Wonder Woman (12A)
Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is surely the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and three men standing in a Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that sign of her undisclosed power in her will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.
Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are pouting ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a facially disfigured chemist working for Ludendorff (Danny Huston),a German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.
Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from what believes is Ares’ work, coming to believe he’s actually Ludendorff.
Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet, their mission to destroy the gas is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.
Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.
It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Already beached at the American box office, Seth Gordon’s big screen revival of the cheesy 90s TV series that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (both of whom put in cameos) makes the fatal mistake of turning what was a generally kitsch friendly soap opera cops in spandex crime series in the vein of Charlie’s Angels into an excuse for gross out humour complete with a stream of knob jokes. Dwayne Johnson takes on Hasselhoff’s character as Mitch Buchanan, the musclebound chief lifeguard at Emerald Bay, and seemingly the only guy on a crew of amply endowed jiggy-top women in tight fitting swimsuits headed up by Kelly Rohrbach as CY Parker (the Anderson character. However, they’re auditioning for new recruits, among them the equally jiggy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and flabby but enthusiastic nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass),who has the hots for CJ and provides the first of the knob gags. Mitch also finds himself landed with pretty boy Matt Bordy( Zac Efron), a disgraced two time Gold Olympic Champ now dubbed the Vomit Comet after the debacle in which he let down the relay team. On probation, he’s been brought onboard by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the lifeguards’ boss, as a PR opportunity, and, despite Mitch’s protestations, given a free pass to the team. Though that doesn’t stop him being put through the tests in a metaphorical dick measuring contest against Buchanan.
Aside from the usual rescues from drowning, the crew also find themselves faced with a drug smuggling operation involving a new type of crack, bags of which keep washing up on shore, and which Mitch suspects has something to do with cool but ruthless Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Honda Club, who’s buying up all the waterfront properties. And, when a couple of dead bodies enter, despite being warned off by both Thorpe and the local beach cop, Mitch decides to investigate.
It’s all very self-aware and knowing, Buchanan constantly referring to Brody not by name but in reference to assorted pretty boy TV shows and boy bands, High School Musical among them, and the cast pointedly don’t take things too seriously, both Johnson and Efron cheerily sending themselves up. As such, it’s often entertaining and funny, even if the obligatory we are family theme is overdone, but what could have been an enjoyable 12A romp is ruined by the apparent need to include something like the morgue scene where Brody has to handle a dead man’s genitals and then hide in the freezer while body fat drips into his mouth. Someone should have thrown it a lifebelt long before it got in front of the cameras. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Love Witch (15)
Written and directed by Anna Biller and filmed in 35mm with an ironic Technicolour gaudiness , this is a winking homage to the sexploitation horror films of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Recently widowed after poisoning hubbie, sexy witch Elaine (Samantha Robinson), very much a woman in red, moves to a picture postcard California town, apparently a magnet for other dark arts practitioners, looking for new love, where she bonds with her landlady, Trish (Laura Waddell) over afternoon tea at a quaint and very pink local café, complete with harpist. Happy to use her magic to get her man, she seduces bohemian college professor Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), spirits him off to a remote cabin and feed his dinner and a doctored drink that leads to a night of passionate lovemaking. The next day. however, he’s a weepy, emotional wreck and dies shortly after, Elaine burying him in the backyard along with a jar of her urine and a used tampon. Enter suspicious cops, one of whom, classic 60s soap opera type Griff (Gian Keys) also falls under her spell, naturally ending up in her bed and refusing to believe she could have anything to do with the ongoing string of strange murders.
At two hours, it overextends its welcome, but, deliberately badly acted with knowing camp, it revels in its pastiche with everything from the obligatory naked witchcraft rituals to fantasy sequences and obvious backdrops as it serves up its wry feminist commentary on gender roles that’s as cynical about its women as it is its men. To be watched in the spirit intended. (Mon/Tue: MAC)
Quite literally opening with a cliffhanger, the debut dramatic feature by Electric Cinema owner Tom Lawes, following two acclaimed documentaries, then proceeds to detail events leading up to that moment.
Returning from shopping, Emma Rose (Land Girls’ Billie Piper lookalike Jo Woodcock,), sees her wealthy boyfriend Brendan Kelly (Steve Jackson) being taken away by the police, accused of hiding millions of pounds of stolen pension funds. Waiting until the coast’s clear, she grabs a few things, including a silver locket, and heads off on a journey north.
Her first stop is the Cotswolds where, offering to work for food and lodgings (she has no interest in money), she’s taken in by Roger Daniels (James Cosmo), a gay famous artist with a controlling streak who, recognising her from the newspapers, forces her to essentially become his slave in return for not calling the police. For reasons not explained until the end, Emma and control freaks are not a good mix and, eventually, enough’s enough and she kills him.
This then links with the film’s second plot strand involving the establishment of the British Crime Agency (BCA), a new national police division headed by Martha Walker (Liz May Brice) to which former detective Gabriel (a wonderfully vile Cosmo Jarvis) is recruited by HR officer Randall Grey (Patrice Naiambana) on account of his special skills set; suffering from synaesthesia, a neurological condition which means he can hear colours and see sounds. A fan of Daniels. having seen him at an exhibition the night before his assumed accidental or deliberate insulin overdose, he’s suspicious and it’s not long before, following a subsequent double murder in Warwickshire, he’s got Emma pegged as serial killer.
