Director: Florian Gallenberger (2016)

This handsome historical prison drama is shackled by weak dialogue, a pedestrian pace and an unconvincing central relationship.

Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl play Lena and Daniel, a fictional couple caught up in General Pinochet’s military coup of Chile in 1973.

The force of history rests heavy on Watson’s slender shoulders, weighing down a performance which is far from her strongest.

When political activist Daniel is arrested and sent to a remote charitable mission ran by a cult, flight attendant Lena infiltrates the camp ‘Colonia Dignidad’ to rescue him.

It’s the personal fiefdom of a messianic and abusive leader who uses physical and psychological torture to keep his followers in line.

Although staged on an impressive scale it, the finale descends into silliness as door slamming trolly dollies defy the mass ranks of the Chilean army.





Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Director: Mandie Fletcher (2016)

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley stagger into cinemas in the big screen version of their little lamented TV show.

It’s smug, self regarding, laboured, rushed, cheap and never funny.

The pair star as champagne swilling, cash strapped, celeb haunting idiots Edina and Patsy, an obnoxious PR guru and her bessie mate magazine editor.

The characters started life as a sketch on The French And Saunders Show (1990). A sitcom series was commissioned for the BBC and ran for three series from 1992 to 1995, with intermittent specials through to 2012.

Within the first five minutes the loathsome pair have interrupted a fashion show and fallen drunk out of a taxi. So normal service is resumed.

The cackling, snorting duo cause a mini media storm when Edina accidentally pushes Kate Moss off a wall and into the Thames.

With the model presumed dead, Edina and Patsy head to Cannes to escape the media furore and find a rich husband or two.

Attempts at giving Edina some depth are laughable, but not in a good way.

Series regulars Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Jane Horrocks are pressed back into action for little effect, except perhaps for offering moral support to Saunders who also wrote the script.

Neither the writing and performances have aged well. Jokes involve people walking into walls, wearing funny outfits and swearing.

Adding stale references to twitter, tazers and vaping fail to freshen the air of desperation which hangs over this sorry exercise in sycophantic snivelling to the fashion industry.

There’s a legion of cameos such as Stella McCartney, Alexa Chung, Sadie Frost and Suki Waterhouse. The inclusion of people like this should be the punchline of jokes. They shouldn’t be feted for turning up and being themselves.

Fans of the show may possibly find something to enjoy but for everyone else it’s a witless, wretched waste of time and energy. Especially mine.



Central Intelligence

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber (2016)

In every sense the world’s biggest movie star, Dwayne Johnson’s huge charisma, charm and frame dominates this entertaining action comedy.

As a rogue CIA agent Robbie Weirdich, Johnson is like Jason Bourne on comedy steroids, combining a tremendous sense of goofy fun with the ability to fight his way out of a kitchen using only a banana.

The name of the character name is a pointer to the sophistication of the film’s humour.

Robbie is framed for the death of his partner and so lands unexpectedly on the doorstep of Calvin, his erstwhile best friend from high school.

Squeaky voiced comic Kevin Hart is refreshingly restrained and occasionally even funny as Calvin.

In order to accommodate the pneumatic presence of Johnson, Hart is squeezed into a rare straight man role. Although rarely allowed to ad lib in his usual shouty style, whenever Hart wriggles free the film stalls.

Once the king of the high school prom and predicted for greatness, Calvin is now a dull accountant and is having difficulties at home. Danielle Nicolet is sweetly concerned as his beautiful wife, Maggie.

Calvin reluctantly teams up with his erstwhile buddy to attempt to recover some military files while being pursued by the CIA.

Through all the chases, fights, escapes, interrogation, torture and some terrifying relationship therapy, it’s the strong comic rapport between the leads which keeps us engaged.

Amy Ryan is keeps a straight face as an icy CIA chief, Aaron Paul makes an impression in a small role and Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy cameo.

The story is predictable but Central Intelligence blasts along with a fun energy, decent stunts and some surprisingly violent action. Though not an over abundance of intelligence.







