Movie round-up: this week’s new film releases, Mar 18-Mar 24

NEW RELEASE

10 Cloverfield Lane (12A)
A successor to 2008’s alien invasion found footage disaster blockbuster in name only (the setting is Louisiana not New York), director Dan Trachtenberg’s debut is a far more compelling and human affair, something far closer to a Twilight Zone episode.

The scale’s rather different too. This is essentially a three-hander chamber piece with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) in a breezeblock bunker, sealed off from the outside world, which, according to survivalist Goodman, has been devastated in a mass chemical attack, from which he rescued Winstead after her car crashed (the last thing she remembers but she woke up chained) and brought her here along with his neighbour. Outside, the air is, he says, unbreathable and they might be among the last of humanity. That there’s no cell phone reception makes it difficult to be sure. Fortunately, he’s got in enough provisions to sit it out for aseberal years until it’s safe to leave.

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

After Room, this is another claustrophobic piece – one thick with an air of menace and psychological tension as Trachtenbergh ratchets up the pressure cooker to a point  about which it would be unfair to say more, although the swerve into psycho territory feels rather forced to facilitate Michelle’s eventual actions. Suffice to say it’s compellingly filmed and with excellent  turns from both Winstead and a multi-layered and complex Goodman, it burns a slow fuse to an explosive last act that sets thing up for a potentially larger scale sequel.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

The Boy (15)

boy 2Yet another in a long line of possessed doll horror movies, The Boy sees American Greta Evans (The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan) bailing on a bad relationship by landing a job as a nanny for a wealthy elderly couple (Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle) at a remote English estate. However, she’s understandably taken aback to discover their 8-year-old ‘son’, Brahms, is actually a life-size porcelain doll. It seems their actual son died 20 years earlier in a fire following a girl’s murder in the woods, and the doll is their way of coping with the grief.

Greta’s expected to care for it as if it were a real boy and is given a whole list of rules (including never cover his face, never go in the attic, kiss him goodnight) she’s told she must, under no circumstances, break. At which point the pair take off, declaring they need a holiday, leaving her alone with the doll save for occasional visits from Malcolm (Rupert Evans) who delivers the groceries. Naturally Greta reckons the rules are ridiculous and quickly dispenses with them. Which is when strange things start to happen, like the doll inexplicably moving from where she left it. Now, having initially thinking the old fogies were a bit doolally, she starts to think the doll might actually be alive.

It’s a well worn premise and director William Brent Bell plays out the scenario with all the usual haunted house bells and whistles including strange noises, ominous music, windows that don’t open, vermin infestations, prowling camera, dream sequences and the inevitable jump shocks. And because you always need a convenient supporting play to dispose off, who should turn up by Greta’s ex. So is Greta going nuts or is it all for Chucky real? And, if the latter, what is Brahms going to do when he gets jealous about Greta and Malcolm’s growing closeness. Effective enough as creepy goes, but the last act twist (a touch of Phantom of the Opera perhaps) is less of a surprise than it thinks and makes what’s gone before even more implausible.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

High-Rise (15)

high riseIdiosyncratic and individual British filmmaker Ben Wheatley follows up Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England with an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian tale of life in a modern tower block running out of control, a story inspired by the brutalist towerblocks of post-war urban planning as experiments in architectural social engineering. Set in the 70s, Tom Hiddleston plays Dr. Robert Laing, an ambitious young bachelor who moves into a small apartment on the 25th floor and soon discovers the building is something of a class divide.

The lower floors are populated by the likes of sexual predator documentary filmmaker Wilder (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife (Elizabeth Moss) and kids while the upper storeys are home to more privileged residents, like gynaecologist Pangbourne (James Purefoy) and flirty single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller) who hosts the middle section’s notorious sybaritic parties which Laing is all too happy to attend. Not even someone plummeting to his death can put a crimp in the debauchery – especially when the police can’t be bothered.

Then, hundreds of feet above them, is the building’s architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons) and his snotty aristocratic wife Ann (Keeley Hawes) who have not so much a rooftop garden as palatial landscaped grounds, complete with a horse. Rather inevitably, the place seethes with a volatile cocktail of sex, alcohol, resentment and especially for the lower orders, violent upwards mobility as the laws of the jungle gradually take hold and, sparked by a power outage and an incident at the swimming pool, the social order starts to fall apart along with the building’s amenities and fabric in an orgy of destruction, murder and rubbish.