He’s warned off the case by Wallcott (Lee Boardman), the guy leading the BSA investigation into Kelly, meanwhile Emma’s continuing on her bloody way and Gabriel’s identified that her next victim could well be a footballer’s wife in Cheshire.
Notwithstanding the speed at which people seem able to drive from one end of the country to the other, this is a solid psychological thriller which, although it could have made the application of Gabriel’s condition clearer, involves you in the gradually intensifying plot, the obnoxiousness of her victims making it hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for Emma. Jarvis and Woodcock anchor the narrative well while Boardman provides the intensity as it heads to, in the light of things like Bonnie & Clyde and Badlands, a somewhat inevitable conclusion. A commendable first for Lawes, it would be interesting to see more of Gabriel and the BCA, if not as a film, then transferred to a small screen spin-off series. (Sun, Tue-Thu Electric; Tue + director Q&A)
The Other Side of Hope (15)
It’s been six years since Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, and he returns with the second in a proposed trilogy, another droll serio-comic English language narrative built around a refugee who escapes the authorities and is befriended by a friendly local. Here it’s Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who fled Syria with his sister, from whom he was separated along the way, and accidentally ends up in Helsinki after seeking shelter from some thugs aboard freighter. He dutifully applies for asylum, but despite news reports of increasing fighting and atrocities in Aleppo he’s refused. On the day of his deportation, he’s helped to escape and winds up encountering Waldemar Wikstrom (Kaurismaki regular Sakari Kuosmanen), a grumpy, grizzled middle-aged travelling shirts saleseman who’s just left his alcoholic wife, sold business and, after increasing his pot playing poker, bought a run down restaurant. The Golden Pint. He’s also inherited the three oddball staff lugubrious doorman Calaminius (Ilkka Koivula), unenthusiastic waitress Mirja (Nuppu Koivu) and Nyrhinen (Janne Hyytiainen), a chef whose repertoire doesn’t extend beyond meatballs, herring and sardines, the latter served in the tin. Despite initial fisticuffs, Wikstrom takes Khaled in, makes him one of the staff and gets him fake papers. There’s a doomed attempt to give the place a makeover serving sushi and, with the help of Mazdak (Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon), a fellow refugee, from Iraq, Khaled continues his search for his sister while encountering the less welcoming side of Finland in the shape of a bunch of far-right racists who, inexplicably (but typically Kaurismaki) call him Jewboy.
And that’s pretty much it. There is, naturally, a trademark dog and heavy use of twangsome rockabilly (performed, both solo and with band, by actor-composer Tuomari Nurmio) to complement the narrative, the film deftly mixing serious social comment on the refugee crisis (asked how he made it to Finlandf Khaled replies, “Easily. No one wants to see me.”) and melancholia with both poignant emotion and dry humour on route to its ambiguous open-ended conclusion. A Kaurismaki film, then. (Electric)
A Dog’s Purpose (PG)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, this wallowingly sentimental family yarn takes the well-worn a boy and his dog set-up for a walk on a very long leash, starting with a stray puppy being picked up by a dog-catcher and euthenised, only to be instantly reincarnated in the body of a red retriever who winds up being adopted by young Ethan, who names him Bailey. As they grow up together, they play catch and Bailey even engineers teenage promising football star Ethan’s romance with love of his life Hannah, but all that falls apart when the humiliated school bully and accidentally burns down the family home (though, by this point, Ethan’s dad)has become an alcoholic and been kicked out), leading to the end of Ethan’s football dreams and, in a pique of self-pity, his future with Hannah.
This takes up the longest section before Bailey grows old and dies, only to be again reincarnated, this time as female Alsatian who becomes the police dog partner of lonely cop Carlos only to be killed in action and come back again, this time as a cute corgi that brings together college loner Maya and her future husband, growing old with another family before, yep, its soul passing to another dog, taken in by a white trash couple and eventually dumped by the husband. As it turns out, Bailey’s latest body fetches up near a farm that’s now run by a familiar figure (Dennis Quaid, the trailer already having given everything away) and, with another scent from the past back in town, it all comes full circle for a long delayed happy ending.
As you’ll have worked out the meaning of canine life is one of emotional rescue, but should that have passed you by, Josh Gad, who winsomely voices the dog’s soul through all its incarnations (bizarrely even the female one) helpfully sums it all up at the end.
There are some shamelessly manipulative sniffle-inducing moments amid the general cheesiness, but, as the dog’s spirit passes from one body to the next, so the accompanying, but never linked stories become shorter and more perfunctory, and any emotional involvement goes walkies until the final moments, with none of the characters given room to develop any dramatic depth beyond simple shorthand. And Bailey’s supposedly amusing observations on human behaviour are just embarrassingly unfunny. It’s not a total dog, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been sold a pup. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Alien: Covenant (15)
Set 10 years after Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the Alien saga offers further insights into the creatures’ origins, although the film itself feels more like a bridging link to the next chapter rather than a self-contained narrative in its own right. It’s 2104 and Covenant is taking 2000 sleeping colonists and several trays of embryos to a new habitable world. The ship and its systems (Mother) are under the control of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the latest upgrade of the original David model from the last film, the latter seen as the film opens talking with his creator (Guy Pearce) in an airless, sterile white room, naming himself after Michelangelo’s statue and already displaying a sense of superiority over his human ‘father’.
