Movie roundup: This week’s latest film releases, January 29 – February 4

NEW RELEASE

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (15)

With a surprisingly low profile and little advance publicity for a Michael Bay action movie, this recounts the true story of the response of a small security team when on September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the American embassy and a suspected CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing the ambassador and several others. Bay details events before, during and after the attack, underlining the lack of proper security (just a 10-man team) at the embassy and the failure to be alert to possible militant action on the anniversary of 9/11, as well as the refusal of the State Department refuses to allow reinforcements to help the Americans under attack.

Headed up by John Krasinski, the ‘big’ name in the cast, it focuses on a small group comprising two Joint Special Operations Command members, five CIA personnel and a small contingent of Libyan forces as they seek to defend the compound and then rescue the 32 Americans inside. Best known for his dumb jingoistic action movies (and shots of a bullet-riddled Stars and Stripes suggest this is no huge departure), Bay  may seem an unlikely figure to deliver a  critique of the Pentagon and State Department (and, in particular Hillary Clinton), but, while very much loaded from a Republican bias, this has a few more brain cells than Transformers. However, the fact Donald Trumop has been using it in his campaign seems like cause for concern. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall)

Capture The Flag (PG)

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Made in Spain but in English with a voice cast of unknowns, this CGI animation may not rival your Pixars or DreamWorks, but it’s really rather good. Young Mike Goldwing is a surfer whose dad, Scott, and grandfather, Frank, were both astronauts.

However, the cancellation of the space programme means Scott’s dreams will never come true while Frank’s were crushed when he was replaced in the final manned Apollo mission. After which he turned his back on his family and, now living in an astronauts’ retirement home, refuses to see them, despite the best efforts by Mike and his mom to get everyone back together.

Mike sees another opportunity when billionaire oil tycoon Richard Carson unveils faked film footage purporting to show that the Apollo XI moon landing never happened and declares that he’s going to the moon in his own high-tech rocket to prove this to claim the moon for himself. Of course, his real plan is to mine the planet for a clean energy source that will make him even richer and give him control over the Earth.

His announcement spurs the Hilary Clinton-like American President to order NASA to carry out its own mission, using a mothballed Saturn 5 rocket and with Scott as the commander, However, the crew will need a crash training course. And having been persuaded by Mike to join them, Frank is assigned to train his son. Unfortunately, Carson’s sabotage causes Scott to break his leg. So, determined to break the Goldwing curse, with the help of his friends, surfer girl friend Amy and technogeek Marty, Mike plots to sneak aboard the rocket and go to the moon himself.

However, when further sabotage causes the rocket to launch early, it’s not only Mike on board, but also Amy and Frank. And Marty’s techno-equipped lizard, Igor. With no option but to continue the mission, with Scott in charge at Mission Control, the trio find themselves in a race against the clock to prevent Carson from stealing the flag from the Sea of Tranquility and carrying out his plans. And, just maybe, reconcile Scott and Frank too.

The animation may not be as slick as the bigger-budgeted rivals, but it’s still impressive (as are the details of Mission Control, Apollo XII’s Alan Bean having being among the advisers), while, moving briskly along, the story has a solid mix of action and sentiment, dropping in some nice touches for the grown-ups (the director of the faked footage looks a lot like Stanley Kubrick and Carson’s henchmen resemble Bill Gates and Steve Jobs) and Igor’s antics to amuse the youngsters. The low profile release may well deter audiences. That would be a shame, as it really is a lot of fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Dirty Grandpa (15)

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Is Robert DeNiro that short of money? He’s been involved in some turkeys in his time, but this crass comedy (and I’m not even sure I can even use the word in its dictionary definition) surely plummets the sort of depths even Adam Sandler has failed to reach. A Judd Apatow knock-off without the same level of subtlety, it casts DeNiro as the aptly named Dick, a 70-something widower who, on the day after his wife’s funeral, persuades his corporate lawyer grandson, Jason (Zak Efron) into helping him honour her by taking the journey from Georgia to Boca Raton that they made each year. Despite being about to get wed (to uptight domineering Julianne Hough), he reluctantly agrees and pretty much immediately regrets it when, arriving to collect Dick, he finds him jerking off to porn.

