The Hateful Eight (18)
A bunch of strangers, confined to a single room or location, and one of them a likely killer. Who would have reckoned Quentin Tarantino for an Agatha Christie fan? But her familiar ‘drawing room thriller’ template provides the basis for this cool, stylish, brutally amoral and graphically violent Western, his eighth film to date.
Divided into chapter headings and filmed in widescreen Ultra Panavision 70mm (but that’s only showing at the Odeon Leicester Sq, in the version with the Overture and Intermission, we just get the standard 168 min digital release), it’s set in a remote mountainous Wyoming landscape just after the end of the Civil War. Gradually a stagecoach comes into view, pulling up when hailed by a man on foot. Inside the coach is John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a grizzled bounty hunter nicknamed the hangman, who’s taking his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (a revelatory unpleasant Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to be hung. The man in the road is another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former Union Army officer who carries a letter purporting to have been written to him by Abraham Lincoln. He’s taking a couple of corpses to Red Rock to get his money. After some negotiation, a lift is agreed. A little further down the road, another passenger is added, former Confederate marauder Chris Mannix (Warren Goggins), who says he’s the new sheriff of Red Rock.
With the weather worsening, they pull in to Minnie’s Haberdashery where they encounter another group of travellers, the aloof Joe Cage (Michael Madsen) and Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), an Englishman who says he’s the hangman due to a trading post, preside over Daisy’s execution. Also at the snowbound trading post are Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a racist former Confederate General come looking for his missing son, and Tom (Demian Bichir), a Mexican who says he’s looking after the place while Minnie and her man are off visiting her mother. Warren is suspicious of Tom, Ruth is suspicious of everyone, Mannix is in awe of Smithers, Smithers and Warren have bad blood between them, and Daisy seems singularly unbothered about her impending fate. Inevitably, not everyone is what or who they claim and, although the first shot is long in coming, by the end of this long and bloody story, cabin fever and paranoia will see everyone either dead or bloodied.
As you would expect from Tarantino, the dialogue is witty, sharp and laced with both the ubiquitous n word and some pertinent social commentary (“only time black folks is safe is when white folks is unarmed”, observes Warren), the cast of characters offering opportunity for comment on America’s historical and contemporary racial and political divides.
The taut slowburn storytelling involves various flashbacks and last act reveals, not to mention numerous nods to Western genreists Leone (Ennio Morricone provides the score, although the end credits feature Roy Orbison’s There Won’t Be Many Coming Home from 60s Civil War comedy Western The Fastest Guitar Alive), Peckinpah and Ford as well as several reminders of Reservoir Dogs and, naturally, gallows humour hangs high and the cast swing on the rope with relish, Jackson gleefully chewing his way through the barbed dialogue while Goggins brings an extra comic note to his good ole’ boy character.
The title is, of course a red herring, not just because the stagecoach driver makes nine and, as anyone who’s read the credits will know, Channing Tatum is going to make an appearance at some point, but, then, that’s part and parcel of Tarantino’s teasingly suspenseful and visceral approach. One he applies here in masterful and compelling style. (From Fri 8: Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Summoned home to his parents’ remote, squalid cottage to help his aged mother (Gemma Jones) with his disapproving, infirm and incontinent psychiatrist father (Richard Johnson), teacher Daniel (Daniel Cerqueira) finally gets him to move from the sofa into a special bed and accept visiting nurse. But neither mom nor dad seem camapble of adapting to the new circusmtances. Tom Browne’s dark comedy tells of a marriage sustained only by fear and familiarity and how time, age and illness changes parents into children and children into parents. (Mon 11-Thu 14:MAC)
Black Mass (18) After a string of duds, Johnny Depp redeems himself with a ferocious turn in the ultra-violent true story of Whitey Bulger, a South Boston criminal who, strking a deal with childhood buddy John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) became an FBI informant to help take down the Mafia, the agency turning a blind eye to his activities in return. (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 favourite 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. (Showcase Walsall; Until Tue 5: MAC)
Brooklyn (12A) Saoirse Ronan heads the Best Actress tips for her outstanding portrayal of a young Irish girl who, in search of a better life, leaves her small-minded village in 50s Ireland for the US, boards with a bunch of extrovert girls in a house run by an eccentric landlady (Julie Walters), gets a job in a department store and falls for a young but poor Italian. But then tragedy calls her home, where she’s courted by a well to do local lad (Domhnal Gleeson) and finds herself caught between two worlds and two choices. (Thu 14: Odeon Broadway Plaza)
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 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; 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 could well do so again, with director Tom Hooper classically styled factional story of Lili Elbe, an early receipent of sex reassignment surgery.
A successful Danish landscape artist, Einar Wegener (Redmayne) is married to less successful portraitist Gerda (Alicia Vikander); 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 mesmerizing work. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Dr Zhivago (PG)
It looks and feels a little dated today, but, starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, David Lean’s sweeping epic adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel of doomed love set against the backdrop of Russia’s October Revolution remains a cinema classic. (Fri 8-Tue 12:MAC)
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 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, 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. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall)
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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
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 while those around her are more caricatured, but, as inspirational against the odds entrepreneurial stories go this is like The Apprenctice with brass knobs on. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Lesson (15)
A high school English teacher and part time translator in Bulgaria, on learning of a theft from one of her students, Nadezhda sets out to find and punish the culprit. While doing so, her personal and professional life changes drastically and, faced with losing her home and desperately short of money, in the face of economic realityshe finds herself questioning the principles of honesty that she teaches. (Wed 13/Thu 14:MAC)
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 cosnsistently funny, but the central deadpan performances are a treat. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Vue Redditch, 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 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Spectre (12A) Overlong perhaps and lacking the emotional gut punch of Skyfall, 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (12A) With George Lucas taking a backseat, director JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt dispel sour memories of Episodes I-III with a triumphant resurrection that may tread familiar narrative ground, but does so with a fresh heart. Set some 30 years on from the destruction of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing and the dark forces have regrouped as the First Order, its stormtroopers led by the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who possesses both the Force and a red light sabre.
Built around the search for a map revealing Skywalker’s location, the film’s basically a lengthy chase between Ren and his forces and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and renegade stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) who have come into possession of BB8, a droid belonging to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot for the Resistance now headed by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), that contains the vital key. Their eventually joined by returning legends Han Solo (a soulful Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as the plot turns into a race against the clock to stop the First Order launching planet-destroying weapon as the force also proves strong in another of the new characters. Rattling along from explosive opening to nail-biting climax by way of a stunning shock revelation and death, the force is strong with this one. (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)
Steve Jobs (12A)
Set around three presentations, Danny Boyle’s biopic of how, from fall from Apple grace to rise to Apple and iMac triumph, Jobs became the heart of the digital revolution. Essentially a film of people talking, it is compelling viewing with Michael Fassbender on towering form as the driven and often cold and ruthless Jobs, his relationship with the girl he refused to acknowledge as his daughter especially prickly, with an excdellent Kate Winslet is almost unrecognisable as his right hand woman Joanna Hoffman. The final scene between Fassbender and Jeff Daniels as John Scully, the former Apple CEO who was responsible for him being fired, is masterclass cinema. (Fri 8-Tue 12:MAC)
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
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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
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