Fast forward and, aboard the ship, a solar storm causes malfunctions that require the crew to be woken from their hyper-sleep early, unfortunately one of them (James Franco, seen via a home video), the husband of first officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is burned to death in his pod, leaving the faith-driven Oram (Billy Crudup) as next in charge. In the process of making repairs, they intercept a radio signal which Tennessee (David McBride) identifies as someone singing Take Me Home Country Roads. With the signal’s source tracked to a planet that seems to be the perfect new Eden they’re seeking, Oram decides to investigate and possibly use this as the resettlement base rather than the one planned, which will take a further seven years to reach. Daniels advises otherwise, but is overruled. So you already have a good idea of what’s in store.
Headed up by Oram and Daniels, the search team includes a clutch of assorted disposable characters, among them Oram’s own wife, and, ploughing through the cosmic storm and landing they find not only fields of wheat, but also the rusting remains of the Prometheus. With things already looking ominous, they get trouser-soilingly worse when two of the team are infected by some sort of spores and have baby aliens bursting out of their bodies, resulting in the landing ship and anyone onboard going kaboom, leaving the survivors stranded. Clearly being hunted by the creatures, they’re rescued (but not before Walter sacrifices his hand to save Daniels) by a mysterious cloaked figure who leads them to an abandoned city full of Pompeii-like petrified corpses. The figure, of course, turns out to be David (Fassbender again) who tells how they crashed, killing expedition leader Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in the process as well as releasing the deadly pathogens they were carrying and wiping out all life.
Naturally, that’s not strictly how it happened, David’s flashback revealing he deliberately dropped the virus and himself killed Shaw as part of his God-complex experiments on destroying and creating life, essentially an excuse for Scott to serve up several genetic-mutation variations on the familiar alien, including one of spookily humanoid form.
So, their numbers gradually whittled down, it’s up to Tennessee to rescue those left alive. However, even though he, Daniels, Walter and one of the remaining disposables make it back aboard the Covenant, that’s not the end of things by far, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, with two synthetic lookalikes, which on is on the ship and which is lifeless back on the planet.
Given the franchise trajectory and the in-production sequel, none of this is much of a spoiler, the real disappointment is how generic it all becomes with the assorted gun battles, acid sprays, dismemberments, face huggers and running through dark narrow spaces pausing only for a discussion between Walter and the cool but patently deranged David on their different natures and the purpose of creation.
Fassbender does a great job in both roles, including an unsettling scene of sibling homoeroticism, Crudup layers complexity into his reluctant leader trying to do the right things and McBride gets to play the reliable man of action you need when it’s all going to hell. However, despite everyone’s somewhat limited characterisation, it’s Waterson who is clearly the heart and soul of the film, delivering a spunky, gritty determination clearly intended to echo Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
Come the end credits, there still remain any number of unanswered questions regarding the sharp-toothed beasties or the origins of mankind mooted in Prometheus, but, essentially, reworking the original Alien film, it serves up plenty of bloody shocks and scares along the way to its sequel set-up. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Beauty and the Beast (PG)
Following on from Cinderella and The Jungle Book, this is the latest of Disney’s toons to get a live action update. Directed by Bill Condon, this very much plays to the original’s Oscar winning score and songs to make it a full out musical, complete with three new numbers; however, while parts are very good, it never quite takes off as a whole. Likewise, while the design generally looks terrific, especially the Beast’s gloom-frozen castle, Belle’s village feels very much like a 30s stage set. It’s a qualification that tends to apply throughout. The CGI animated household objects into which the servants have been transformed are brilliantly rendered, but, as voiced by Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, the clock), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, the candelabra) and Emma Thompson (an inexplicably Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the teapot), they’re also often very irritating. And then, on the one hand, you have a serious turn by Kevin Kline as Belle’s guilt-haunted inventor father and a solid theatrical villain from Luke Evans as the arrogant, narcissistic Gaston, while, on the other, an over the top Josh Gad is almost unbearably hammy as his adoring camp sidekick LeFou.
The problem extends to the central characters too. Dan Stevens is magnificent under the CGI as the tortured Beast (rather less so when restored to his true prince form), but, unfortunately, Emma Watson is all too prettily bland as Belle, though she can handle a tune passably enough. Only in the final, and genuinely moving, moments, does she ever fully come to life, meaning that, if you’re over the age of eight, much of what goes before is ever so slightly boring.
You’ll know the fairy tale and the film’s opening voice over makes short work of delivering the exposition as to why the prince was cursed by an enchantress, transformed into a beast for having no love in his heart, and cursed to remain that way when the last petal falls from the red rose in the glass case if he’s not found someone to love him for who he is.
Lost during a storm, Belle’s father takes shelter in the hidden castle and is locked up by the Beast after stealing a rose from the garden on his way out, Belle duly taking his place and, assisted by the matchmaking Lumiere, her tender and wise nature soothing the Beast’s rage, lifting his depression and causing him to care as, bonding over a love of literature, she comes to see his inner soul. In addition, the film also takes a trip to Belle’s birthplace in Paris to add some backstory about what happened to her mother and why dad’s so protective.