Apparently, Dick’s not had sex with anyone except himself for 15 years and now he fully intends to carry out his wife’s dying wish to pursue the life he always wanted. Unfortunately, for Jason, this involves having to drive Dick to Daytona Beach so he can bed potty-mouthed college girl Lenore (Aubrey Plaza) who wants him to tsunami on her face. That Dick refers to Jason’s car, his fiancée’s pink Mini Cooper , as a “giant labia” is pretty much the height of the screenplay’s wit which also involves Dick regularly prodding Jason in the balls and backside, usually with his finger.

Should you be interested, as well as a plethora of gay (Jason’s constantly taken for a lesbian) and racial ‘jokes’, the plot also involves Jason getting high on crack and, after being arrested for paedophilia, having a Facetime conversation with fiancée, family and a rabbi while sporting penises in the shape of a swastika drawn on his forehead. Oh, how we laughed.

To give him his due, DeNiro, who joins Efron (who’s mostly acted off screen by the credits) in getting his shirt off, plunges headfirst into the torrent of crude filth, but that’s a bit like Divine eating dog shit in Pink Flamingos. You admire the commitment, but the revulsion makes you want to throw up. The upside is that you’re unlikely to see anything else this awful in the next 12 months. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall)

Spotlight (15)

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With six Academy Award nominations (including Best Film, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actor/Actress), this is another true story on the scars frontline. Directed by Tom McCarthy it tells how Spotlight, an investigative team with the Boston Globe, uncovered systematic child abuse of Catholic priests in the local Archdiocese and the attempts of the Catholic Church to keep it under wraps. The year-long investigations revealed a cover up that embraced the highest levels of the city’s religious, legal and governmental bodies, triggering further revelations on a worldwide scale that went all the way to the Vatican.

When new editor in chief Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) arrives at the paper, he’s looking to make his mark with a hard-hitting investigative piece and involves the Spotlight team, comprising editor Robby Stewart (nominee Michael Keaton) and reporters Mike Rezendes (nominee Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (nominee Rachael McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), who all report to Globe editor Ben Bradlee (John Slattery), in checking out a story the paper had previously run about a Catholic priest who had allegedly molested children in six different parishes over the last 30 years and claims that the Cardinal knew about this, but never acted.

With Rezendes working to involve the reluctant Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), the lawyer for the victims, in providing information the others pursue other avenues, including Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup), the smooth-talking lawyer who handled molestation cases against another priest, several years earlier, and which were settled out of court and about which, he naturally, cannot talk.
With the help of a victims’ organisation, the further the team dig, the deeper and wider the problem clearly goes, implicating the Catholic Church in a massive cover-up, transferring paedophile priests to other parishes, and the legal profession in making money out of hushing it up.

A classic investigative journalism feature in the mold of All The President’s Men, it carries you along on a wave of righteous anger as the team is consistently blocked by those in high positions, yet persevere to circumvent obstacles and confront those responsible with exposure.

Fuelled by the crackling electricity of the ensemble performances, especially Ruffalo’s explosive anger at what he finds and the prospect of having to delay their publication, as well as such powerful scenes as when Phil Saviano, who runs a victims’ organisation, explains how, for a young Catholic boy, “when a parish priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. It’s like God asking you for help.”

Restrained, unsensational and bristlingly intelligent, it sweeps you along as its addresses both intimate personal hurt and the far wider corruption in the system while keeping the reporters grounded as real hard-working people with principles not glorified crusading heroes. You want an argument for not neutering the freedom of the press to pursue stories in the public interest? Here it is. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Vue Star City)

The 33 (12A)

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Yet another true story, this recounts the events of 2010 when an explosion at the San Jose mine trapped 33 Chilean miners underground for 69 days while an international team worked to rescue them and bring all out alive. The fact that it was a resounding success, inevitably makes the film a bit of an anticlimax, since, with the outcome known, it’s a bit hard to sustain any real sense of tension. As such, in addition to offering some backstories to the miners, it also focuses extensively on events above ground, noting how the mine owners ignored warnings about its stability and initially attempted to stop the news breaking and the Chilean government’s determination not to have this turn into a globally televised tragedy.

