Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) The third outing for the fat and furry martial arts master (a Chinese co production that involves a six minute plus end-credits sequence) offers a perfect conclusion to the saga, one which the studio would be wise not to try and extend just because this has proven such a massive money spinner. It’s the culmination of the journey that Po (Jack Black) began in the first film when Master Ooglay, proclaimed him the Dragon Warrior of prophecy. Now it’s time to really fulfil that destiny.
The film opens in the Spirit Realm where Ooglay now resides, spending his afterlife in meditation. That all comes to an end, however, when his ancient ally turned enemy, Kai (J.K. Simmons), a giant blade-wielding yak, makes a dramatic reappearance and announces that he’s defeated all the other kung fu masters in the realm and stolen their life chi, transforming them into jade amulets under his control, and now he intends to take Oogway’s, giving him the power to return to the world of mortals where he plans to crush the remaining masters and hunt down the Dragon Warrior.
Po, meanwhile, is having his own problems. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has announced his retirement from teaching and appointed Po in his place. Something unwelcomed by the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie, whose four kids all get panda voice cameos), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) — and Po alike. Neither they nor he reckon he’s up to the task. Something borne out by a disastrous training session.
Having been told by Shifu that it’s all part of Po discovering who he truly is, then who should reappear in his life. but his long lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). Coming belly to belly with his real dad, the first time he’s ever met another panda, Po is naturally over the moon. Well, perhaps apart from learning that he was originally called Little Lotus. But there’s not much time for rejoicing when Kai sends his jade zombies to attack the village and it is revealed that Po must find and master his chi if he has any chance of defeating him. Good job then that pandas are the keepers of the secrets of the chi.
So, Po sets off with Li (and stowaway adoptive goose dad Mr. Ping) to the secret panda village where he has to not only get in touch with his true panda, but also teach the other pandas kung fu to protect themselves when Kai arrives. Let’s just say, it’s not an easy job. And arrive Kai duly does, having defeated Shifu and all the Furious Five save one, setting up not one, but two action-packed climaxes before the big extended family reunion.
In many ways, the plot follows a similar path to the first film, and, once again, hinges on a message of discovering who you truly are and believing in yourself. The addition of a whole village full of pandas, including cubs and the flirty ribbon-dancing Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), allows the film to have a lot of fun involving rolling around and eating noodles and dumplings (discovering they don’t use chopsticks, Po declares “I always felt I wasn’t eating up to my full potential!”) while also squeezing in some food-related innuendos and bodily function gags that include a goose crapping eggs out of fright when confronted by Kai.
Terrifically animated in a way that once again blends a traditional Chinese look with a contemporary feel, it flows fluidly along, expanding into flights of almost surreal fantasy in the Spirit Realm. Black is, as ever, superb in bringing Po to life with all his insecurities and vanities, here allowing him to explore a more emotional and tender side not seen to such an extent in the previous films. The 3D’s actually worth the money, kids will shriek with excitement and grown-ups won’t be checking their watches, but, really, this is a fitting end of Po’s journey to enlightenment. Let’s not, ahem, panda to the box office and set him off on another (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Always reliable for a dose of quirkiness, Charlie Kaufman (he of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame) takes on stop motion claymation (handled by Duke Johnson) for this ambitious, but somewhat overstretched film about loneliness, self-loathing and finding and losing love. Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a celebrated English-born motivational customer service guru, is in Cincinattai for a presentation and decides to call up an old flame, Bella (voiced, disorientingly by Tom Noonan, who also voices every other similar-looking character, regardless of gender, but one), who he hasn’t seen since he abruptly walked out on her many years ago and, though he’s now married and with a family, still feels guilty about what he did.
She agrees to meet, but understandably angry when it seems he’s trying to get her into bed, things don’t go well, leaving Michael to return to the hotel (via a mistaken visit to a sex toy shop where he buys an animatronic female Japanese figure for his son), where he has drinks with two of the delegates, outgoing Emily and the shy, insecure and equally damaged Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who neither looks nor sounds like anyone else, both of whom are big fans. He invites the latter back to his room where she sings Girls Just Wanna Have Fun for him and they end up having sex, leading to Michael’s nightmare of everyone trying to keep them apart and a subsequent melt down in the presentation.