Opening in the midst of the chaos with a blood-splattered Hiddleston spit-roasting a dog before flashing back to the causes and driven by another terrific atmospheric score from Clint Mansell and featuring Portishead’s deconstruction of ABBA’s S.O.S. it looks terrific, marries dark humour and potent violence and both Hiddleston and Irons are electrifyingly charismatic. As an allegory of the collapse of society into savagery (and the era’s sink estates and America’s projects are testament to the reality of that), there is, however, rather more style than substance, with a period political reference tagged on at the end. It ultimately descends into narrative confusion and incoherence, but even so, it’s rarely less than compelling.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman)

Norm of the North (U)

norm 2Another new animated family feature, this spin off from the TV series finds Norm (Ron Schneider), a polar bear who doesn’t know how to hunt but can talk to humans, threatened by a wealthy developer (Ken Jeong) who plans to build luxury apartments at his Arctic home, so he and his three lemming friends head to New York where he contrives to become the corporation’s mascot in an attempt to bring it down from the inside. Featuring the voices of Heather Graham, Bill Nighy and James Cordon, it was not screened to the press but be warned, it received abysmal reviews in America, with some declaring it likely to prove the worst film of 2016. Well, that’s Schneider for you.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza,; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Risen (12A)

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) with Jesus' disciples, witnesses a miracle in Columbia Pictures' RISEN.

Released in the run-up to Easter, although it rather unfortunately echoes the Biblical epics the Coens are taking the piss out of in Hail, Caesar!, the latest outing by Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves director Kevin Reynolds does bring a somewhat different perspective to the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. Joseph Fiennes is Clavius, a Roman military tribune in Jerusalem who wants to just get away from all the blood and battles and get some peace, but is enlisted by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to oversee the crucifixion of someone called Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) who high priest Caiaphas and his “pack of raving Jews” reckon is a political troublemaker with his teachings. Having duly seen the accused nailed up and pierced with a spear after an unexpectedly quick death, Clavius is then ordered to ensure the body stays where it’s been entombed and that no one removes it to fulfil prophecies about being resurrected after three days that could stir up a revolt.

So, when the body duly disappears in mysterious circumstances (the two guards are bribed by the Pharisees to claim it was stolen away by his followers), Clavius is told to find the corpse and put an end to such talk before the arrival of the Emperor. However, the deeper he digs and talks to the dead man’s followers, the more he begins to question his own faith in a crisis of conscience, ultimately seeing the risen Yeshua for himself.

Told in flashback it plays out like a Biblical police procedural – following clues, interrogating suspects (Mary Magdalene included) and digging up decaying corpses along the way which, given a reasonable air of period authenticity, is probably the film’s strongest feature. Clearly taking John’s Gospel as, well, gospel, it is slightly more problematic in knowing how to handle the whole son of God bit, ending up with the baffled but awed disciples and the ever beaming Messiah coming across a bit like new agers as it moves relentlessly towards Clavius’s epiphany and conversion and the ascension in a burst of sunlight. Despite some ponderous moments in the last act and a complete waste of Tom Felton as Clavius’s assistant, despite inevitably preaching to the converted it’s a decent, and never overly earnest, exploration of faith that also works as a passable action thriller. Unfortunately the moment that will stick with you is a very Brummie centurion calling out “I’ll get the pliers.”

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Odeon Broadway Plaza Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rock The Kasbah (15)

rock-the-kasbah-image02A monumental bomb in America Barry Levinson’s latest is being ignominiously dumped into one screen in the West Mids with a virtual wall of promotional silence. Inspired by the 2009 award-winning documentary, Afghan Star, about Afghanistan’s version of American Idol, it’s been turned into a vehicle for Bill Murray as down-on-his-luck rock promoter Richie Lanz who’s trying to salvage what’s left of his career by booking his last remaining client Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) on a tour entertaining the American troops in Afghanistan. When she does a runner, along with his passport and money, he chances on Salima (Leem Lubany), a teenage Afghan girl with a fabulous voice and takes her to Kabul to compete in the show.

Despite a game turn from Kate Hudson as a business-minded prostitute, who partners up with Lanz, this is pretty much dead in the water. Murray does his overly familiar shtick, Deschanel is only there to kickstart the central plot and there’s superfluous cameos from Bruce Willis as a trigger-happy mercenary and Danny McBride and Scott Caan as a couple of arms dealers, but, with a plot that seems to be constantly changing focus, nothing works, either as a comedy or some sort of serious socio-political comment. Still, the Clash’s song still sounds good.