Once the collapse occurs, there’s also a heavy focus on the efforts of the rescue team, with James Brolin as Jess Hart, the American supervising the drilling operation to save the men and, little seen these days, Lou Diamond Phillips as Luis Urzúa, the shift foreman, who took a leading role and helped make accurate maps of the cave to guide the rescue crews. There’s also personal stories like that of Jessica Vega, the wife of one of the miners, who gave birth while her husband was trapped.
Meanwhile back underground, Antonio Banderas takes on the role of Mario Sepúlveda, the miners’ public face who, after a camera was sent down on Day 17, made daily videos to let everyone – especially their families – know that they were all okay.

Underground, it charts the dynamics between a large group of men trapped in claustrophobic conditions as you might expect (you have to assume this all played out as presented, given the film was made with the full cooperation of the miners themselves), ranging from despair (one has to be talked out of suicide when he realizes the drill has bypassed them) and internal tensions (at one point fight breaks out with Mario being accused of letting his new celebrity status go to his head) to feelgood touches such as the Elvis fan asking for Presley’s songs to be sent down, as well as personal epiphanies about their relationships

With the cast also including Gabriel Byrne as André Sougarret, the engineer who masterminded the escape operation and Juliette Binoche as the estranged sister of one of the miners, it’s not going to win any prizes for the quality of its dialogue (or some of the accents, not least Bob Gunton as Chilean President Piñera) and the fantasy sequence as the miners imagine a feast with their families in what might be their last meal simply does not work.

It’s an undeniably inspirational and uplifting human story (the end credits note that the mining company was cleared of criminal negligence and the miners were never compensated adding some righteous anger), but, told in broad strokes, the forced melodrama and rote screenplay means you’re never as involved as you were with the real life news reports. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Youth (15)

Youth
Set in an exclusive Swiss spa, the latest from arty Italian director Paulo Sorrentino may, at times, prove slow going, but the rewards include terrific, measured and subtle performances from Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. Caine is Fred Ballinger, a retired celebrated English composer-conductor who’s been coming here for 20 years and who has, for personal reasons, no interest in acceding to the Queen’s request to conduct his best known work, Simple Songs, for Prince Phillip’s birthday celebrations. Keitel, a long time friend whose son (Ed Stoppard) is married to Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz), is Mick Boyle, a famed arthouse director there with his screenwriters to complete the script for his next project, Life’s Last Day. Also among the guests is Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), a cerebral actor who resents being best known for playing a robot, who observes proceedings and occasionally dispenses words of wisdom.

Mick and Fred (who is obsessed with the idea that Mick may have once slept with the girl they both loved) pass the time discussing life and taking bets on whether a couple they regularly see at the breakfast will ever speak (a wager that climaxes with a touch of woodland voyeurism), but things soon take a disruptive turn. First, Lena announces her husband has left her for Paloma Faith (playing a parody of herself, complete with a fantasy promo video nightmare), prompting her to lash out at her father for a lifetime’s lack of human warmth, and then Mick’s muse, Hollywood star Brenda Morel (a scene stealing Jane Fonda), arrives with some unwelcome news, wrapped up in a ferocious invective about Boyle’s pretentiousness.

Clearly sporting Fellini influences, populated by an array of eccentrics and opening with a retro cover of Florence and the Machine’s You Got the Love, it’s a melancholic but gently amusing film about lost hopes, ageing, passions, finding peace and the difference between simple and simplicity, an idea beautifully encapsulated in a little girl’s words to Jimmy. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

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The Big Short (15)

big short 2Just named Best Film at the PGA awards, Adam McKay’s inspired indignant satire on the mortgage housing crisis of 2005 that led to 2008’s global financial meltdown is now a serious Oscar frontrunner. Based on a book about the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market and driven by hyper-caffeinated energy, whimsical touches like Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie delivering to-camera lessons explaining financial concepts such as collateralised-debt obligations mirror the sheer absurdity of what happened while still delivering a stinging, attack on those that let it.