At its best, as with a showstopping Be Our Guest dinner sequence that tips the hat to Busby Berkeley, the LeFou and Gaston tavern table hopping musical routine, the castle invasion action finale and, of course, the iconic ballroom waltz with that yellow dress and blue tunic, it’s fabulous, equal and occasionally superior to the 1991 animation. Unfortunately, when it isn’t, it falls rather short, and, while watchable, also disappointingly forgettable. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Boss Baby (U)
If Storks wasn’t confusing enough for kids about where babies come from, in this Looney Tunes styled animation they’re despatched from a heavenly factory where tots are either sent to families or, if they don’t pass the tickle test, to BabyCorp management. The highly imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) has a perfect life, basking in the love of his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). So he’s not happy to learn he’s getting a baby brother. Even less when the new arrival turns out to wear a black business suit, carries a briefcase and is hugely demanding. Then, to his shock, he finds the baby (Alec Baldwin) can walk, talk and ia actually a BabyCorp exec on a mission because babies are losing out on love to puppies. His job is to prevent the launch of the latest product from arch-rival Puppyco, for which Tim’s parents work, which threatens to soak up all the love that’s left. To which end, he recruits some of the neighbouring babies, a cute set of a triplets, feisty Staci and the gormless but muscular Eugene, but, ultimately, it’s the reluctant siblings who are forced to work together if they ever want to be out of each other’s lives.
Fast and snappy with both slapstick and Baldwin’s dry humour, it deals with themes of sibling rivalry and family while finding time for poop and fart jokes, all climaxing in a big action sequence involving Tim and the Boss Baby in Las Vegas as they take on Puppyco’s owner (Steve Buscemi) and his henchman.
Baldwin delivers his trademark sarcastic patter to perfection (“cookies are for closers”) and director Tim McGrath moves thing along at a cracking pace while Tobey Maguire provides the bookended narration by the grown up Tim and James McGrath offers amusing touches as Tim’s Gandalf-like wizard alarm clock. It inevitably ultimately descends into sentimentality, but even so this earns its rusks. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (PG)
Although set only a year after Dog Days, the five-year gap between films means the young cast are now too old to reprise their characters, so returning director David Bowers, who co-scripted with the books’ creator, Jeff Kinney has opted to give everyone a new face. So, young Greg Heffley is now played by Jason Drucker, while his here older, and rather dumber, rock drummer brother. Rodrick is Charlie Wright, although facially it’s hard to believe they’re from the same gene pool, while stepping into the slightly younger skewed mom and dad shoes are Reese Witherspoon and Tom Everett Scott. The youngest Heffley, toddler Manny, is played by twins Dylan and Wyatt Walters while Owen Asztalos makes a brief appearance as Rowley.
As the title would suggest, this is a road trip movie and, essentially, it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation but with more poop jokes. The set-up is that this year’s annual Heffley trip in the name of family time will be cross country to Meemaw’s 90th, all the luggage piled into the boat the’re trailing behind them. Needless to say, neither Greg nor Rodrick are keen on going, especially not since mom’s insisted on everyone, her husband included, checking in their cellphones, laptops, etc for the duration. However,Greg’s persuaded that, if he can engineer some change in directions, this is an opportunity to visit a big video gamers’ convention and get to appear in the next YouTube video with his hero, Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover), which, he figures, will make everyone forget about the video of him getting a diaper stuck to his hand at a family diner that went viral and earned him the humiliating sobriquet of Diaper Hand. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan, with Greg accidentally getting on the wrong side of the beefy beardo father of a snotty family at one of the motel stopovers and Manny accidentally winning a piglet at a county fair, giving rise to just one of the many scatological gags.
Cast change aside, this pretty much sticks to the familiar formula with Kinney’s stickman line drawings punctuating the live action, Greg’s voiceover and a steady stream of broad physical slapstick and getting covered in assorted liquids as its cranks out its message about the importance of family and spending time together.
It’s not exactly highbrow, at times feels somewhat flat and lazy and fails to tap into the poignancy evident in its predecessors, but the new cast are engaging enough and, with a couple of inspired set pieces among the routine mayhem (cue projectile vomit), fans who haven’t grown out of it along with the original cast will find it entertaining enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Fast And Furious 8 (12A)
Once just about racing fast cars, now about saving the world, the latest box office record breaking addition to the franchise opens with a high speed race around Havana between the newly married Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s honeymooning there with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the local hotshot that involves the former, engulfed in flames, driving his burning car backwards across the finishing line. It’s thrilling stuff, but it’s just a warm up for the jaw dropping auto action that follows.
Returning from shopping, Toretto’s waylaid by a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) who wants him to work for her and has an incentive he’s in no position to refuse. Meanwhile, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is approached at a girls’ soccer match where’s he’s coach to his daughter’s team (and which, with their Maori war dance, provides one the funniest moments) and sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen nuclear device from a bunch of terrorists. The old team, Toretto, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and new hacker addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are duly recruited, and next thing you know they’re bursting through concrete walls with a small army in pursuit. However, having seen them off, Hobbs is forced off the road by Toretto, who takes the device and drives off.
Cut to Hobbs being banged up in the same prison as sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), giving rise to a testosterone show down and a ferocious fight between prisoners and guards. All of which has been engineered by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new assistant, mockingly dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), to get Hobbs on board along with the others to track down Toretto whom, it transpires, having betrayed family, is now in cahoots with the woman from Cuba, aka the cyberterrorist known as Cipher. And, since they’re one short, Nobody insists that Shaw is part of the team, too.
As for Cipher, having acquired the nuclear device, and stormed into Nobody’s HQ with Toretto to steal powerful surveillance device God’s Eye, she now wants him to relieve the visiting Russian Minister of Defence of the launch codes he happens to be carting round New York and, from there, it’s just a short hop to stealing a nuclear Russian sub and launching a missile to teach the superpowers a lesson. At some point, you get to learn what hold she has over Toretto, but let’s not spoil the surprise.