Notwithstanding the slightly creepy spectacle of graphic claymation sex and the fact that all the characters faces are hinged (at one point the bottom of Michael’s face falls off, presumably to symbolically represent becoming ‘unhinged’), this a punningly titled (as in anomalies, while Lisa’s final words give the Japanese meaning), thoughtful meditation on loneliness, depression, detachment and the human need to be loved; tellingly, in a world he sees as almost exclusively populated by clones Michael’s message is about always celebrating the individual. Much is well observed (especially the minutiae of hotel stays) and Leigh and Thewlis make their characters very real in a world of blanks, but, expanded from plans for a 40 minute short, it is sometimes as annoying as it is engaging and frequently betrays its origins as a radio play. Fascinating but flawed. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric)
The Divergent Series: Allegiant (12A)
If, despite some at times downright confusing storytelling, you’ve been sticking with this underwhelming post-apocalyptic saga, the first part of the inevitably two part conclusion may test patience a little too far. It picks up on events following the end of Insurgent, which saw Tris (Shailene Woodley) overcoming Jeanine (dispatched by rebel leader Evelyn – Naomi Watts – in the final scene) and opening the box revealing that the whole city of Chicago and the Factions system had in fact been an experiment devised by a group beyond the wall and of which the Divergents were the successful result. So, rescuing her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) from impending execution after he sided with Jeanine, Tris, action man boyfriend Four (Theo James), ever unreliable Peter (Miles Teller) and underused token black buddy Christina (Zoe Kravitz) escape over the wall and head out into the devastated toxic world beyond. Here they’re quickly picked up by forces working for David (Jeff Daniel), who heads up something called The Bureau of Genetic Welfare, which originally established the population of Chicago (cue backstory about Tris’s mother) and has been monitoring Tris (and indeed everyone) since birth as part of an experiment to try and find a way to cure the ‘damaged’(all of Chicago) and make them ‘pure’, like her and the other non-affected survivors of The Purity Wars (keep up, keep up) inside the hi-tech refuge.
He wants her to help convince the Council, which oversees everything, that the experiment does work, with Tris as the evidence. Four (why doesn’t she ever call him Tobias?), of course, suspects there’s more to this than meets the eye, which, inevitably there is, as the storyline wends its laborious way to David inciting a civil war between Evelyn (who, of course, also happens to be Four’s mom) and her followers and the Allegiant forces led by former Amity spokesperson Johanna. All of which also involves abducting kids from communities living in the radioactive wastelands of the Fringe and some sort of memory wiping serum.
Groaning under the weight of contrived exposition and long stretches of boring dialogue, pretty much nothing happens to affect the pulse rate until the final stretch, by which time the uneven CGI (some terrific, some terrible), the plodding plot and the fact that Tris seems to get less interesting with each instalment may have you wishing you too could be affected by the serum, so you’d mercifully forget this and not give a toss about seeing the finale. You probably won’t anyway. 121 (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Fifty Shades of Black (15)
A hit and mostly miss parody of Fifty Shades of Grey with Marlon Wayans as super rich Christian Black and Kali Hawk as the impressionable virgin who gets lured into his web and world. Jokes about hairy legs and premature ejaculation pretty much define the level of hilarity in a film that tries to wring humour out of rape gags and that classic chestnut about a bloke getting something stuck up his arse. Naturally, there’s a Bill Cosby reference too. Mildly inspired touches like a spoof of Magic Mike are eclipsed by such groan-inducing scenes as Jane Seymour (playing Black’s mother) imitating talking Chinese to her adopted daughter, not realising she’s actually Korean. Fade to Black. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Witch (15)
The directorial debut of Robert Eggers, this art house horror is a cocktail of religion, superstition, fairy tale and sexual awakening set against the early days of America’s colonisation. Ostracised from their fellow New England settlers over doctrinal differences, Puritan Yorkshireman William (Ralph Ineson) and his family take up residence on the edge of a forest which the children are warned not to enter. One day, eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya-Taylor Joy) takes young baby brother Samuel to the brook, from where he suddenly disappears during a game of peek-a-boo, abducted, as a subsequent scene suggests, for sacrifice by a witch (Bathsheba Garnett), the mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), blaming her daughter for the loss. What with the behavior of the mischief-making twins and the fate of brother Caleb, it seems that there may be the devil’s work afoot , something compounded by all the talk of damnation and the likely failure of the harvest.
Gradually the family begins to fall apart under the toll of events and, in a move designed to conjure thoughts of the Salem witch trials that would happen some years later, the film poses the question as to whether Thomasin may be a witch, as she is accused of by the not so innocent twins, who are overly attached to the family’s bacl goat, or a victim of the devil, and whether what we see is a manifestation of real evil or shared hallucinations and hysteria brought on by excessive and obsessive faith. Slow and measured, relying on psychological tension and menace rather than the usual jump scares, it is perhaps less effective in the final moments when Satanism and witches covens take over, but even so it’s a strikingly atmospheric work that ably lives up to its Shining influences. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Redditch, Star City)
BAFTA Shorts (15) A collection of six short films, variously involving a man’s search for the origins of his Edmond impulse to be close to others, a Hasidic Jew in crisis, torn between his community and the possibilities of trendy east London, a crime scene story unfolding in reverse order, an Emergency Services Operator dealing with a young mother whose son is trapped upstairs in a burning house, a Scottish ex-shipyard welder turned poet and, from legendary animator Richard Williams, a young girl witnessing a battle to the death. (Tue-Thu, MAC)
The Big Short (15)
Adam McKay’s inspired indignant satire on the mortgage housing crisis of 2005 that led to 2008’s global financial meltdown scored the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Based on a book about the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market and driven by hyper-caffeinated energy, whimsical touches like Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie delivering to-camera lessons explaining financial concepts such as collateralised-debt obligations mirror the sheer absurdity of what happened while still delivering a stinging, attack on those that let it.