Although the time span’s never quite clear, t follows three parallel stories across three years. Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an autistic, glass-eyed, metal loving hedge fund manager, reckons the US housing market bubble will burst and sets out to short (bet against) it, investing millions that the likes of Goldman Sachs, thinking he’s off his head, are more than happy to take.

Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a brash, Deutschebank egotistical trader gets wind of Burry and decides to cash in too, leading him team with Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), a self-loathing idealist who heads a credit-default-swap team under the Morgan Stanley umbrella. Then there’s Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, start-up whizz kids looking to play with the big boys, who, stumbling on Vennett’s prospectus, call on retired investment banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them out.

With frequent to camera explanations of the jargon, it invites audiences to root for characters who, rather than exposing the frauds and assuming the banks genuinely have no idea what’s going on, set out to profit from what will, ultimately, prove the collapse of the economy. There are no heroes here, just winners and losers.
With a cast that also features small but effective turns by Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall and Karen Gillan, it rattles along, sharp humour and biting indignation consistently underlining the sheer brazen audacity of those culpable, such as the smug CDO manager only too happy to smilingly confirm all of Braun’s worst fears about the system’s corruption. And, as the end pointedly makes clear, who got away with it too. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Bridge Of Spies (12A) Tom Hanks serves up another decent family man doing the right thing turn in the true Cold War story of how insurance lawyer James Donovan was hired to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Oscar nominee Mark Rylance) and then recruited by the CIA and sent to east Berlin to broker an exchange with the Soviets for captured spy plane pilot Gary Powers. Part written by the Coens and directed by Spielberg, there’s a terrific sense of period and the scenes between Hanks and Rylance are electrifying. (Everyman)

Chemsex (18) Documentary about the popular phenomenon of drug use in a gay sexual context, but which has trapped many young men in a vicious circle of sex, addiction and dependence. It tells the stories of gay men whose lives have been affected by the crisis; from self-confessed ‘slammers’ to sexual health workers, from those who deny there’s a problem to those who ‘got out alive’. (Thu 4, MAC)

Creed (12A)
Creed movieAlthough its star (Michael B Jordan) and director (Ryan Coogler) have been snubbed by the Oscars, Sylvester Stallone seems a sure thing for Best Supporting Actor, reprising his role as Rocky Balboa. This time round, he’s on the other side of the ropes when he’s persuaded to come out of retirement and train Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the illegitimate son of his late opponent and friend, Apollo Creed, as he seeks to make his name in boxing without trading on his father’s reputation. Plotwise, it follows a predictable path, playing a familiar surrogate father/son riff as it casts an eye over themes of legacy and black youths/absent fathers, throwing in a health scare along the way to cement the bonding process.

However, aided by strong performances, Coogler mostly avoids manipulative sentimentality as the film makes its way to the inevitable big fight, here staged at Liverpool’s Goodison Park as, pressured to box under his father’s name, Creed takes on the defending British lightweight champ retired Rocky to be his trainer. Naturally, after initially refusing to be drawn back into that world, the pair eventually team up as the predictable plot sets up the inevitable big championship fight, here between Adonis and the defending light-heavyweight champ, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Solid stuff that fully deserves to wear a champion’s belt. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Daddy’s Home (12A) As expected, the pairing of Will Ferrell as insecure but steady nice guy stepdad Brad competing with Mark Wahlberg as the kids’ unreliable Alpha male biological father, Dusty, suddenly back in their lives after several years absence, is a bland sub-sitcom as the latter seeks to undermine and embarrass the former at every opportunity, Brad becoming ever more erratic in his attempts to measure up. Inbetween 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. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