Suffice to say, this is the most spectacular of the series so far featuring an awesome firefight climax on a frozen Russian wasteland involving any number of heavily armed vehicles and the aforementioned colossal sub. But even that pales into insignificance against the New York set piece as Cipher takes control of an array of auto-drive vehicles for a car chase the likes of which you have never seen before and with automobile destruction that makes Michael Bay look like some kid crashing his Matchbox cars. Oh yeh, and there’s a baby too. And a gleeful cameo from Helen Mirren.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it remembers to give it a heart to go with the mayhem, as well as copious humour, mostly provided by the macho trade-offs between Hobbs and Deckard and the ribbing of dorky by the rules Little Nobody. On the other hand, Theron does a terrific line in ice cold heartless villainy with charisma to spare. It gets dark in places, but it knows not to take things too seriously, enjoying a sense of its own preposterous even as everything explodes around it. With two more instalments in the works (Theron patently set for a return bout) there’s clearly plenty of fuel in the tanks yet, though how they’re going to top this is anyone’s guess. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A)
It starts brilliantly. As, hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the haughty High Priestess of the genetically perfect gold-skinned arrogant Sovereign to protect some superpowerful batteries, the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take on a multi-tentacled creature, the regenerating Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the speakers and starts dancing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the battle sequence all takes place in the background. And then it gets even better.
Fleeing the auto-piloted Soverign fleet after Rocket steals a handful of the batteries, the Guardians, along with their fee, Gamora’s bionic revenge-obsessed adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), manage to hop through space and crash land on some planet, on which also lands the pod-like spaceship containing the figure who saved them. To Quill’s surprise, this turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell), who announces himself as his long-lost father (a spookily digitally rejuvenated Russell seen earlier courting mom-to-be Melissa to the strains of 70s American hit Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl). Even more of a surprise is when, having taken Quill, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Baby Groot repair the ship, he explains that he’s a Celestial, quite literally a living planet who created the world around himself and took on human form, and that, Quill, part human/part alien, is a Celestial too with the same, albeit latent, powers.
It seems Ego’s spent the last 30 years looking for him and now wants to be the dad he never was. Desperate for family, Quill soon puts aside suspicions, but not so Gamora. Rightly so it turns out when Ego’s antennaed ‘pet’ Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath with the ability to read people’s emotions, finally spills the beans about something to do with reshaping the universe, with other lifeforms not figuring in the grand plan.
Meanwhile, the Soveeign are still on their trail and have enlisted Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Quill (and who’s been drummed out of the order for child trafficking by its leader, a cameoing Sylvester Stallone), to track them down. But he has a problem too when his crew, led by the self-styled Taser mutiny and lock him and Rocket up to be handed over to the Sovereign. Both scenarios ultimately leading to Baby Groot having to save the day.
Ramped up even beyond the first film, again written and directed by James Gunn, it brings together awesome digital effects, pulse-pounding action and, of course, the constant irreverent humour that helped make the first film such a hit. Themes of family, sibling and parent-child relationships, self-worth, identity, redemption and forgiveness loom large while the film is again awash with cool 70s music from Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol 2 cassette and Bautista provides the larger than life comic relief with his unfiltered judgemental observations and Cooper keeps up the sly wisecracks, deftly balancing the film’s unexpected vein of emotion. Naturally, it never takes itself seriously and that’s part of the immense fun. Plus there’s five end credit clips (including a moody teenage Groot), another Howard the Duck cameo and the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, this time in the company of The Watchers. Thrills of this magnitude should probably be illegal. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Handmaiden (18)
Loosely adapted from Sarah Waters’ bestseller Fingersmith, co-written by South Korean director Park Chan-Wook of Oldboy fame, this adopts a Rashomon structure, dividing the film into three chapters, the first two offering two different sides to the events with the third bringing them together for a convoluted but cleverly engineered payoff in the grand tradition of The Sting and other such con movies.
Set in Japanese-controlled South Korea in the 1930s, the first part is told from the perspective of Sook-Hee (Tae-Ri Kim), an accomplished pickpocket who’s recruited by a con artist calling himself Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become the handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). An orphaned Japanese heiress, she lives in a remote sprawling mansion with her uncle by marriage, Kouzuki (Jin-woong Cho), a sadistic pervy book collector who intends to marry her and forces her to give readings to a select audience of fellow Japanese ‘connoisseurs’ from his collection of Japanese porn. Sook-hee’s job is to get her new mistress to falls for the Count instead, who’ll then marry her, take control of her fortune, have her declared insane and split the takings with Sook-Hee and her fellow pickpockets. However, in the course of events, Sook-hee develops a real affection for Hideko which prompts her conscience, before the ending. delivers a wholly unexpected double cross twist in the final seconds
Part Two then retells everything from Hideko’s perspective, offering a very different take on what you’ve just seen, unravelling an even more knotted plot. Then comes Part Three that puts the pieces into place along with a some genuinely disturbing insights into her uncle’s cruelty and perversions, the terrors of ‘the basement’ and a gruesome torture sequence.
