Movie round-up: this week’s new film releases, Mar 25-Mar 31

NEW RELEASE

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (12A)

Reviews have varied from the terrible to best super-hero movie ever. The truth is probably somewhere in-between. But, despite a somewhat messy plot that has to shoehorn in some backstory (did we really need yet another retelling of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents) and teasers for the in production Justice League movies (cue brief cameo appearances by The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg), this should more than satisfy the fans. The story picks things up in Man of Steel’s final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod, as much of Metropolis is reduced to ruins, including a division of Wayne Enterprises, with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing in from Gotham in time to see one of his buildings collapse, crushing the legs of an employee (Scoot McNairy) and orphaning a young girl. Fast forward 18 months and, while many regard him as a saviour, others, among them Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), head of the Congressional Superman Committee, regard him as a potential super-powered alien threat. Incensed by what happened, Wayne is one of those who reckons such power should not be allowed to go unchecked, while, over at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is having concerns over Batman’s vigilante actions in Gotham, not least his new habit of branding criminals he captures with a bat mark, a virtual death sentence when they reach jail.
Someone else who’d like to see an end to Superman (his motives are never really clear, but seem to have something to do with power and a fallible God, though he may ultimately just be the psycho result of an abusive childhood) is billionaire industrialist Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg as a sort of darkside Mark Zuckerberg) who has got his hands on a chunk of kryptonite and, in pleading the case of having a deterrent, just in case, has persuaded the authorities to give him access to Zod’s downed ship. Using Lois Lane (Amy Adams) as bait, it’s his intention to turn the tide against Superman and to manoeuvre Batman into taking him down.

Directed by Zack Snyder, there’s the expected overkill of bone-rattling action and awesome special effects (not to mention a clutch of apocalyptic dream sequences) while the screenplay, although it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the narrative tangents and swerves, basically sees Superman questioning if it’s possible to remain good in the face of evil and an, obsessed Batman (there’s an Easter egg nod to the demise of Robin that underpins his driven nature) , here closely modelled on Miller’s Dark Knight, shedding any scruples about taking lives. He also drinks and beds women.

Just as it takes a while to see the fully cowled and caped crusader, so the film holds back the appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) until the final battle as Luthor unleashes his human/kryptonian hybrid monster, Doomsday on the world, although comic book devotees will recognise the early introduction of her human alter-ego, Diana Prince. Interestingly, Wayne identifies her and the other future JLA alumni as meta-humans, a phrase familiar from The Flash TV series (although the film and TV speedsters are different actors).

Balancing the action with quiet, intimate and private moments, including more imparting of sage wisdom from Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and even contriving for an appearance by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), it’s more subtle than it may first appear, while the philosophical questions it addresses seem to more in keeping with the Marvel than the DC Universe. Cavill again does sterling, understated work as Superman while Affleck kicks any and all reservations into the corner as the best Batman this side of Christian Bale, and an even better Bruce Wayne. Gadot makes a suitably dramatic appearance and, for a moment at least, even eclipses her macho co-stars, while Jeremy Irons provides a world weary turn as Alfred. There’s a nice self-referencing touch by Synder too in Watchman star Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s brief cameo as Thomas Wayne.

More than one reviewer has pointed out the bordering on risible manner in which the fact both protagonists’ mothers have the same name puts an end to the fight to the death, but even here there’s a potent human poignancy at work. The already announced roster and cast list of the JLA movie rather undercuts The Force Awakens style shocker here (the final seconds set up the inevitable), but it’s still not without resonance. It doesn’t scale the same heights as The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (though its opening beat both Avengers titles), but it’s definitely on the same playing field.

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

Disorder (15)

disorder 2Directed and co-written by France’s Alice Winocour, but filmed in English, this sees a return to a more physical brooding role for Matthias Schoenaerts after A Bigger Splash, The Danish Girl and Far From The Madding Crowd. He plays Vincent, a Special Force soldier recently returned from Afghanistan and suffering PTSD, who, on downtime, moonlights as part of a private security team. Following a job protecting an upscale party at Maryland (the film’s French title), the sprawling residence of Whalid (Percy Kemp),a Lebanese businessman involved in the illegal arms trade, he’s asked to stay on a guard the man’s German wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and her young son Ali.

His condition means Vincent is prone to paranoia, a feeling intensified by the manner in which Winocour shoots scenes and slowly cranks up the air of dread, both through the camera and sound design, and becomes convinced that someone is after them. All the more so on learning that Whalid has been detained in custody. His paranoia is justified when she and the boy are subject to an attempted abduction at the beach, prompting Vincent to call in a fellow soldier cum mercenary to help out. On top of this there’s a growing attraction between him or Jessie as her world continues to disintegrate, or then again, perhaps that’s only in his mind.
It all eventually erupts in a home invasion (a brief glimpse of a shadowy figure behind Vincent is one of the most unsettling moments) as any number of armed masked killers have to be taken out, but the film’s at its best in cranking up the existential thrills and tension.