The Danish Girl (15)  Having already won an Oscar playing someone physically trapped inside their own body, Eddie Redmayne is sure to be Oscar nominated for doing it again in director Tom Hooper’s classically styled factional story of Lili Elbe, an early recipient of sex reassignment surgery.
A successful Danish landscape artist, Einar Wegener (Redmayne) is married to less successful portraitist Gerda (Alicia Vikander, another Oscar nod); however, when she asks him to stand in for a sitting by prima ballerina Ulla (Amber Heard), Einar’s contact with the stockings and dress unlocks something buried inside. Initially, his new cross-dressing predilections serve to spice up their sex life, but when first Gerda proposes he attend a reception dressed as Lili, Einar’s supposed cousin, and ‘she’ is propositioned, and then Gerda’s portraits of Lili become all the rage, so his female alter-ego assumes dominance. Seeing himself as a woman trapped in a man’s body, supported by Gerda and childhood friend art dealer Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), Lili seeks to make the ultimate transformation. Elegant, tasteful and understated, it eschews some of the actual facts and events, but, driven by outstanding performances, it’s an utterly mesmerising work. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The 5th Wave (15)

5thwaveDespite the publicists’ reluctance to show this to critics, this adaptation from Rick Yancey’s young adult sci-fi trilogy delivers the goods in effective, if at times predictable, manner and should have no problem kickstarting a new franchise. Kick-Ass’s Chloe Grace Moretz heads the cast as Ohio teen Cassie whose life is turned upside down when Earth is hit by an alien invasion that comes in five waves, the first three being an electromagnetic wipe out, a tsunami and an avian flu that kills her mother. The fourth wave sees ‘the others’ taking over adult human hosts and polishing off all survivors. Cassie learns about this when the army, headed up by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schrieber), arrives at the camp where she, her father and young brother Ben have taken refuge to transport everyone, but the children first, to a safe haven. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go quite that smoothly, leaving all the adults dead and Cassie on the run with an M-16 to rescue Ben who, it transpires, is, like all the other kids, being trained as child soldiers in the fight against the invaders.
Wounded en route, she’s cared for by the enigmatic farm boy Evan (Alex Roe) who insists on accompanying her on her rescue mission. Meanwhile, her former high school crush, Ben (Nick Robinson), is in charge of a squad of kids that includes the feisty goth teen Ringer (Maika Monroe) and, inevitably, Ben.

Despite a couple of risible sequences as Cassie stares admiringly at Evan’s shirtless torso (setting up a Hunger Games-style romantic triangle) and the fact she regularly takes time out to keep a diary, this rattles along effectively, setting up intrigue from the start with a scene as she shoots an unarmed wounded man before flashing back to explain how she got to this point, and delivering a couple of clever, if not entirely surprising, plot twists towards the end. Moretz is a powerful anchor in a cast otherwise slightly low on charisma and Brit director J Blakeson (who made the clever misdirection thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed) delivers enough punch to make you want to see how the fight for survival continues.

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

The Good Dinosaur (PG) Set in a sort of vague Prehistoric Wild West, Pixar’s latest animation skews young and low on plot in a variation of the boy and his dog chestnut, the difference being that the boy is a dinosaur trying to find his way home and the dog is the feral young human with whom he forges a bond. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Vue Redditch, Star City)

The Hateful Eight (18) 

The Hateful EightChannelling Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns via Agatha Christie’s country house murder thrillers, Tarantino’s eighth feature is every bit as graphically visceral, coolly smart and brutally amoral as you’d expect. Snowbound in a Wyoming trading post, you’ve got bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), fellow bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), hangman Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), taciturn cowpoke Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), former Confederate General Smithers (Bruce Dern), Tom (Demian Bichir), the Mexican who claims to be looking after the place while the owners are away, and former Confederate marauder Chris Mannix (Warren Goggins), the new sheriff of Red Rock, where Daisy’s to be hung and the hunters will get their bounty. Not unreasonably, given the $10000 reward, Roth’s wary that someone may want to take his prisoner. He’s right, but not for the reasons he thinks. And, among the enforced company of strangers, who might not be who or what they claim?