Although the time span’s never quite clear, it follows three parallel stories across three years. Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an autistic, glass-eyed, metal loving hedge fund manager, reckons the US housing market bubble will burst and sets out to short (bet against) it, investing millions that the likes of Goldman Sachs, thinking he’s off his head, are more than happy to take.
Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a brash, Deutschebank egotistical trader gets wind of Burry and decides to cash in too, leading him team with Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), a self-loathing idealist who heads a credit-default-swap team under the Morgan Stanley umbrella. Then there’s Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, start-up whizz kids looking to play with the big boys, who, stumbling on Vennett’s prospectus, call on retired investment banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them out.
With frequent to camera explanations of the jargon, it invites audiences to root for characters who, rather than exposing the frauds and assuming the banks genuinely have no idea what’s going on, set out to profit from what will, ultimately, prove the collapse of the economy. There are no heroes here, just winners and losers.
With a cast that also features small but effective turns by Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall and Karen Gillan, it rattles along, sharp humour and biting indignation consistently underlining the sheer brazen audacity of those culpable, such as the smug CDO manager only too happy to smilingly confirm all of Braun’s worst fears about the system’s corruption. And, as the end pointedly makes clear, who got away with it too. (MAC; Vue Star City)
Black Shack Alley (tbc) 1983 Martinican film based on the semi-autobiographical 50s novel ‘Rue Cases-Nègres’ Joseph Zobel centering on his plantation childhood and the sacrifices made by his family to secure his education ain the face of the racial prejudice of the colonial school system. (Wed 15: MAC)
Bridge Of Spies (12A) Tom Hanks serves up another decent family man doing the right thing turn in the true Cold War story of how insurance lawyer James Donovan was hired to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Oscar Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance) and then recruited by the CIA and sent to east Berlin to broker an exchange with the Soviets for captured spy plane pilot Gary Powers. Part written by the Coens and directed by Spielberg, there’s a terrific sense of period and the scenes between Hanks and Rylance are electrifying. (Tue-Thu: Odeon Birmingham, West Brom)
Capture The Flag (PG) Young Mike Goldwing’s dad, Scott, and grandfather, Frank, were both astronauts. However, the cancellation of the space programme means Scott’s dreams will never come true while Frank’s were crushed when he was replaced in the final manned Apollo mission. After which he turned his back on his family and now lives in an astronauts’ retirement home. However, when billionaire oil tycoon Richard Carson announces he’s going to the moon to prove the Apollo XI moon landing never happened and claim the planet for himself (so he can mine it for a new energy source that will give him control over the Earth) and Scott’s appointed as commander of a NASA mission to stop him, Mike sees a chance to reconcile the two by persuading Frank to join the team of trainers. But, when sabotage puts his dad out of commission, Mike decides to sneak onboard and go to the moon himself. Things don’t go to plan, and the rocket takes off early, with not only Mike, but his friend Amy and his granddad too. Now they have their work cut out to rescue the American flag and put an end to Carson’s plans. Moving briskly along with a solid mix of action and sentiment, as well as techno-equipped lizard to amuse the youngsters, this Spanish-made CGI animation may not rival Pixar or DreamWorks, but it’s a lot of fun. (Vue Star City)
The Choice (12A)
Nicholas Sparks writes romantic novels that make Mills & Boon look like the work of Jane Austen. Benjamin Walker plays a North Carolina vet ladies man while. Teresa Palmer is his new rich girl medical student neighbour.. She takes an instant dislike to him, so inevitably they end up in each other’s arms, despite the fact they both are seeing other people. There’s lovely sunsets and stars, lush landscapes and glittering waters, but no chemistry between the couple while Tom Wilkinson turns up to collect a pay cheque as Walker’s widowed dad. Other than the chance to hear Palmer say the line “I’m angry about Molly’s nipples”, given the choice between seeing this or something else, I’d opt for the latter. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
Creed (12A) Reprising his role as Rocky Balboa, this time round, Sylvester Stallone is on the other side of the ropes when he’s persuaded to come out of retirement and train Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan), the illegitimate son of his late opponent and friend, Apollo Creed, as he seeks to make his name in boxing without trading on his father’s reputation. Plotwise, it follows a predictable path, playing a familiar surrogate father/son riff as it casts an eye over themes of legacy and black youths/absent fathers, throwing in a health scare along the way to cement the bonding process. However, aided by strong performances, Coogler mostly avoids manipulative sentimentality as the film makes its way to the inevitable big fight, here staged at Liverpool’s Goodison Park as, pressured to box under his father’s name, Creed takes on the defending British lightweight champ retired Rocky to be his trainer. Naturally, after initially refusing to be drawn back into that world, the pair eventually team up as the predictable plot sets up the inevitable big championship fight, here between Adonis and the defending light-heavyweight champ, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Solid stuff that fully deserves to wear a champion’s belt. (Vue Star City)
Daddy’s Home (12A) As expected, the pairing of Will Ferrell as insecure but steady nice guy stepdad Brad competing with Mark Wahlberg as the kids’ unreliable Alpha male biological father, Dusty, suddenly back in their lives after several years absence, is a bland sub-sitcom as the latter seeks to undermine and embarrass the former at every opportunity, Brad becoming ever more erratic in his attempts to measure up. In-between predictable knockabout slapstick there’s the equally predictable genitals size comparisons gags and assorted other obligatory raunchy banter (mostly from Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss) as well as tired racist misunderstanding set-ups. Avoid. (Vue Star City)
Dad’s Army (PG) Unquestionably the best thing about this feature revisit of the beloved BBC comedy series is the casting, not only to the actors perfectly channel the original’s cast characters, in some cases they even look like them. A pity then that, directed by Oliver Parker, it’s in the service of such a ponderous film with a screenplay peppered with innuendo and farcical slapstick. Set in Walmington-on-Sea towards the close of WWII, a misfit group of Home Guard reserves, led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) are charged with patrolling the coastal path near an alleged camp for the Allied invasion. There is, however, a German spy on the loose.