It also offers a subtext about the psychological damage war can cause as well as the disempowerment of women as they become little more than property. It’s unfortunate then, that while Vincent’s lack of background serves to intensify the character, Kruger’s role (which, in some ways echoes Elizabeth Debicki’s in The Night Manager) is underwritten and the chemistry between her and Schoenaerts never ignites as it should. Narrative demand also means also a few too many holes in the script’s logic regarding Jessie’s responses to what happens, while those who like neatly tied up endings will be by frustratingly by the film’s ambiguous and unresolved final scene. Even so, the edginess throughout is palpable. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

Mavis! (PG)
mavisThe first feature documentary on gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group, The Staple Singers. From the freedom songs of the ’60s and hits like I’ll Take You There in the ’70s, to funked-up collaborations with Prince and her recent albums with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mavis has stayed true to her roots. Featuring live performances, rare archival footage, and conversations with the likes of Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm and Jeff Tweedy, the film explores the struggles, successes, and intimate stories of her journey. (Mon-Thu: MAC)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (12A)

big fatFourteen years after the original proved a surprise box office breakout (and following the rather less successful fates of the spin-off TV series and her subsequent films), writer/star Nina Vardalos has got the cast (including scene stealer Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula) back together for a sequel.

This time round, Toula Portokalos is now married (albeit with the spark on the back-burner of the family restaurant) to non-Greek Ian (John Corbett), but has turned into a clingy mom having to deal with acerbic 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who can’t wait to fly the nest and reckons mom and dad are just as controlling and embarrassing as Toula found her own parents (Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan). And it’s Gus and Maria who provide the latest titular nuptials after its discovered that their marriage licence was never validated before they left Greece. Gus wants to put matters straight as soon as possible, but Maria reckons this is a good time, after 50 years, to reconsider her options.

None of which is played out with anything resembling subtlety (Kazan, as ever, gives a performance even larger than her hair do), or, indeed many big laughs. The Greek gags having been largely exhausted first time round, Vardalos seems to be casting round for inspiration, leading to someone coming out of the closet and the arrival of a long lost family member so the episodic script can throw in some sitcom clichés, none of which is much helped by the flat direction. Vardolos is still an engagingly warm character, but whatever the title may say, this is thin stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Zootropolis (U)

zootopia 3It is, of course, possible that something else will come along and surprise everyone, but, having already broken box office records in America, as it stands, next year’s Oscar for best animated feature seems to be an already foregone conclusion. It’s not as existentially deep as Inside Out, but, an allegorical tale about human nature that encompasses messages about prejudice, tolerance, stereotyping and following your dreams and borrows from the film noir genre, there’s plenty of food for thought for audiences young and old to chew over while being treated to an entertaining feast for the eyes and emotions.

An introductory prologue served up as part of a high school pageant involving a fox and a rabbit explains how animals have evolved from being predators and prey to learning to live together regardless of species and classifications. Central to this world is the titular city (echoing that of Tomorrowland), from which extends the four climate-based hubs of Sahara Square, Tundratown, the Rainforest District and Little Rodentia. Although the bulk of its population are herbivores, it’s the predators like preening Mayor Lionheart (J.K.Simmons) who hold the power, while the others, like his sheepish assistant Bellwether (Judy Slate), do their bidding.

While her 225 siblings are content to remain in Bunnyland working the carrot farm with ma and pa (who advises “If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail”), the ever-perky Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) aspires to become the first bunny cop in Zootropolis where “anyone can be anything”. Overcoming all obstacles and the ridicule of her larger-sized fellow cadets she graduates from the academy top of her class, only to have species-ist buffalo Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba, excellent) assign her to parking-meter duties rather than one of the teams investigating the recent disappearance of 14 mammals, all predators.
It’s during the course of handing out tickets that she stumbles across Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a laid-back con artist fox whom she blackmails into helping when, on account of the Mayor’s mammal-inclusion initiative, Chief Bogo is forced into letting her investigate the disappearance of Mrs Otterton’s husband. However, she only has 48 hours to crack the case or resign from the force.

By putting the pressure on small time thief Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk, who, you’ll recall voiced the Duke of Weselton in Frozen) and, by way of a trail that involves a stoned naturist Yak (Tommy Chong) and an unlikely alignment with Mr. Big (cue Godfather parody) , the Tundratown crime boss shrew with his polar bear bodyguards, she uncovers a conspiracy involving something called the ‘night howlers’ which causes predators, like Mr Otterton, to revert to their original savage nature. With time running out before she’s forced to hand in her badge, Judy and Nick have to find out who’s behind it and why before society as they know it collapses. “I came here to make the world a better place,” says Judy when things backfire, “but I think I broke it.”