(Cineworld NEC)

NOW PLAYING

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (U)

The fourth outing by the helium-voiced animated furry trio of Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney), a misunderstanding leads them to believe Dave (Jason Lee) is going to propose to his new girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Worse, her mean teenage son Miles (Josh Green) convinces them they’ll then be dumped back in the forest. Since none of them want this marriage, they join forces to stop it happening and head for Miami. Cue gratuitous musical numbers, the Chippettes as judges on American Idol, and an overdone running joke involving buffoonish air marshal (Tony Hale) and, of course, some fart gags. Slung together with little care, commitment or craft, the whole thing reeks of lazy film making. Under 10s will love it, parents will wish it was titled Road Kill.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Anomalisa (15)

Charlie Kaufman takes on stop motion claymation for this ambitious but overstretched film about loneliness and love. In Cincinattai for a presentation, Michael Stone (David Thewlis) an English motivational guru, decides to call up an old flame (voiced by Tom Noonan, who also voices all but one of the other characters, regardless of gender) he hasn’t seen since he abruptly walked out on her many years ago. Though now married with a family, he still feels guilty about what he did.

The meeting does not go well, leaving Michael to return to the hotel where meets 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. He invites the latter back to his room and they end up having sex, leading to Michael’s disturbing nightmare and a subsequent melt down in the presentation.

Notwithstanding the creepy spectacle of claymation sex and the fact that all the faces are hinged (at one point the bottom of Michael’s falls off), this offers a 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 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; Everyman)

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 dreams 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.

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; 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.

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 step dad Brad competing with Mark Wahlberg as the kids’ unreliable Alpha male biological father, Dusty, who’s 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 it. 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.

(Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City; Fri-Tue: MAC)

Deadpool (15)

This latest addition to the Marvel movie universe has proven itself the polar opposite of Ryan Reynolds’ last outing as a superhero, Green Lantern, which gets an amusing reference here. Following an experiment to give him superpowers (by triggering his mutant genes) after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, former urban mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) dons the black and red spandex and sets out for revenge on the equally enhanced sadist (Ed Skrein) and his superstrong sidekick (Gina Carano), who left him hideously scarred, determined to have the process reversed so he can get his life and his girl (Morena Baccarin) back.

With cameo appearances by a couple of X-Men (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) trying to keep him in line, it’s not only viscerally ultra-violent and peppered with inventive sexually explicit dialogue, but knowingly self-aware, Deadpool constantly stepping out of the action to address the audience and acknowledge they’re watching a movie, poking fun at the superhero franchise conventions as he goes.

Blackly comic and explosively entertaining, with Reynolds letting rip with razor sharp timing and inspired repartee that references everything from Sinead O’Connor to, well, Ryan Reynolds, it’s like a Grindhouse Guardians of the Galaxy on ecstasy with the dial turned up to 11.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

That Demon Within (18)

The latest from Hong Kong action guru Dante Lam is a taut and unsettling psychological thriller in which a reserved cop (Daniel Wu) is increasingly haunted by the violent images of a criminal gang who use traditional demon masks when committing their crimes as truth, reality and imagination begin to blur.

(Wed:MAC)

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 Divergent Series: Allegiant (12A)

allegiant 2The first part of the inevitably two part conclusion to the post-apocalyptic saga picks up on events following the end of Insurgent, wherein Tris (Shailene Woodley) overcame Jeanine, opening the box to reveal that Chicago and the Factions system had been an experiment devised by a group beyond the wall and of which the Divergents were the successful result. So, rescuing brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) from impending execution, she, action man boyfriend Four (Theo James), ever unreliable Peter (Miles Teller) and underused token black buddy Christina (Zoe Kravitz) escape over the wall and head out into the devastated toxic world beyond.

Here they’re picked up by forces working for David (Jeff Daniel), who heads The Bureau of Genetic Welfare which originally established the population of Chicago and has been monitoring it, and Tris especially, as part of an experiment to cure the ‘damaged’ and make them ‘pure’, like her and the other survivors of The Purity Wars (keep up, keep up) inside the hi-tech refuge. He needs her to convince the Council, who oversees everything that the experiment works. Naturally, there’s more to this than meets the eye, as the storyline wends its laborious way to David inciting a civil war between Four’s rebel leader mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), and her followers and the Allegiant forces. All of which also involves some sort of memory wiping serum.