Enter Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a reporter there to write a feature about the Home Guard and – oh, you already guessed. Her true nature revealed early on, the plot revolves around how long it will take before the men discover the truth. Especially when they’re all dazzled by her beauty, particularly mummy’s boy Pike (Blake Harrison), posh Sgt Wilson (Bill Nighy), who tutored her at Oxford and still harbours a crush, and Mainwaring, whose ego she flatters by comparing him to Churchill. Other than the introduction of the men’s other halves (including Felicity Montague as Mrs. Mainwaring, who commands a women’s unit, and Sarah Lancashire as Pike’s mom), this is pretty much content to mirror the original, except without being nearly as funny. Much falls leadenly flat and some scenes are plain embarrassing. The cast (which also includes Michael Gambon as the doddery Godfrey, Tom Courtney as Private Jones, Daniel Mays as the spivvy Walker and Bill Patterson as dour undertaker Frazer) seem to be having fun, probably considerably more so than those in the audience. Dud’s Army. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
This latest addition to the Marvel movie universe has proven itself the polar opposite of Ryan Reynolds’ last outing as a superhero, Green Lantern, which gets an amusing reference here. Following an experiment to give him superpowers (by triggering his mutant genes) after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, former urban mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) dons the black and red spandex and sets out for revenge on the equally enhanced sadist (Ed Skrein) and his superstrong sidekick (Gina Carano), who left him hideously scarred, determined to have the process reversed so he can get his life and his girl (Morena Baccarin) back.
With cameo appearances by a couple of X-Men (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) trying to keep him in line, it’s not only viscerally ultra-violent and peppered with inventive sexually explicit dialogue, but knowingly self-aware, Deadpool constantly stepping out of the action to address the audience and acknowledge they’re watching a movie, poking fun at the superhero franchise conventions as he goes. Blackly comic and explosively entertaining, with Reynolds letting rip with razor sharp timing and inspired repartee that references everything from Sinead O’Connor to, well, Ryan Reynolds, it’s like a Grindhouse Guardians of the Galaxy on ecstasy with the dial turned up to 11. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Dirty Grandpa (15) Robert DeNiro hits an all time low in this crass, crude Judd Apatow knock-off as a horny widower who, the day after his wife’s funeral, persuades his grandson Jason (Zak Efron) to go with him to Daytona Beach so he can bed potty-mouthed college girl Lenore. With scenes of DeNiro’s character (aptly named Dick) jerking off to porn, regularly prodding Efron in the balls and backside, and Jason being constantly mistaken for a lesbian and penises in the shape of a swastika drawn on his forehead, this surely has to be the worst things you’ll see all year. (Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Finest Hours (12A) One night in the winter of 1952, off the coast of Cape Cod, a ferocious storm of hurricane-force winds and 60-foot waves ripped two oil tankers apart. With the main Coast Guard engaged in a rescue mission for one of the ships, on discovering there was a second, the Pendelton, a mostly inexperienced four man team of set out in a 36-foot lifeboat to try and save the 33 sailors trapped on its crippled stern.
Opening with a prologue wherein by-the-book Coast Guard Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) falls for Miriam (Holliday Grainger) on a blind date, having established the relationship stakes it then shifts forward a year, as she proposes to him but before he can follow protocol and ask his brusque commanding officer (Eric Bana) for permission to marry, news of the wreck arrives, He’s ordered to pick a crew and get out there, despite it being unlikely they’ll ever make it past the sandbar in one piece. As he says, you have to go out there, no one says you have to come back. So, joined by two fellow members of the team (one of whom he has history with over some past unsuccessful rescue) and a sailor who happened to be there for the night, they set out, losing their compass pretty early on.