A lavishly designed triple-cross psychological thriller with strong Hitchcockian overtones, it’s also highly erotically charged, a sequence in Part One where Sook-hee demonstrates what Hideko can expect on her wedding night restaged in even more explicit intensity in Part Two. Awash with fetishism (check out the tooth filing scene), carnal lust and duplicity, it also has a vein of wry humour, albeit incredibly dark, at one point quite literally of the gallows variety. The central performances are outstanding, Tae-Ri Kim making the naïve Sook-hee as funny as she is sexy, Min-hee Kim bringing complex layers to Hideko, Jung-woo Ha’s smooth and slippery as Fujiwara and Jin-woong Cho creating one of cinema’s most twisted and terrifying monsters in human form. The film clocks in at 145 minutes, but there’s also an even longer 167 minute director’s cut. Given what’s on screen in the normal version, the mind boggles as to what the extra 22 minutes may have to offer. (Until Sun:MAC)
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (12A)
Forget what you know of the Arthurian legend, this is Guy Ritchie’s vision recast as a sort of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Broadswords, more rock n roll than troubadour. The gist is that, having defeated the evil mage Mordred, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is then betrayed by his power-thirsty brother Vortigern (a camped up Jude Law) who, sacrificing his own wife to do so, summons up a demon to kill both Uther and his queen, but not before they manage to send their infant son off in a boat, Moses style.
The young boy fetches up in Londinium where he’s named Arthur, raised in a brothel and taught the art of street fighting. Grown to adulthood, Arthur (often shirtless Brad Pitt lookalike Charlie Hunnam channelling Tom Hardy) hangs out with his fellow chancers Tristan (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Blacklack (Neil Maskell), only to have a run in with a bunch of Vikings who’ve mistreated one of the prostitutes. Unfortunately, they turn out to be under the protection of Vortigern, who’s now king, leading to his enforcers, the Blacklegs, raiding the brothel and Arthur having to go on the run. At the same time, the waters around the city drop, revealing a rock with a sword handle sticking out of it, prompting stories about a future king who will return, pull it out and free the people from tyranny. To which end Vortigern’s forcing all men of a certain age to try their luck, Arthur among them. To everyone’s surprise, he does, only to faint from the power surge he experiences, awakening in the dungeon where his uncle reveals his true lineage.
Meanwhile, The Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) a follower of the never seen Merlin, introduces herself to Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Uther’s former general, facilitates Arthur’s escape from execution and sets about convincing him to join the rebels, Percival (Craig McGinlay) and the colourfully named Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen) among them, and that he is the one destined to avenge his father; once that is, he’s learned to control the power of the sword, something that will entail a trip to the Blacklands to learn the truth about what happened.
The narrative, almost overwhelmed by the CG blitzkrieg of giant snakes, giant elephants, thousands of virtual extras, a sort of rubbery squid-sirens version of Macbeth’s three witches and, as the Holy Grail would have, some watery tart, rattles along through a series of extravagant set pieces in exuberant but almost incoherent fashion as it borrows cheerfully from any number of sources, Robin Hood and the New Testament among them. Hunnam makes for a game reluctant hero and the rest of the cast are nothing if not enthusiastic, a cameoing David Beckham included, and you can’t say it lacks for energy or entertaining action. However, it seems set to be this year’s biggest blockbuster bomb, meaning we’ll likely never get to see Merlin or the Mage become Guinevere, let alone see them finish assembling the Round Table that serves for some lame gags at the end. Which, is, actually, quite a pity. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (12A)
After the last instalment, On Stranger Tides, it would have seemed a good idea to consign the franchise to dry dock, but no, six years on and this time with Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg at the helm, the core cast have been reassembled for a further folly. This one also sees the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will and Elizabeth, albeit only in book-ending sequences, the latter not putting in an appearance until just before the end credits.
It opens with their young son, Henry, tracking down The Flying Dutchman on which dad’s cursed to sail for eternity and promising to find Poseidon’s Trident, an artefact that can reputedly lift all sea curses. Fast forward five years and the now adult Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is still in pursuit of the trident, a quest that brings him into contact with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), whose skills in astronomy have seen her condemned as a witch, and who, guided by her unknown father’s diary, is searching for an unseen map to an uncharted island, though she has no time for myths or supernatural mumbo jumbo. Inevitably both their paths also cross with that of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), first seen quite literally stealing a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence) and hauling the entire building through the town in an impressive set piece of destruction.
Now, as it happens, Henry was part of a British Navy crew pursuing a pirate ship that sailed into the infamous Devil’s Triangle and was overrun by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish former pirate hunter who, along with his mutilated crew, are cursed to live as dead men (some of them missing assorted body parts). He spared Henry to deliver a message to Sparrow with whom he has unfinished businesss (you’ve not forgotten anything, their connection is later explained in a backstory about how Jack – a CGI youthful Depp – got his surname and captain’s hat), but is unable to escape his watery prison unless Sparrow parts with his magical compass. Which, of course, he duly does, sending Salazar back to the world to resume his pirate killing spree, which, in turn, leads to him striking a deal with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s now the pirate top dog, to get his hands on Jack.
Narratively bloated, there’s about three different plots going on at the same time, gradually coming together as yet more backstory is thrown into the mix with, essentially, everyone, including David Wenham’s colonial naval captain, chasing Jack, Henry and Carina. All of which results into a lot of noise, action and some spectacular CGI (Salazar’s crew and zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. Thwaites and Scodelario basically take the Bloom and Knightley roles from the first two films, and do so engagingly enough, while, as ever, Rush brings more heart and gravity to proceedings than they warrant. Bardem makes for a driven obsessed villain, but his character and performance are eclipsed by the special effects of his seaweedy hair, squid ink blood and ravaged face. Which brings us to Depp. He does pretty much what he always does with his pirate parody, the drunken slurring, the sexual innuendos, but what was once amusing is now just tediously annoying. There’s times when it captures the spark of the original, but, when a cameoing Paul McCartney as Jack’s Uncle is one of the highlights, perhaps, despite the post credits clip, it’s time to consign this to David Jones’ locker once and for all. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Promise (12A)
Another film looking to illuminate little known historical events, having previously made Hotel Rwanda, director Terry George now addresses another genocide, that conducted by Turkey against the Armenian people from 1915-1923 and for which the Turkish government has, to this day, never acknowledged responsibility.
