Jason Bourne

Director: Paul Greengrass (2016) BBFC cert 12A

Matt Damon returns to the action treadmill for a fourth outing as the amnesiac assassin in this flat fifth episode of the franchise.

He was already an Oscar winning star when he powered 2002’s The Bourne Identity to usher in a new wave of inventively violent thrillers grounded in the real world.

Here references to whistleblower Edward Snowden and wikileaks sit beside a social media entrepreneur and European democratic protests.

The impact on cinema was to invigorate the competition and in 2006 Daniel Craig duly wowed the world as a gritty James Bond in Casino Royale.

So it’s curious at a time when Craig is supposedly stepping out of 007’s tux, the 45 year old Damon is jumping back into the fray.

He’s in tremendous physical shape and grimly charismatic but there is a sense of what was once the future is now past its best.

The plot reheats the familiar routine of global games of violent cat and mouse. Tommy Lee Jones is the grizzled new CIA director wanting Bourne dead and Alicia Vikander is his ambitious analyst who has murky motives for helping our hero. There’s even a new black ops programme named Ironhand in the works.

Fundamentally the story is of the CIA engaging a huge amount of time and resources to pursue a vendetta against its own former operatives in order to protect what we must laughably call its good name.

This leaves the audience as bemused bystanders to a purely internal affair with no investment in the outcome.

There is no sex, romance, drugs, booze or even coffee in the life of the humourless and puritan patriot, making Bourne difficult to root for.

Previously uncovered secrets of Bourne’s personal history are uncovered to jumpstart the plot. It’s a desperate move reminiscent of Charles Bronson’s Deathwish (1974-1994) series which went to increasingly ludicrous lengths to find new family and friends to sacrifice in order the vigilante could once more shoot bad guys with impunity.

Greengrass gives the action some impact and the stunt crew earn their bonus. Athens stages a brilliant riot but by the time Bourne is gambling his life on the streets of Las Vegas, I’d forgotten why I ever cared.




Author: The JT Leroy Story

Director: Jeff Feuerzeig (2016) BBFC cert 15

Deceit and desperate self loathing punctuate this gender twisting documentary based on a real life literary hoax.

Former phone sex operator Laura Albert became the toast of the New York art scene in the 1990’s when she wrote a fictitious memoir under in the guise of JT Leroy, a HIV infected fifteen year old rent boy.

Being the wrong sex and fifteen years too old to convincingly act the role for publicity interviews, Albert employed her wig wearing sister in law to pretend to be Leroy while Albert pretended to be ‘Speedie’, ‘his’ manager.

Having achieved cult celebrity status, Albert’s writing career morphs into music performance,  TV writing and movie adaptations. This includes a collaboration with director Gus Van Sant and appearances at the Cannes film festival.

Among those unaware of the true nature of JT and Speedie. There’s a delicious moment when U2’s Bono summons her to bestow some celebrity advice.

Having successfully maintained the deceit for a decade, Albert was unprepared for the media backlash and family betrayal when New York Times uncovered the hoax in 2005.

Unable to accept responsibility, Albert’s confrontational self justification points to her troubled childhood as the root cause of any supposed wrong doing.

Albert’s impassioned testimony is supported by line drawn animations and home video footage. But paranoia seeps from someone who seems to have recorded her every phone call on cassette tapes.

And having being successfully sued for fraud makes Albert an extremely unreliable narrator of her own fall from grace.



Finding Dory

Director: Andrew Stanton (2016) BBFC cert U

After storming the US box office this underwater animated adventure finally arrives in the UK and is full of fintastic summer fun for the little ones.

A superior sequel to Finding Nemo (2003), it’s exciting, warm and optimistic. Pixar’s visual creatives demonstrate their astonishingly high levels of technical ability, bathing scenes in breathtaking pools of beauty.

The inclusivity, subtle eco warnings and traditional message of achieving one’s potential complement and provide an anchor to the nonstop knockabout action scenes.

Stanton’s directorial career hit tremendous heights with A Bug’s Life (1998), Finding Nemo (2003) and Wall-E (2007), before his career stalled with the overly maligned mega budget flop John Carter (2012). Now combining writing duties with direction, Stanton has delivered an absolute charmer.

Set a year after the original box office smash Finding Nemo, an accident leaves forgetful fish Dory suffering flashbacks of her long lost parents.

When Dory sets off on a perilous journey to be reunited with them, she finds herself on a voyage of self discovery, steering through deep and dark currents on the way.

