caesar (Andy Serkis) kill the human-hating Koba, he and his fellow apes, among them  sidekick orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and youngest son Cornelius, are now hiding out while being hunted down by Alpha-Omega, a rogue army of  surviving humans and renegade apes (referred to as Donkey – as  in Kong) headed up by the psychotic Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), who, shaven-headed and obsessed, patently echoes  Brando’s Kurtz  with, following Kong: Skull Island, the second ape-themed nod to Apocalypse Now this year, indeed at one point the word Ape-pocalypse Now is seen scrawled on a tunnel wall.

After having his men driven back in an assault on the hideaway, the Colonel himself leads a second incursion, this time leaving Cornelia and Caesar’s eldest son, Blue Eyes,  dead, prompting Caesar to send the others to find the sanctuary Rocket (Terry Notary) and Blue Eyes discovered while setting off on a  personal mission of vengeance. To which end, Maurice, Rocket and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) insist on accompanying him. Along the way, the small band is augmented by the addition of a young girl (Amiah Miller), the victim of a plague mutation that renders its victims mute (which itself sets up a powerful scene explaining the Colonel’s driven crusade), and, providing some comic relief, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a small, hermit zoo ape survivor of the Simian Flu outbreak who’s learned to talk  and who is persuaded to guide them to the Colonel’s base in the frozen wastelands.

The third act shifts homages to take on Biblical echoes as, discovering the clan have been captured and imprisoned as slave workers by the Colonel, Caesar now becomes a sort of Moses, delivering his people from bondage as the film builds to a full on battle spectacular as (nodding to The Great Escape) the apes sees to escape the gulag with Maurice and Bad Ape exploiting the tunnels beneath the compound.

Combining western and war movie influences and motifs, the central performances deeply weighted in character with Serkis in particular bringing huge expression and emotional intensity  to his CGI-rendered Caesar,  it’s an often dark and sombre narrative, the prison camp sequences  particularly so, and, while action scenes are visceral, these are also balanced by lengthy philosophical moments addressing  such themes as loyalty, family, freedom and, especially for Caesar,  mindful of his own legacy, the blinding nature of vengeance. While ostensibly the final film of the series, the remainder of humanity seemingly eliminated in a final avalanche, with Cornelius inheriting his father’s mantle (and linking things back to the original Planet of the Apes), given the likely box office figures, further monkey business should not be ruled out yet.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue 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 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

 

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 Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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