However, unlike his previous film, where the genocide was the central focus, this sets it as a backdrop to a clichéd romantic triangle and takes forever in getting to the crux of the issue.
The local apothecary, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) wants to become a doctor but can’t afford the fees. So his parents arrange a marriage to Maral (Angela Sarafyan) and Mikael duly sets off to medical school in Constantinople using his 400 gold coins dowry to pay for his tuition. Taking lodgings with his wealthy businessman uncle, he meets Ana (Charlotte LeBon), a fellow Armenian who’s nanny to his two nieces, while, at the Imperial Medical School, he becomes friends with Emre (Marwan Kenzari), the son of a high ranking Turk who has only enrolled so as to avoid military service.
Mikael is drawn to Ana, and she to him; however, he doesn’t mention his fiancée back home and she’s in a relationship with Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a reporter for the American Press Association who’s covering the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany. He’s also documenting the growing tensions between Turkey and Armenia and, as WWI hostilities break out., the systematic attempt by the former to wipe the latter from the face of the earth, which quickly leads to Mikael being rounded up for forced labour and Emre being forced into the army. Meanwhile, Chris is attracting attention with his coverage of atrocities.
Unfortunately, while there are some harrowing moments along the way, until the last act, when fleeing Armenians take a stand against Turkish troops on a mountain outside Aleppo and a French warship steams into rescue them, the narrative focus is firmly on the relationships between Ana, Mikael and Chris, the three of them frequently separated by events.
It’s unfortunate – not to say offensive – enough that the genocide plays second narrative fiddle, even more so since the romantic drama is a rather lifeless affair with no chemistry sparking between any of those involved.
It’s patently obvious that Bale is only really there for financing reasons, which no doubt also explains brief cameos by Tom Hollander, James Cromwell and Jean Reno in roles that could have been played by anyone. It runs through some familiar clichés and overused machinations in workmanlike fashion while the dialogue often creaks and the performances occasionally slip into melodrama. However, while wearily overlong and at times rather dull, it’s watchable enough and George’s earnest attempt to put the genocide back in the spotlight is admirable. But, save for one scene of slaughter, it says much that the most effective things here are the title cards detailing how 1.5 million Armenians were killed, leaving any promise decidedly unfulfilled. (Fri-Mon, Thu;MAC)
The Red Turtle (PG)
Featuring absolutely no dialogue, but rather natural sound and a sympathetic score, this collaboration between Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Dudok de Wit is a stunning animated tale, part CGI, part hand-drawn, about a man shipwrecked on a desert island who determines to escape, but finds every attempt ruined by a mysterious red turtle. Why doesn’t it want him to leave and what’s going on when, after his attempt to kill it, he takes pity, gives it water and the creature transforms into a woman and they have a child together?
A poetic at times surreal allegory about time, nature, survival and companionship that relies more on tone and feel than narrative, and, even if there is a particularly powerful tsunami sequence and a tense moment when it seems the man might drown, this isn’t for those who prefer their animation to be fast and funny (which rather rules out the child audience, though they’ll be amused by the supporting crabs), but it’s a gorgeous looking, thoughtful and touching work that rewards patience. (Electric)
The Sense of an Ending (15)
Tastefully adapted by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’ novel and directed in a gentle low key manner by Ritesh Batra, this is a bittersweet look at the memories we hide from ourselves in the reinvention of the past.
It’s built around a memorable, unassuming central performance by Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, an elderly, somewhat self-absorbed divorcee who runs a second-hand camera shop whose lawyer ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and pregnant lesbian daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) refer to him affectionately as The Mudge, as in curmudgeon.
One day, he gets a letter informing him that the mother of his teenage old flame, Veronica, has passed away and left him something in her will. Although, the now middle-aged Veronica (a coolly composed Charlotte Rampling) won’t release it to the solicitors, Tony learns that it’s a diary, written by an old schoolfriend of his, the intellectually sharp Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who inexplicably committed suicide. Annoyed at being denied what he regards as his property, Tony sets about trying to make contact with her, fantasising that there might still be a spark between them.
As Tony recounts past events to Margaret, the film unfolds in flashbacks to his younger self (Billy Howle), his meeting with vivacious posh girl Veronica (Freya Mavor) at a party, a weekend at her parents with her genial father (James Wilby), playfully flirty mother (Emily Mortimer) and brother Jack (Edward Holcroft) and their growing, but platonic, romance, she giving him his first Leica. However, the arrival of Adrian into their circle and both his and her feelings for him sees a shift in the relationships, the outcome of which is withheld until the devastating final moments when, long buried and distorted by time, Tony’s forced to confront his actions.
Gradually peeling away false memories to get at the truth, although Broadbent’s inherent warmth somewhat softens Tony’s selfish and narcissistic character and the redemptive coda is an emotional cop out, it’s a slowburning work the impact of which creeps up on you, its small moments gathering to a heartbreaking climax. (Wed/Thu:MAC)
Jamie Foxx has made some odd career choices. He won an Oscar for Ray and was nominated for Collateral, he then impressed further in Django Unchained. But, on the other hand, his CV also includes Horrible Bosses and the black rework of Annie. And now he’s starring in this engaging but generic a remake of 2011 cop thriller, Nuit Blanche, in which the surprises are anything but, telegraphed ahead as they are.