Ellen DeGeneres is the emotional centre of the film as the voice of Dory, essaying a quiet change from annoyingly needy to gently confident. Female characters are generally more proactive, resourceful and inspirational than the men.

Along for the ride are her friends Nemo and his over-protective father Marlin. Hayden Rolence and Albert Brooks buddy up nicely as the clownfish.

Their expedition leads the trio to a marine sea life rescue institute in California. Once inside they inventively navigate their way via water pipes, buckets, cups and a coffee pot. Even the best intentioned of the humans are hazardous and the children especially so.

Sigourney Weaver cameos as the intercom announcer on the institute’s PA system. Her messianic delivery offers a zealous refrain of ‘rescue, rehabilitation and release’.

We’re treated to familiar faces from the first film such as the surfer turtles and Brit actors Idris Elba and Dominic West are the voices of bullying sea lions.

Sporting a variety of physical and mental disabilities, creatures of different species come harmoniously together to make a significant contribution to Dory’s quest. They are defined by their loyalty and bravery not their disabilities or the colour of their fins.

As well as Dory’s memory issues and Nemo’s underdeveloped fin, Hank the octopus is missing a tentacle, a whale shark is near-sighted, a beluga whale has lost his echolocation and a common loon called Becky has vision issues. Loon is a type of bird, I’m not being nasty.

An adoryable tale from start to finish.






Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari (2016) BBFC cert

Described by the filmmakers as a buddy movie without the buddies, this black comedy satirises the competitive machismo of modern men.

It’s acutely observed and men everywhere will squirm uncomfortably at with recognition at the petty behaviour.

Six average middle aged blokes are enjoying a fishing trip on a luxury yacht when one suggests a game. The winner will be declared ‘best in general’ with the prize a chevalier signet ring.

They set each other a series of challenges with each man scoring everyone else in a note book. Recipes, ringtones and sexual relationships are all under scrutiny and inevitably there is some pointed measuring of body parts.

The captains’ voice over the tannoy suggests the spirit of reality TV, but also harks back to army camp announcer Radar from M.A.S.H. (1970). Robert Altman’s anti-war satire offered a far more scathing examination of humanity in a regimented environment.

As holiday activities of skinny dipping, jet skiing, wind surfing become areas of conflict, so collusion, cheating and the pleasure place becomes more a floating prison.

Amid the ridiculous and pointless competitiveness, the film offers sympathy for the men who are prisoners to their natures and submit to vice to cope with the pressures of scrutiny and ambition.


Star Trek Beyond

Director: Justin Lin (2016) BBFC 12A

Beam yourself aboard the starship Enterprise for a non stop rocket ride of outer space adventure.

This third film in the rebooted sci fi franchise is a solid improvement on the muddled second episode Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Lin has directed 4 of the Fast Furious films and he’s energised this series after JJ Abrams’ faltering tenure. There’s every suspicion Abrams’ head being turned by the opportunity to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2014) resulted in the mess that was Into Darkness.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Zaldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho and Simon Pegg slip easily into their natty new uniforms as Captain James T. Kirk, Mr Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scottie. Though it’s Karl Urban as the irascible Dr McCoy who is gifted the best lines.

Sofia Boutella enjoys herself in an aggressively  physical role as Jaylah, a non human. In the Federation, everyone is an alien. There’s no return for Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus and at no point are any women required to pose in their underwear, a gratuitous moment which embarrassed Into Darkness even more than the script did.

While on a rescue mission through an unchartered nebula, the Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of giant insect like steel spaceships.

Most of the crew are killed or kidnapped, the Enterprise is destroyed and the captain is stranded on a nearby planet. It’s home to a powerful warlord called Krall, played with muscular menace by Idris Elba.

There’s a jaw dropping action sequence on a beautifully designed space station, anti gravity combat and a mysterious ancient alien weapon. I can’t stress how fabulous the space station is. It’s fragile grace is one of the most remarkable pieces of design I’ve seen this cinema year.

As well as starring, uber Trekkie Pegg co-wrote. In his best work for years the script cleaves closely to the soaring spirit of joshing optimism and adventure of the original 1960’s TV show.

There’s a touching moment of remembrance for Leonard Nimoy who essayed the part of Spock for many years and the film is dedicated to Anton Yelchin who sadly died this year.

A fourth film has already been announced and on this form the series is set in the words of Mr Spock, ‘to live long and prosper’.



Director: Steven Spielberg (2016) BBFC cert PG

Prepare to be charmed into submission by the giant heart of this moving and magical family adventure.

Combining the cinematic skill of Steven Spielberg and the resources of Disney, it’s a respectful and delightful adaption of Roald Dahl’s ever popular children’s book (pub. 1982).