Brilliantly animated with inspired tiny background details, it marries its police procedural narrative with sharp and sly humour, most memorably so in the slowly unfolding gags involving Judy’s visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles staffed by sloths, and, even if some elements, like Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), the effeminate cheetah precinct receptionist and pop star Gazelle (Shakira, on hand for the inevitable song and dance finale), feel superfluous, the overall result hits the mark dead centre. Perfectly voiced, Judy and Nick make for a classic mismatched buddy cop teaming and their shared further adventures as the Starsky and Rabbit Hutch of the animal world are something to be eagerly anticipated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

NOW PLAYING
10 Cloverfield Lane (12A)

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

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

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

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 filmmaking. Under 10s will love it, parents will wish it was titled Road Kill. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

A Bigger Splash (15) Recuperating on a Sicilian island with filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) following an operation on her vocal cords, former Bowie-esque rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is taken by surprise when her former flame and his old friend, extrovert producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes in a dark-comedy manic turn), turns up with his newly found moody daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). It’s soon apparent that he’s not just there to renew old acquaintances. Contriving to get Marianne alone while leaving Paul (whom, as flashbacks show, he encouraged to take up with her) with the Lolita-like Penelope (who has her own agenda), he proceeds to try and reclaim the woman he gave away. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, it’s another remake of 1969 French psychodrama La Piscine (previously remade as Swimming Pool in 2003), a measured melodrama of ever tightening tensions and emotions that ultimately boil over into fatal tragedy. Stirring together stunning landscapes and smouldering sex, there’s some missteps (tangential concerns about the growing number of immigrants), but, driven by powerful performances (Fiennes devouring scenery as he dances to the Stones’ Emotional Rescue), its flaws are easily forgiven. (Until Wed:MAC)

The Boy (15)

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

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

Daddy’s Home (12A) 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. (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 NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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 Divergent Series: Allegiant (12A)

STILL-04 The first of the two part conclusion to the post-apocalyptic saga has proven a box office washout as it picks up events following the end of Insurgent, wherein Tris (Shailene Woodley) overcame Jeanine, opening the box to reveal that Chicago and the Factions system had been an experiment devised by a group beyond the wall and of which the Divergents were the successful result. So, she, brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort). action man boyfriend Four (Theo James), ever unreliable Peter (Miles Teller) and underused token black buddy Christina (Zoe Kravitz) escape over the wall and head out into the devastated toxic world beyond. Here they’re picked up by forces working for David (Jeff Daniel), who heads The Bureau of Genetic Welfare which originally established the population of Chicago and has been monitoring it, and Tris especially, in an experiment to cure the ‘damaged’ and make them ‘pure’. Naturally, there’s more to this than meets the eye, as the storyline wends its laborious way to inciting a civil war between Four’s rebel leader mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), and her followers and the Allegiant forces. All of which also involves some sort of memory wiping serum.

Saddled with contrived exposition and long stretches of dialogue, pretty much nothing happens until the final stretch, by which time the uneven CGI, plodding plot and the fact that Tris gets less interesting with each instalment may have you wishing you too could be affected by the serum, so you’d mercifully forget this and the fact there’s still one more to go before it’s all over. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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. (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 (Showcase Walsall; 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)

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. (Vue Redditch; Star City)

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 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. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

High-Rise (15)
high-rise-socialDirector 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 social engineering. Set in the 70s, Tom Hiddleston is Robert Laing, an ambitious young doctor 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 Wilder (Luke Evans), a sexual predator documentary filmmaker, and his pregnant wife (Elizabeth Moss) and kids while the upper storeys are home to more privileged residents, like gynaecologist Pangbourne (James Purefoy) and single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller), with notorious sybaritic parties which Laing is all too happy to attend.

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 swimming pool incident, the social order starts to fall apart along with the building’s amenities and fabric in an orgy of destruction and rubbish.

Opening in the midst of the chaos with a blood-splattered Hiddleston spit-roasting a dog before flashing back to the causes, 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 mesmerising. As an allegory of the collapse of society into savagery, there is a rather more style than substance, with a period political reference being somewhat tagged on at the end, but it’s never less than compelling. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman)

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. (Vue Redditch, Star City)

Innocence of Memories (12A) Documentary filmmaker Grant Gee takes a journey through the streets of Istanbul, exploring its people and architecture, in particular a museum where exhibits trace the tale of doomed 1970s love between the heir to a wealthy fortune and a shop girl with whom he has an affair days before his engagement to someone else. When she disappears, he’s unable to forget her and everything she ever touched is put on display at The Museum of Innocence. (Tue: MAC)

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

KFP3 aThe 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 unwelcomed 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’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; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Next to Her (15) Cheli, 27, is raising her mentally challenged 24 year old sister, Gaby, alone. But, when a social worker finds Gaby’s left alone while Cheli’s at work, she’s placed in a day programme. Cheli’s daily routine collapses and she fills the void in a romantic relationship, causing a further crack in the sisters’ symbiotic bond, resulting in a twisted threesome, where boundaries between love, sacrifice, nurturing and torturing are crossed. (Until Wed: MAC)

Norm of the North (U) Another 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, be warned, this scored 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; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Police Story (15) Jackie Chan’s breakthrough into the American market, a 1985 cops thriller that paved the way for two further sequels and which he regards as his best action film. (Thu: MAC)

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. (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)

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)

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. (Vue Star City)
The Time Machine (U) George Pal’s 1960 film of H.G.Wells’ sci fi social commentary dystopian vision starring Rod Taylor. (Sun: Electric)

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. (Vue Redditch, Star City)

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; Vue Star City; Fri-Wed: Electric)

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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