Vincent Downes (Foxx) is first seen with his partner, Sean (Tip Harris), taking down a couple of thugs and relieving them of 25k of cocaine, taking off before the cops get there. But, hey, what do you know, both Vincent and Sean are themselves cops. Perhaps they’re part of the corruption over-caffeinated Internal Affairs agent Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is trying to take down. Meanwhile, Vincent has a problem when it turns out the drugs, which belonged to dodgy Las Vegas casino owner Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), were intended for Novak (Scoot McNairy), who’s running his drug lord dad’s operations while he’s off on holiday. Now Rubino needs them back before the volatile Novak arrives to collect them. To which end, he has his henchman kidnap Vincent’s estranged high school son as they’re en route to his football game, knifing Vincent in the process.
So, now Vincent has to take the drugs to the casino, stashing them in the gents while he negotiates his son’s release. Unfortunately, Bryant, who reckons he’s one of the dirty cops, has been tailing him, removes the drugs and stashes them somewhere else, calling in her partner, Dennison (David Harbour), so she can bust everyone at one go. So, when Vincent goes to get the bag and finds it gone, he has to improvise. Meanwhile, Novak is getting impatient, Rubino’s getting desperate and Vincent manages to survive far more beatings than a man who with a stomach stab wound might feasibly endure. Oh, yeh, and his worried nurse ex-wife (Gabrielle Union) keeps calling asking where their son’s got to. Vincent is, of course, undercover, but apparently no one knows it, not even Internal affairs, for which he works, because there’s so many corrupt cops he can’t trust anyone. Or tell his family. Especially given someone ratted out an informant to Novak and blew Bryant’s earlier operation. Who might that possibly be and who could possibly have removed the drugs from the locker where she hid them?
The fact that pretty much all of this takes place within the casino over the course of one night is one of the increasingly implausible and nonsensically titled film’s few inspired touches. Director Baran bo Odar keeps things moving along and Foxx is solid enough on a one note level, but pretty much everyone else cranks things up to almost caricature levels, except, of course, for the one that doesn’t, just so you don’t guess this twist. As if. It ends with a clear set up for a sequel. Now, that would be a surprise. (Vue Star City)
Trainwreck, her first starring feature, which she also wrote, proved Amy Schumer could be just as funny on the big screen as on the small one. However, the follow-up, penned by the Ghostbusters remake scribe, Katie Dippold, might have audiences revising that opinion.
Here, she’s Emily, an insecure clueless loser who, in the opening moments, get fired from her sales assistant job and dumped by the boyfriend with whom she was going on an unrefundable trip to Ecuador. Unable to find anyone who’ll go with her, she guilt trips her mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), an equally dysfunctional, security-obsessed no life divorcee who lives with her cat and needy agoraphobic nerdy man-child son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), into going with her.
Once there, Emily’s picked up by a handsome stranger (Tom Bateman) who invites her and her mom on a trip to explore the countryside, which is, of course, just a set-up to get them kidnapped and held for ransom by notorious local gangster Morgado (Oscar Jaenada). Managing to escape, killing Morgado’s nephew in the process, they make contact with the US State Department in the person of Morgan Russell (Bashir Salahuddin) whose only advice is to get to the Consulate in Bogata. To which end, they hook up with adventure seeker Roger (Christopher Meloni) who offers to get them there. However, a vengeful Morgado is on their trail, while, back at home, Jeffrey is pissing off Russell with his constant phone calls.
Pitched as a cringe comedy with a dash of the sort of screwball for which Hawn was famous in the 80s, it aims low with its scattershot assortment of sniping one-liners, humiliations, bodily function jokes (admittedly the welcome/whale cum gag is funny) and gross outs (at one point a doctor lures a tapeworm out of Emily’s mouth with a piece of meat), but still falls short. It also wants to have a sentimental centre with its mother-daughter bonding and Emily discovering some self-worth and purpose, but this never feels remotely genuine or earned.
Hawn flaps around in trademark manner as the often judgemental, scolding Linda while, fine comedienne though she may be, Schumer can’t make the tossed off lines or the lazy piecemeal plotting work, although, to her credit, she does dispense with any hint of vanity in her self-deprecating and deglamourised performance. And, although their attempt to help Emily rescue her mother does have an amusing payoff, the equally cartoonish turns by fellow vacationers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic” ex-special ops friend Barb (Joan Cusack) are essentially as pointless as they are unfunny. An accusation that can be firmly levelled at the film as a whole. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Spark: A Space Tail (U)
A teenage monkey living on the remnants of Bana, a planet that was torn to pieces by the power-mad ape General Zhong(voice hammed by Alan C. Peterson), who also killed his ruler dad and abducted his mom (Hilary Swank), Spark (Jace Norman), learns Zhong now plans to unleash the Space Kraken, creating black holes and ruling the whole universe. So, even though he doesn’t believe he’s up to the job, it’s up him and his friends, Vix (Jessica Biel), the martial artist fox and Chunk the tech-whiz warthog to stop him. Despite star voice turns thet also include Susan Sarandon as Spark’s robot nanny and Patrick Stewart as an eccentric army captain, this Canadian-South Korean hotchpotch is decidedly at the bottom end of the animation ladder that lacks any real charm and simply builds its plot and characters from other, better films. The only spark here is in the title. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)
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