Meanwhile, out at sea, bookish chief engineer Ray Sebert (Casey Affleck) takes command, much to the resentment of one insubordinate seaman, and seeks to keep what remains of the broken tanker afloat until the scornful survivors can be rescued, on the off chance anyone actually knows they’re out there or can find them. And thus the film cuts back and forth between the two boats while also intermittently following events back on land as Miriam discovers that Bernie’s been sent to what might prove his death.
Like the stock one dimensional stereotype characters (including a salt of the earth, jolly cook), this is a familiar old fashioned disaster/against the odds movie and, as such, goes through all the predictable paces and guff about masculinity, breaking rules and leadership. With the crashing waves a constant threat of being ripped apart or sunk, the scenes at sea are well mounted (though the fact they’re so dark renders the 3D pointless), but whenever the focus shifts to shore, any tension the film achieves dissipates. Both Affleck and Pine are solid as men having to show leadership under duress, finding redemption in the process, but ultimately the film never really engages, a less than perfect storm. (Vue Star City)
The Forest (15) A clichéd, contrived and confused horror as Sara (Natalie Dormer) travels to Japan to try and find her identical twin Jesse (Dormer with a different hair colour) who’s gone missing in the Aokigahara, the so called “suicide forest”. Hooking up with a travel journalist and his local ranger mate, she’s warned not to go ‘off-path’ or believe everything she sees. Naturally she does both, prompting the inevitable screaming at figures she alone can see, one inevitably dressed like a creepy Japanese schoolgirl. Two dimensional characters, generally wooden acting and a muddled script that never fully explores the repressed memories of the childhood tragedy at the root of the sisters’ troubles suggests no one involved could see the forest for the trees (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Good Dinosaur (PG) Set in a sort of vague Prehistoric Wild West, Pixar’s latest animation skews young and low on plot in a variation of the boy and his dog chestnut, the difference being that the boy is a dinosaur trying to find his way home and the dog is the feral young human with whom he forges a bond. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Vue Star City)
Goosebumps (12A) Jack Black’s best since School of Rock, he plays a fictionalised version of R.L. Stine, creator of the phenomenally successful Goosebumps young adult horror books, now hiding out in smalltown America with daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) under the name of Mr.Shivers. This is because, the monsters he created in his stories became real and he’s got them trapped inside sealed copies of the manuscripts. At least until the arrival of new neighbour Zach Cooper (Dylan Minette), the son of the new high school principal(Amy Ryan), who, thinking Hannah’s in danger, breaks into the house with nerdy new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee) and accidentally unleashes the Yeti. Shivers manages to get him back into the book, only to find he’s not the only one to have escaped. So too has his evil alter ego, Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Black), who, out for revenge, releases all the other monsters, among them a bunch of homicidal garden gnomes, and destroying the books so they cannot be sucked back in.
What follows is your usual trash the town monster mash fare, but director Rob Lettermen infuses it with a gleeful exuberance that rattles things along in hugely entertaining manner, throwing in gleeful self-awareness and a moving twist along the way. Simultaneously intimidating and droll, Black is terrific, while Minnette, Rush and Lee are engagingly likeable support with Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund a very funny double act of a couple of local cops. The final scene sets things up for a sequel, the first Jack Black movie in 13 years where that’s actually a welcome proposition. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)
Jaw-droppingly gross and crude, but also, at times, leg-wettingly funny, Sacha Baron Cohen’s spy spoof is stuffed to overload with Viz-like humour involving sex, sperm and jokes about being gay, fat and yobs. He plays Liam Gallagher lookalike Nobby, a northern layabout father of innumerable kids who’s spent the last 28 years trying to find Sebastian (Mark Strong), the brother from whom he was separated when they were orphaned. He does so just as Sebastian, now a top MI6 agent, is about to foil an assassination attempt. Things go pear-shaped, and, forced to go on the run he’s suspected of having gone rogue, Nobby takes Sebastian back to Grimsby.
From here, with a psycho MI6 hitman in pursuit, it’s off to South Africa to track down the real killer and foil a plot involving philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) to dramatically reduce the world’s underclasses, a plot that largely exists to facilitate a scene involving the pair hiding inside one elephant’s vagina and being rammed by another’s penis. A moment that makes an earlier scene of Nobby sucking Sebastian’s testicles seem positively subtle. On the downside, the supporting cast that includes Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, and, as a lovable paedophile, Ricky Tomlinson, have almost nothing to do and, while there’s some satirical one-liners, this is ultimately lazy, juvenile vulgarity and far less scabrously inventive than Borat or Bruno. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Hail, Caesar! (12A)
The Coen brothers’ fourth film with George Clooney is a playful, homage to 50s Hollywood with John Brolin as Eddie Mannix, the head of production at Capitol Pictures whose has to ensure everything runs smoothly and the stars never get to caught up in a scandal. He’s has his hands full. Family film favourite DeeAnna (Scarlett Johannsen) is pregnant and needs to be married off fast, prissy director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is not happy about being landed with singing cowboy Hobie Doyle Alden Ehrenreich) in his new sophisticated comedy and, to top everything, star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) has been kidnapped from the set of his new Biblical epic by a bunch of commies and rival gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) are sniffing about for a scoop.