Notes On Blindness

Director: Pete Middleton, James Spinney (2016)

This deliberately dreamlike documentary is an elegy to Professor John Hull who in his forties went totally blind.

Steering away from exploring how society deals with sufferers of this disability, it’s a deeply personal account skilfully stitched together from his audiocassette dairies.

These helped him understand his condition and in his words ‘retain the fullness of his humanity’.

Actors enact scenes from his life and lip synch to his family’s recorded voices. His daughter adds welcome moments of brevity.

To convey how John feels the world we see myriad textures of grass, stone, wood, leather and plastic. Vivid nightmares are recreated to represent his periodical depressions which are most aggressive at Christmas.

John muses on the nature of visual memory and how it relies on constant stimulation to maintain itself. Scenes of rainstorms inside his house offer echoes of Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), itself an essay on the power of perception and memory.

Finding beauty in the sound of the rain and retaining his Christian faith, John comes to view his blindness as a gift from god and immediately raises the question of what to do with it.

With tremendous dignity and grace under pressure, a stubbornly thoughtful and quietly inspiring figure is gradually revealed.



Director: Stefano Sollima (2016)

This stylish and epic thriller is a lurid neon vision of modern Italy drenched in the traditional local virtues of ambition, power and corruption.

It’s covers fictional events in the five days prior to the real life resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the midst of a national debt crisis 12 November 2011.

The overdose of an underage prostitute threatens to derail a lucrative land deal and results in a bloody gang war.

Politicians, businessman and mobsters become involved in kidnap, blackmail, murder and a shoot out in a shopping mall.

Filippo Malgradi’s corrupt politician, Elio Germano cowardly pimp, Giulia Elettra Gorietti’s hooker, Greta Scarano’s junkie and Claudio Amendola’s enforcer are some of the memorable characters in this brutal, sexy and skilfully told tale.



Director: Omer Fast (2016)

A heavy sense of deja vu hangs over this time twisting British thriller.

Based on Tom McCarthy’s 2005 cult novel it’s too caught up in its exploration of reality and perception to offer much entertainment.

A random accident leaves city worker Tom physically and emotionally traumatised. Tom Sturridge is suitably intense and obsessive but he’s a humourless figure who’s hard to like.

Having received millions of pounds in compensation, he begins bringing his fragmented memories to life in exact detail.

Tom’s haunted by memories, visited by an ex girlfriend, gun carrying thugs and an old friend who warns him against trust anyone.

Fans of Donnie Darko (2001) will imagine they’ve seen it all before. Albeit without the giant rabbit.


Elvis & Nixon

Director: Liza Johnson (2016)

Elvis Presley enters the building in this rocking good dramatisation of the day he dropped by the White House to visit president Nixon.

They are played with competitive brilliance by Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey.

These global heads of music and politics met on December 21 1970. This is in the wake of the optimism of the luna landing and before the crucifixion of the American psyche caused by fall of Saigon.

Brooding in his Graceland mansion and disgusted by the state of the world, Elvis flies to Washington DC. Guards are bemused when he rocks up to the White House and asks to see the President.

Nixon is persuaded a joint photo will help him capture the youth vote. Elvis wants to become a Federal Agent At Large, in order to infiltrate the underworld and fight crime.

A smart script milks the meeting for humour and a comparison of their homes flags up the similarities between the isolated, paranoid and self made pair.

They bond over a love for their daughters and share fears for America’s future in the face of a youth culture neither understand.

Their defining relationships are with flunkies who sacrifice their own lives to serve. Alex Pettyfer and Colin Hanks provide very effective support as Elvis acolyte Jerry Schilling and White House aide Egil Krogh.

The emotional core of the film lies in the gap between the differing attitudes of these characters to their bosses.

With hunched shoulders and wrists flashing like a snakes tongue, Kevin Spacey captures the voice and mannerisms of Tricky Dicky. A broad performance rather than deep but we enjoy it almost as much as the actor does.