A seamless mix of live action, motion capture special effects and beautiful design bring to vivid life the tale of young Sophie who is spirited away to a mysterious world by the BFG, the Big Friendly Giant.

English actress Ruby Barnhill offers an honest, engaging and sweetly unaffected debut, undoubtedly benefitting from Spielberg’s expertise in drawing out the best in his child performers.

Conscientious in her observance of the witching hour, brave and bookish Sophie is snatched from her orphanage after failing to obey the three rules of not staying in bed, going to the window or looking behind the curtain.

Here there are shades of the dark festive feature Gremlins (1984) which was executive produced by Spielberg.

Once in giant country she overcomes her initial fear to establish a deep bond of trust with her new friend. Played with wounded dignity by last year’s best actor Oscar winner Mark Rylance, the BFG has enormous and expressive ears and lives in a fantastical grotto.

He spends his time mangling words, catching dreams and being bullied by a tribe of stupid and even bigger giants. Despite being 50 foot tall cannibals, for all their size there’s sadly not meat on the bones of their characters of Fleshlumpeater and his gang.

These action moments lack the director’s usual invention and feel almost rote by his own high standards. Plus there’s little sense of giant country being more than a field and a hill.

Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall offer reliable support and there’s an entertaining and  possibly treasonous turn from Penelope Wilton as Queen Elizabeth II.

With Spielberg having gathered his usual editor, cinematographer and composer, quality glows through this beautifully crafted adventure. Between them Michael Kahn, Janusz Kaminski and John Williams have 10 Oscar wins, 9 of which were for Spielberg films. This may not be their greatest individual or collective work but it’s fiercely, soaringly professional. Rylance of course won his Oscar for Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies (2015).

The BFG is Dedicated to its late screenwriter Melissa Mathieson who sadly passed away during production. She also wrote Spielberg’s masterpiece E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and it’s not hard to find familiar elements of lonely imaginative children being befriended by strange creatures.

Spielberg is far more interested in exploring the growing relationship between the girl and the giant than the scant story, choosing to focus not on plot but on the way in which the unlikely friends affect an emotional change in each other.

It’s worth pondering whom of Sophie and the BFG really occupies the parenting role. Sophie encourages the BFG to challenge and improve himself. She mothers this boy who describes himself as old as time; a boy who has never grown up.

There are also visual nods to Peter Pan in a beached pirate ship and Tinkerbell-like fireflies. Spielberg’s take on J. M. Barrie’s tale resulted with the lamentable Hook (1991). This is a superior and more faithful adaption and can be seen as an apologia for that noticeable blot on his CV.

Dreams are presented as sparkling sprites which the BFG catches before trapping them as lighting in a bottle and firing them into the minds of the sleeping public. His cave is a magical dream factory.

This is the BFG as an avatar for Spielberg, his most personal and visible on screen self. The filmmakers biography resonates with the BFG. A lonely child and victim of bullying who seeks to be left alone to work his magic and make people happy. Plus cinema here is presented as a campaigning cultural force when the BFG is able to access government and influence policy.

In this reading the giants become interfering studio executives. Or possibly film critics.

A one time former prodigy of cinema, the BFG finds Spielberg in the mood of a mischievous and avuncular grandfather. This is his glorious gift to the grandchildren of the world.



Ice Age: Collision Course

Director: Mike Thurmeier, Galen T. Chu (2016) BBFC cert U

There seems to be no stopping this prehistoric animated franchise as it cheerily grinds on its way across the savannah of global cinema.

In yet another episode of extinction avoidance, Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary return to voice Manny the woolly mammoth, Sid the sloth and Diego the sabre toothed tiger.

As ever Scrat the squirrel is the main reason to watch and time passes slowly whenever he’s off screen. The acorn obsessed animal ends up in outer space and accidentally causes an asteroid to threaten life on Earth.

Meanwhile down on the planet’s surface our squabbling trio of heroes are engaged in painful subplots to fill out the running time. Sid is allowed a romantic interest and Manny’s irritating daughter plans to get married.

Having begun in 2002 and now on a wearying fifth instalment, it may be better for all concerned if the one of the many threatened catastrophes occurred.



Director: Peter Acencio (2016) BBFC cert 15

Murder and mayhem follow in the wake of a missing moggy in this entertaining action caper.

US TV stars Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are the cat’s whiskers as lovesick stoner Rell and his overly sensible cousin, Clarence. Their good natured rapport energises the knockabout humour.