Not everything hangs together and Johannsen’s story seems surplus to requirements, but, with a backdrop of the Red Menace and scenes that involve Eddie’s discussions about the with a divided group of faith representatives, the slightly dim Baird being given a lesson on Marxist philosophy and Channing Tatum hoofing it up in a sailors on leave song and dance musical with a not too subtle gay subtext, it’s warm, light-hearted and affectionate fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Host (U) Documentary by Miranda Pennell who, while investigating her late parents’ involvement with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company came across letters by a petroleum geologist in Iran in the 1930s, who subsequently embarked on a search for the origins of civilisation. Pennell’s film sets out to decipher the fragmented images buried in the archive, exploring the stories we tell and the facts and fictions we live by. (Tue: MAC)
How To Be Single (15) Deciding she needs some time to find herself and discover what it’s like to be alone, Alice (Dakota Johnson) puts her relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun), her boyfriend since college on hold. Starting a new job with a law firm (though she never actually seems to go to work), she’s taken under the wing of party hard, drink a lot, shag everyone , wild child co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson) on a guide to living the single, independent Manhattan life. Alice has fun, but having decided to get back with Josh, she’s taken aback to discover he’s met someone else.
Meanwhile, her workaholic obstetrician older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), finds herself unexpectedly broody while Lucy (Alison Brie), a marriage-obsessed regular at the bar all the characters visit. And then there’s Tom (Anders Holm), the casual sex, commitment avoiding bartender equivalent of Robin who strikes up a friendship with both Alice and Lucy and widowed father David (Damon Wayans Jr.) with whom the former gets involved.
An uneven riff on Sex And The City (which, along with Bridget Jones, it references) that wanders between Christmas, New Year and Valentine’s Day as it flits between the vaguely interconnected characters, it’s sporadically very funny and, at times, quite touching, but is also too cluttered, ploddingly directed, thinly plotted and, constantly shifting in tone, never really strikes a romantic spark. Lucy’s storyline seems to exist separately to the others and, while the exuberant Wilson is the film’s raunchy comedic centre, without a story or arc of her own, that’s all she is, further muddying as to whether the film is advocating relationships or not. Never as entertainingly vulgar as Bridesmaids, never as warmly romantic as Love, Actually, it’s worth a one night stand, but you won’t want to stay for breakfast. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
London Has Fallen (15)
London’s historic landmarks get blown up, a lot of people get killed, quite a few of them by Gerald Butler. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. In London for the PM’s funeral, pretty much all the world’s heads of state get assassinated by an army of terrorists working for a vengeance-seeking Pakistani arms dealer who plans to execute President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) live on global TV. Well, not if his apparently indestructible personal bodyguard Mike Banning (Butler) has anything to do with it.
A follow-up to Olympus Has Fallen, it has little truck with anything resembling three dimensional characters or logic (how come no one in charge notices the entire London police force seems to have been replaced by terrorists) while the likes of Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster and Jackie Earle Haley stand around looking shocked and saying things like ‘oh, my God’. To be fair, it cracks along and there’s a particularly good chase scene through the capital, but, while he does give good tough guy, this is no Die Hard and Butler’s no Bruce. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Oddball and the Penguins (U) Pitched at youngsters, this is the true Australian story of how the dwindling population of a colony of Little Penguins was saved from extinction (and the island’s sanctuary status preserved) when a local chicken farmer had the idea of his Maremma Sheepdog protecting the birds from the predatory foxes. Fictionalised to include a romance between his ranger daughter and her tourism exec American boyfriend (who supports turning the island into a whale watching station), a cute young granddaughter and a weirdo dog catcher, its old fashioned feel, look and charm are more Babe than Alvin, which makes for a refreshing change. (Vue Star City)
The Other Side of the Door (15) Another low budget supernatural horror relying on tired jump shocks for scares. Living in India, when one of her sons is killed in a car crash for which she feels responsible, on learning of an ancient ritual that will allow her to say a last farewell to him, mom sets of to find the temple that serves as a portal between the living and the dead. Warned not to open the door, she naturally does just that, thereby letting through all manner of special effects as the kid’s spirit takes up residence back home. But, he’s not the nice boy he was when alive. With Shiva-worshipping tribesmen hanging around the house, mom decides she should probably put her son’s spirit to rest But that’s not going to be as easy as it was to bring him back. Relying on cheap shocks to distract from lack of plot, theme or character development, you’ll be looking for the other side of the door marked exit. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Point Break (12A)
A remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s cult 1991 action-thriller starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves swaps surfing for extreme sports as athlete-turned-FBI-agent-in-training Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrates a gang of Robin Hood eco-activists who, headed up by the brooding Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), are knocking off corporates and redistributing the loot to the people, honouring nature by completing the Ozaki Eight, a series of spiritual enlightenment ordeals, in the process. Becoming part of the crew, he joins them as they follow their paths and take on death-defying challenges, getting involved with female gang member Samsara along the way, until forced to try and stop their latest job. Now he has to bring them down before the final challenge and Bodhi disappears.