Nixon has been essayed several times on screen. In Frost/Nixon (2008) in a best supporting Oscar winning turn by  Frank Langella. Anthony Hopkins played him in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) and Dan Hedaya was a Nixon surrogate in Dick (1999). My personal favourite Nixon is James Le Gros in surf and bank robbing thriller Point Break (1991).

In a film career of increasingly questionable quality Elvis starred in 31 movies. Viva Las Vegas (1964) was his last excellent film and it’s notable it was released the same year as The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the band who pushed Elvis aside as they imported a new brand of music to the US.

Kurt Russell was enjoyable in TV movie Elvis (1979) and Val Kilmer was a charismatic gold lame-clad spiritual guide in the Tarantino scripted True Romance (1993).

The brave decision not to feature any Elvis songs in Elvis & Nixon prevents us from being distracted by miming or less than perfect singing.

Shannon looks even less like Elvis than I do, but his astute and captivating performance sidesteps caricature to give us the man and the myth.

Still capable of causing hysteria in secretaries and receptionists wherever he goes, Elvis is thoughtful and proudly polite, employing his charm and celebrity status to open doors.

Deadly serious in his intentions and brilliant at relating to people, he also seems a couple of places removed from our everyday reality.

This is an existential Elvis struggling with the weight of his own legacy, gold medallions and sunglasses. One who recognises the gap between the lonesome rockabilly and the global superstar and is calculating enough to use the latter to achieve the objectives of the former.

The meeting in the Oval Office is all too brief and being a consummate performer, the king keeps us wanting more.


The Secret Life of Pets

Director: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney (2016)

Furry foes compete to be top dog in this irresistible animated adventure guaranteed to get your tail wagging.

It’s powered with a manic zeal to please its audience and full of infectious sunny mirth and giggly silliness.

Created by the demented makers of the Despicable Me movies, it shamelessly milks brand loyalty to encourage you into the cinema.

This means we’re treated to a marvellous mini minion adventure prior to the film and lots of references throughout.

Max is a Jack Russell Terrier who lives in domestic bliss with his owner Katie and considers himself the luckiest dog in New York and.

His happiness is disturbed when Katie brings home another rescue pet and Max is forced to share his turf with the much larger dog called Duke.

They must bury their bone of contention when they become lost in the big city, are chased by animal catchers and hunted by a revolutionary rabbit and his gang of rampaging recruits. Huge snakes, hungry crocodiles and feral cats add to the madcap chaos.

Meanwhile the posse of friends who set out on the rescue include a hawk, a tabby, a budgie and an elderly basset hound on wheels.

As Max and Duke bark, bicker and bond in adversity as their situation begins to bite, the action rockets through the city, veering from vertiginous skyscrapers to the depths of the sewers.

There’s violent slapstick, bright colours, wall flattening pace and a fabulously funny fantasy in a hot dog factory.

The voice talents of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Steve Coogan and Lake Bell are great fun but my pet hate Kevin Hart never stops shouting his suspiciously ad libbed sounding lines.

Be warned; if you kids don’t have a pet now, they’ll want one after watching this.



Gods Of Egypt

Director: Alex Proyas (2016)

With a budget of $140M this is possibly the most dull and cheap looking special effects spectacular you’ll be unfortunate to suffer.

Mortals and gods battling to save ancient Egypt in a camp and glossy action adventure romp should be huge amounts of fun.

10 feet tall gods bleed liquid gold and ride chariots pulled by giant beetles. Plus there are enormous fire breathing snakes and ox headed warriors.

But due to a terrible script, laboured jokes and painful dialogue it’s sadly far less entertaining than the sum of its ridiculous parts.

Also it’s terribly edited and badly dubbed with a voice over dropped in to fill – or possibly distract from – the gaps in the inconsistent story.

Humans are referred to as mortals even though gods are regularly killed or threatened with death.

The heroes are dull, women are inconsequential plot devices, no one knows who the main character is and it’s left to the bad guys to provide what fun there is.

The gorgeous set and costume design is wasted by appalling shoddy CGI, terrible storytelling and some awful acting.