It’s some 100 minutes before the first bullets fly, but then the blood quickly flows as the body count rises and truth purposes are revealed, the last act delivering reveal flashbacks to earlier that day. Laced with social commentary on America’s racial and political divides, the dialogue crackles with barns and gallows humour, the cast chewing eagerly on the meat it offers. Jackson, Russell and Goggins are terrific, but it’s arguably Jason Leigh who steals the show as the magnificently unpleasant Daisy, strangely unperturbed by her approaching fate. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (12A) The conclusion to the saga as, part of a propaganda mission, alongside Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), whose conditioning to hate her has still not been fully overcome, Katniss goes against increasingly manipulative District 13 leader Coin’s orders and determines to penetrate the Capitol and assassinate Snow. Intense, dark and with a high major character body count, this bows out in powerful style. (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

In The Heart of the Sea (12A) In 1819, under the captaincy of novice George Pollard Jr (Benjamin Walker) and experienced first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), the whaling ship The Essex set sail from Nantucket harbour in search of whale oil. Finding the usual area fished out, they headed into the South Pacific where, in November 1820, the ship was attacked and sunk by a giant white sperm whale, the survivors not finding rescue for a further three months at sea in the small row boats, resorting to cannibalism to stay alive.

Their story provided the basis for Herman Melville’s great American novel Moby-Dick and, framed by the last living survivor (Brendan Gleeson) unburdening his soul to Melville (Ben Wishaw), is retold here by Ron Howard, focusing on the clash between Pollard and Chase and the subsequent struggle to survive, stalked (though this never actually happened) by their aquatic nemesis. The onboard scenes are effective, especially as the ship is destroyed, and the performances are perfectly fine, but there’s very little tension, the dialogue creaks and some of the CGI is decidedly subpar. When Melville published Moby Dick it was savaged by the critics. Today it’s regarded as the great American novel. Howard’s resolutely underwhelming film is unlikely to enjoy a similar reappraisal. (MAC; Vue Star City)

Joy (12A) Her third film for director-writer David O’Russell, casts Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a divorced New York mother of three who, sharing house with her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) and divorced dysfunctional parents (Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen), has long since lost sight of the potential she once showed. That is until, cleaning up a broken class on the yacht of her dad’s widowed new Italian girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Huppert), she comes up with the idea of a self-wringing mop.

Persuading Trudy to invest, she eventually manages to get a shot on QVC, a new cable TV shopping channel run by Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) and, after an initial hiccup, her mop becomes a runaway success. However, the involvement of dodgy business partners, threatens to turn triumph into bankruptcy disaster until Joy finally takes matters into her own hands. A true American Dream fairy tale with a few bumps in the road along the way, narrated by Joy’s supportive grandmother (Diane Ladd), it’s uneven and at times eccentric, Lawrence delivering a straight and often intense dramatic performance that won her a Golden Globe Best Actress award while those around her are more caricatured, but, as inspirational against the odds entrepreneurial stories go this is like The Apprentice with brass knobs on. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

The Lady In The Van (12A)

vanSlightly plodding and tonally unsure adaptation of Alan Bennett’s autobiographical play about the eccentric old dear (a terrific Maggie Smith reprising her stage role) who lived in a van in his drive for 15 years. (Cineworld Solihull)

Man With A Movie Camera (U) Made in 1929, this, his first, is one of the most celebrated works of Russian experimental documentary pioneer Dziga Vertov, a narrative-free, poetic vision of urban Bolshevik Russian life. (Tue 2, Electric)

Le Mepris (15) Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 psychological drama about the disintegration of a screenwriter’s marriage during the making of a new film by Fritz Lang, who plays himself in a cast headed by Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance and Brigitte Bardot. (Tue 2/Wed 3, MAC)

Our Brand Is Crisis (15)
crisis 2It lacks the bite of previous political campaign satires like Primary Colours, Wag The Dog and The Ides of March, but, directed by David Gordon Green, Sandra Bullock delivers a strong turn as ‘Calamity’ Jane Bodine, a neurotic political strategist recovering from a breakdown whose persuaded to take on Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), a candidate for the Bolivian presidency (a position he held until his policies forced him out of office) who’s way behind in the polls.