Departing from the philosophical set up whenever it suits narrative demands and with Bracey lacking in the on screen charisma department, there’s some breathtaking stunt work and stunning natural landscapes, but involving characters, emotional connections and consistent logic were clearly not on the final checklist. (Vue Star City)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (15) What it says on the tin, an intermittently entertaining mash-up of Jane Austen and the living dead that mostly follows the novel’s basic plot regarding the romantic fortunes of the Bennet sisters and, in particular, the prickly relationship between Elizabeth (Lily James) and Mr. (here Colonel) Darcy (Sam Riley), but set in another universe where the sisters have been trained in the martial arts because England is plagued with zombies. It’s an uneven one-joke affair, well staged on the one hand but lacking the necessary chemistry between Darcy and Elizabeth on the other, featuring a delightful comic turn by Matt Smith as the self-important parson Mr. Collins, but wasting Lena Headey as an eye-patched, sword-wielding Lady Catherine. (Vue Star City)
The Revenant (15) Scooping Oscars for Director, Actor and Cinematography, but not Best Film, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, a real life frontiersman and trapper who, in 1823, attacked by a bear and left for dead by those supposed to ensure him a proper burial, over the course of six weeks, crawled and rafted the 200 miles back to Fort Kiowa in South Dakota before setting back out to seek revenge on the two who had abandoned him. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, this embellishes the true story by giving Glass a half-Pawnee son who is then murdered in front of his eyes by the brutal Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), thereby driving his determination to survive and gain vengeance.
From the brutal ferocity of the opening attack by a tribe of Native Americans to the grizzly attack and painful, slow trek across forbidding frozen terrain, Glass taking shelter in the carcass of a dead horse, it’s a relentlessly harrowing, bleak story that was clearly just as tough to film. Diversions into hallucinatory flashbacks and present delirium underscore the film’s existential spiritual drama while the stunning photography reinforces the man vs. nature themes, but at a punishing and at times extremely graphic 156 minutes you’ll need every bit the same fortitude as Glass. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Ride Along 2 (12A) A loud, brash spot-the-difference sequel to the 2014 black buddy cops comedy that one again shows you should never underestimate the power of low brow. Set a year on, screw-up security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) is due to wed Angela, sister of top cop buddy Ben (Ice Cube), but first he gets to accompany his future brother-in-law to Miami on a drug ring case. Here, they quickly get involved with AJ (Ken Jeong doing his usual comic relief shtick), a local hacker who has evidence implicating sleazy businessman Pope (Benjamin Bratt) as South Florida’s drugs kingpin. As well as simply reworking the original, it also recycles pretty much every other cop/buddy comedy set up too, including having Hart pretend he’s royalty and Cube his underling and being attacked outside a building (by a croc) while his buddy chats away obliviously by the window. It’s karaoke filmmaking at his screechiest. (Vue Star City)
Room (15) Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own bestseller deservedly saw Brie Larson walk off with Best Actress. Helmed by Britain’s Lenny Abrahamson, it also features an astonishing performance from Jacob Tremblay as Jack, the six-year-old son of Larson’s Joy who has never experienced the world or life outside of the 10×10 garden shed in which his mother had been kept captive since she was abducted as a teenager. Eventually, Joy enlists her son to pull off a daring escape, freeing them both from the claustrophobic prison, as the drama shifts it focus to how Jack adapts to a world he’s never known other than through his mother’s stories and interference-riddled TV programmes, while Joy endures a post-traumatic breakdown trying to cope with her regained freedom and feelings of guilt over her son. There’s some obvious plot holes and the emotional charge isn’t as strong in the second act, but, fuelled by its terrific central performances (a small but potent cameo by William H. Macy as Joy’s father), this powerful psychological drama will stay with you. (Until Wed: Electric)
Snoopy and Charlie Brown : The Peanuts Movie (U) Animation studios Blue Sky affectionately and faithfully revive Charles M. Schulz’s classic characters, following the comic strip formula of running parallel, thematically linked, stories about both Charlie and his pet beagle, Snoopy. Thus, the former shyly tries to get new neighbourhood arrival Little Red-Haired Girl to see him for who he really is, not the loser his friends all regard him as while Snoopy sets about writing a book about himself as a famous World War I fighter pilot battling legendary German flying ace, The Red Baron. Schulz’s cartoons generally saw the world as one of constant disappointment, the message here is more upbeat, about striving to be the best you can, even if you don’t succeed. Firmly skewed young, its gentle melancholia and ultimate upbeat ending should strike a chord with kids who feel themselves sidelined among their friends but it isn’t going to give the Minions any sleepless box office nights. (Vue Star City)
Special People (12A) Justin Edgar’s funny and engaging contribution to the disability debate as a filmmaker on the verge of a nervous breakdown seeks to make a film about a group of disabled teenagers at a rundown London community centre. They, however, have a different idea about the sort of film they want to be made about their lives. (Sat: MAC)
Spotlight (15) Unexpectedly snatching the Best Film Oscar from the grasp of The Revenant, as well as lifting Best Screenplay, directed by Tom McCarthy this is another true story, telling how Spotlight, the Boston Globe’s investigative team, editor Robby Stewart (Michael Keaton) and reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachael McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), uncovered systematic child abuse by the city’s Catholic priests and a cover up that embraced the highest levels of the city’s religious, legal and governmental bodies, triggering further revelations that went all the way to the Vatican.