Gerard Butler’s reputation survives because the Scots actor embraces the nonsense, strutting manfully as Set, god of the desert and war. He brings the noise and the muscle and when he and the excellent Elodie Yung are off screen everything flags, in the manner of the inflatable pyramid in Despicable Me 2 (2013).

It’s a shame the majority of the cast don’t follow his cue, offering light weight performances which are dwarfed by the sets and lost in the gravity free CGI.

Butler goes full Sparta, reprising the roaring camp egotism of his skirt and sandalled fighting king Leonidas, from Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006).

Bored after a thousand years of peace, he stages a violent coup over his nephew. Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is astonishingly dull as the rightful king Horus left blind and in exile.

Equalling him for a lack of charisma are Brenton Thwaites and Courtney Eaton. As Bek and Zaya they are the happiest, healthiest and most handsomest slaves in Hollywood.

When Zaya dies Bek strikes a deal with Horus. In return for helping Horus reclaiming his eyes and his throne, Horus will use his power to return Zaya to the land of the living.

They trek about the desert, raiding tombs, visiting gods and fighting monsters. Joining them from Netflix’s Daredevil is the under used Yung.

Despite Hathor being the only female character on show with anything approaching complexity, she’s eventually sidelined and suffers the usual fate of strong headed women in movies. Being punished for her promiscuity would be wrong even if Hathor wasn’t the goddess of love.

Hathor’s absence from the rooftop finale leaves us with musclebound mahogany mugs battering each other as a giant space worm attempts to eat Egypt. Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.

Fresh from Captain America: Civil War (2016) Chadwick Boseman out camps out as Thoth the god of knowledge. In an ’80s romcom he’d be classed as the gay black best friend.

A strongly Australian supporting cast sees Bryan Brown, Bruce Spence and Geoffrey Rush failing to be embarrassed as various gods. Abbey Lee was last seen in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) alongside Courtney Eaton as wives of Immortan Joe.

The growling muffle of Kenneth Ransom’s voice of the Sphinx leaves his riddle indecipherable, never mind unsolvable.

With ancient gods reimagined as superheroes, for much of the running time this feels more like a retread of the recent X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) than anything Ray Harryhausen may have conjured up. And about as much fun.

It’s a long fall from grace for Alex Proyas whose directorial debut was the intelligently composed sci fi thriller Dark City (1998).

Gods Of Egypt has been criticised for a lack of Egyptian actors. Maybe they realised how bad it was going to be and decided against it.



Tale Of Tales

Director: Matteo Garrone (2016)

Full of deliciously dark deeds and black comic moments, this fabulously grotesque fairytale is definitely not one for the kids.

In the grand tradition of European folk stories it’s a moral foray through a murky forest of avarice, gluttony, madness, magic and death.

With a minimal of dialogue its entwining stories are expertly twisted together by a marvellous mix of strong performances, stunning costume design, incredible locations and beautiful cinematography.

The loosely connected stories of three medieval monarchs begin with Salma Hayek’s Queen who is longing for a child.

A cloaked figure guarantees her a child but warns of a potentially lethal price. The Queen’s husband must kill a sea monster and its heart must be cooked by a virgin and then eaten by the Queen.

Dishonesty causes repercussions which pass down the years.

Meanwhile Vincent Cassel’s debauched king courts a singing maiden without having seen her face. Toby Jones is a wonderfully distracted king who organises a tournament to find a prince to marry his daughter.

Ogres, giant fleas, leeches,  jugglers, fire eaters, dwarves and a fat lady add flavour to this witches brew of story telling. A circus troupe adds a layer of theatricality and make believe to the mythic environment.

Roccascalegna castle is one of several perfectly chosen examples of Italian architecture which anchor the extraordinary events in our imagination.

None of the royal plans ends in the way they or us expect as they discover lies and self interest have severe and deserved consequences.

The final shot is a breathtakingly beautiful comment on the frailty and difficulty of life, offering a degree of compassion to those who have suffered through their own weakness.