Reckoning there’s nothing to work with, she barely involves herself in the disastrous attempts to boost Castillo’s ratings until she finds her manipulative arch rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) is looking after the man of the people poll leader,. Now it becomes personal, as Bodine transforms from burn out to a ruthless and intimidating combatant. Based on a 2005 documentary of the same name, it suffers from a narrative that, while there’s some sly pleasure to be had in the sparring, is essentially just about who can pull the dirtiest tricks to discredit their rival’s man while appearing to hold the moral high ground. Nevertheless, Bullock is terrific, her quirky tics bringing extra dimension to the character, showing a neurotic vulnerability while still being an imposingly commanding presence. (Vue Star City)

The Revenant (15)

REVIt looks like a close fight between this, Spotlight and Mad Max for the Film/Director Oscars, but Leonardo DiCaprio will finally get to walk away with a golden man for his portrayal of 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 oftimes extremely graphic 156 minutes you’ll need every bit the same fortitude as Glass. (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)

Ride Along 2 (12A)
ride alongA 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Room (15) With several of the other major trophies already under her belt, Brie Larson seems a safe bet for Best Actress in Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own bestseller. Helmed by Britain’s Lenny Abrahamson (himself among the director nominations) it also features an astonishing performance from Jacob Tremblay as Jack, the six-year-old son of Larson’s Joy who has never experienced the world or life outside of the 10×10 garden shed in which his mother had been kept captive since she was abducted as a teenager. Eventually, Joy enlists her son to pull off a daring escape, freeing them both from the claustrophobic prison, as the drama shifts it focus to how Jack adapts to a world he’s never known other than through his mother’s stories and interference-riddled TV programmes, while Joy endures a post-traumatic breakdown trying to cope with her regained freedom and feelings of guilt over her son. There’s some obvious plot holes and the emotional charge isn’t as strong in the second act, but, fuelled by its terrific central performances (a small but potent cameo by William H. Macy as Joy’s father), this powerful psychological drama will stay with you. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; MAC; Showcase Walsall)

Sisters (15) Discovering their folks have sold the family Florida home and are moving into a retirement condo, middle-aged siblings, Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura (Amy Poehler) decide to throw one final house party. Except this time, terminally sensible Maura wants to let her hair down and for party animal Kate to stay sober as the “designated mom”. Add to the mix that, embarrassed by mom’s irresponsibility, Kate’s teenage daughter has been secretly staying with her aunt, but has come to Florida under the impression her mom’s got a job and they’ll both be moving in with her grandparents. This is basically all a preamble to the party itself where, with their old unfulfilled classmates, nice guy neighbour James (Ike Barinholtz) and Kate’s school nemesis Brinda (Maya Rudolph) indulging in booze and drugs, everything descends into predictable house trashing chaos before more lessons about growing up, facing responsibilities and being who you are not who you think you were are duly trotted out. Not consistently funny, but the central deadpan performances are a treat. (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. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)

Spectre (12A) Overlong perhaps and lacking the emotional gut punch of Skyfall (and without a single BAFTA nomination), but, peppered with allusions to many previous Bond movies, this is still suitably dark and dynamic as Daniel Craig goes maverick in search of the mastermind behind all his torments and funds it closer to home than he’d imagined. Good to see Ralph Fiennes making solid and complex fist of the new M too. (Vue Star City)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (12A)

star wars 1With 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 (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.

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

Sunrise (U) A study of betrayal, love and reconciliation, Murnau’s silent cinema masterpiece sees a man (George O’Brien) from a small fishing village seduced into a plan to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor) during a boat trip to town. However, when they arrive, they rediscover their love for each other. (Sat 30, 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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