Assigned by new editor in chief Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) to check out a previous story in the paper about how the Cardinal knew about but never acted on a Catholic priest who had allegedly molested children in six different parishes over the last 30 years. With Rezendes pushing Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), the victims’ lawyer, for information, his colleagues pursue other avenues, including a lawyer (Billy Crudup) who handled earlier molestation cases against another priest, and which were settled out of court. The further the team dig, the deeper and wider the problem clearly goes.
A classic investigative journalism drama, it carries you along on a wave of righteous anger as the team is consistently blocked by those in high positions, yet persevere to confront those responsible with exposure. Fuelled by electric ensemble performances, it sweeps you along as its addresses both personal pain and the far wider corruption in the system. You want an argument for not neutering the freedom of the press to pursue stories in the public interest? Here it is. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City;)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (12A) With George Lucas taking a backseat, director JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt dispel sour memories of Episodes I-III with a triumphant resurrection that may tread familiar narrative ground, but does so with a fresh heart. Set some 30 years on from the destruction of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing and the dark forces have regrouped as the First Order, its stormtroopers led by the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who possesses both the Force and a red light sabre. Built around the search for a map revealing Skywalker’s location, the film’s basically a lengthy chase between Ren and his forces and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and renegade stormtrooper Finn (BAFTA winner John Boyega) who have come into possession of BB8, a droid belonging to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot for the Resistance now headed by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), that contains the vital key.
Their eventually joined by returning legends Han Solo (a soulful Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as the plot turns into a race against the clock to stop the First Order launching planet-destroying weapon as the force also proves strong in another of the new characters. Rattling along from explosive opening to nail-biting climax by way of a stunning shock revelation and death, the force is strong with this one. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Triple 9 (15)
John Hillcoat previously directed The Proposition and The Road, two powerful films, the former written by Nick Cave and the latter adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel. This is the first produced screenplay by Matt Cook and it feels like both he and Hillcoat sat in a locked room watching Antoine Fuqua films on a loop before starting work. A gang of dirty cops (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr), an ex-cop (Aaron Paul and criminals (Chiwetal Ejiofor, Norman Reedus) are blackmailed by the Russian-Israeli mafia, (headed up by Kate Winslet in another unrecognisable turn) into pulling off a robbery. It goes smoothly, but then she demands another (part of her leverage is that her sister, Gal Gadot, is mother to Ejiofor’s son), except this one seems impossible.
The only way to pull it off is by staging a triple 9, the police code for officer down, which will distract the cops. Casey Affleck, the rookie detective working with his uncle (Woody Harrelson) on trying to bring down the mafia, is the targeted to die, but inevitably things go pear-shaped, leading o a bloody finale of double crosses, shoot out and revenge.
It’s intense and bloody with plenty of involving twists and action, and the performances, Affleck especially, are all solid, but, at the end of the day, everything here has been done before and better. (Cineworld NEC; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Zoolander No. 2 (12A) A misfire at the US box office, fifteen years on from the equally flop original Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson reteam as narcissistic supermodels Derek Zoolander and Hansel, lured out of their reclusive existences for a convoluted storyline that entails Derek’s attempt to reunite with his young son and teaming up with Interpol fashion division agent Penelope Cruz to crack a case that has seen the world’s best looking pop stars murdered in what turns out to involve a legend of the fountain of youth and the descendents of the world’s first supermodel, created by God alongside Adam and Eve, and the escape from prison of revenge-seeking flamboyant evil mastermind Mugatu (Will Ferrell). With an unrecognisable Kristen Wiig as a scheming fashionista, a deluge of cameos that includes Justin Beiber, Sting, Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Wintour playing themselves and a hilarious Benedict Cumberbatch as androgynous supermodel All, it freewheels along with wild abandon, spraying verbal and visual gags in all directions. Beyond mere criticism, you either surrender to its self-indulgent silliness or you don’t. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
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