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

(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 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.

(Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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; Vue 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; Odeon Birmingham; Vue Redditch; Star City)

The Great Dictator (U)

Charlie Chaplin’s classic 1940 political satire on Hitler in which he plays both a ruthless fascist dictator and his Jewish barber lookalike.

(Sun: Electric)

Grimsby (15)

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 under classes, 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Hail, Caesar! (12A)

hail 2The 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 has his hands full.

Family film favourite DeeAnna (Scarlett Johansson) 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 Johansson’s story seems surplus to requirements, but, with a backdrop of the Red Menace and scenes that involve Eddie’s discussions about the 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; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)

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 and 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.

(Odeon Birmingham; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

KFP3 The third outing for the fat and furry martial arts master offers a perfect conclusion to the saga. The culmination of the journey that Po (Jack Black) began in the first film when Master Ooglay proclaimed him the Dragon Warrior of prophecy. Now it’s time to really fulfil that destiny.

The film opens in the Spirit Realm where Ooglay now resides, spending his afterlife in meditation. That all comes to an end, however, when ancient ally turned enemy, Kai (J.K. Simmons), a blade-wielding yak, reappears 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 then takes Oogway’s, giving him the power to return to the world of mortals.

Po, meanwhile, has his own problems. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has announced his retirement from teaching and appointed Po in his place. Something no welcomed by the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), 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, who should reappear but his long lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). The first time he’s ever met another panda, Po is naturally over the moon. 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. Fortunately, it seems pandas are the keepers of the secrets of the chi.

So, Po sets off with Li 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 for when Kai arrives. It’s not an easy job. And arrive Kai duly does, setting up not one, but two action-packed climaxes before the big extended family reunion.

The plot pretty much follows a similar path to the first film, and again delivers a message about discovering who you truly are and believing in yourself. The addition of a whole village full of pandas allows the film to have a lot of fun involving rolling around and eating noodles and dumplings, while also squeezing in some food-related innuendos.

Terrifically animated, it flows fluidly expanding into flights of almost surreal fantasy in the Spirit Realm. Black, as ever, superbly brings Po to life with all his insecurities and vanities, here exploring a more emotional side not seen to such an extent in the previous films. 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)

London Has Fallen (15)

london 3London’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; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, 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.

(Odeon Broadway Plaza; 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.

(Empire Great Park; Odeon 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 film making at his screechiest.

(Vue Star City)

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)

Sorceress of the New Piano (15)

Filmed over ten years, this documentary celebrates the trans-cultural career of Singapore-born, New York-based pianist Margaret Leng Tan, Dubbed “The diva of avant-garde pianism,” Tan was the world’s first professional toy pianist and has been a leading performer of John Cage’s music for the last three decades.

(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.

(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 storm troopers 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 storm trooper 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 to 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.

(Vue Redditch, Star City; Tue-Thu: MAC)

The Witch (15)

witch 2First time director Robert Eggers delivers an art house horror cocktail of religion, superstition, fairy tale and sexual awakening set against the early days of America’s colonisation. Ostracised from their fellow New England settlers over doctrinal differences, Puritan Yorkshireman William (Ralph Ineson) and his family take up residence on the edge of a forest which the children are warned not to enter.

One day, eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya-Taylor Joy) takes young baby brother Samuel to the brook, from where he abruptly disappears, abducted, as a subsequent bloody scene suggests by a witch, the mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), blaming her daughter for the loss. What with the young twins’ unsettling attachment to the family’s black goat and the fate of brother Caleb, it seems there may be the devil’s work afoot.

Gradually the family begins to fall apart and in a move designed to conjure thoughts of the Salem witch trials that would happen some years later, the film poses the question as to whether Thomasin may be a witch, as she is accused of by the not so innocent twins, or a victim of the devil, and whether what we see is a manifestation of real evil or shared hysteria brought on by obsessive faith. Slow and measured, relying on psychological tension and menace rather than the usual jump scares, it’s less effective in the final moments when the supernatural takes over, but even so it’s a strikingly atmospheric work that ably lives up to its Shining influences.

(Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue 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 re-team 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 descendants 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 free-wheels 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.

(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
Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007
Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777
Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich 0333 006 7777
Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316
Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000
Vue Redditch – Kingfisher Centre, Redditch 08712 240 240
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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