Peele co-wrote the script which generates a lot of comic mileage by sending up the LA gangster lifestyle and attitude. This allows for gratuitous nudity and plenty of pistol packing action.

Heartbroken Rell finds new meaning in life when he adopts a cute kitten which he names Keanu. But when a local gangster catnaps his furry friend, Rell and Clarence are forced to impersonate a pair of assassins to get him back.

Unfortunately as Keanu is such an adorable feline, he has more than one claim on his ownership. And everyone has guns. Despite the shoot outs, car chases, hard music, hard drugs and hard language, there’s a surprisingly sweet and law abiding heart at the centre of all the silliness.

So we’re treated to tattooed criminals emoting to the music of George Michael and a drug induced hallucination where Keanu Reeves voices his kitty namesake.

Tiffany Haddish is tough and tender as a gang member and Luis Guzman lends his weight to proceedings as a fearsome crime boss. Plus there’s a samurai sword wielding appearance by actress Anna Faris as herself.


Ghostbusters (2016)

Director: Paul Feig (2016) BBFC cert 12A

This supernatural reboot rakes over the bones of the 1984 comedy classic but fails to scare up the fun.

 Being bravely recast with an all female team has resulted in a ferocious online furore. However this gender switching is nothing new to Hollywood, it worked super successfully for Rosalind Russell in screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940) and you don’t have to go that far back for other examples. Last year Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) gave a turbo charged reboot to that ’80’s franchise by putting the women in the driving seat.

This is very funny and scary. But only for the first five minutes before the new team turn up. From then on it’s sadly an indulgent Melissa McCarthy vehicle loaded up with CGI to paper over the holes in the weak script.

This is very much her movie and on a par with her recent The Boss (2016) and less fun than the similarly spooky Jack Black caper Goosebumps (2016).

Once again New York is awash with ectoplasm and evil spirits as the apocalypse approaches and only the Ghostbusters team of paranormal investigators can prevent it.

McCarthy and Kristen Wiig star as scientists Abby and Erin. They go into business as paranormal investigators after losing their university jobs.

Pushed into the background, poor Kate McKinnon is forced to gurn for attention as Jillian, the inventor of the teams ghoul catching gadgets.

She’s given a dance scene, an action moment and a speech, and all are great. However they feel more like ‘a bit for the trailer’ or a guilty ‘we’d better give her something to do’ than organic character reveals. McKinnon is easily best in show and I wish she’d been put front and centre.

Leslie Jones is subway worker Patty who sees a ghost and inexplicably joins up. She shouts most of her lines, probably in order to get noticed. Enough has been said about the fact there are three white scientists and one black transport worker. This isn’t a result of malicious intent but a foolish and avoidable lack of script oversight.

The dull villain played by Neil Casey is a self proclaimed genius called Rowan. He’s a janitor who wants to bring forth the apocalypse as revenge on an uncaring world.

Despite some familiar locations, New York is curiously underpopulated and never seems like a living metropolis. This neuters a threat which is never set higher than Def Con Scooby Doo.

Given far more to do than his equivalent in the first film, Chris Hemsworth has a great time at our expense as a dimwitted secretary called Kevin. He’s employed on the basis he looks like Chris Hemsworth. This is fine but is one of many underdeveloped ideas.

Other wasted opportunities include the new Ghostmobile being a hearse and having a ghost chasing scene in a death metal concert. These are starting points not jokes in themselves and are left hanging, waiting for a punchline that never arrives.

Andy Garcia’s city mayor is a character in search of a purpose. He’s picked off the nostalgia shelf  in a tick box exercise to keep the fans happy.

This is an origin story of how the gang get together. In order to eke out some sentiment it fleshes out character backstory the first didn’t feel the need to possess.

One character muses why she joined the team. Never mind the supernatural stuff, this is the real mystery that is never explained.

There’s an unfunny running gag about Chinese food which has no purpose except to indulge McCarthy’s showboating and prolong her screen time.

If because of your attachment to the original film you’re pleased this isn’t a glowing review, then you’re an idiot. No material is safe from being resurrected, rebooted or recycled, no matter how precious it is to you personally.

Plus the deficit of female led high profile films in Hollywood needs to be addressed and I would have loved the opportunity to sing the praises of a great piece of work. My fear is this weak effort may stifle the production of other potential projects.

I enjoyed McCarthy and Feig’s Spy (2015) though Bridesmaids (2011) was over praised. If you thought those were hilarious you may enjoy Ghostbusters (2016) more than I did.

Lacking the sly wit of the original but borrowing the familiar logo, costumes, equipment, theme song, dialogue and story, this adds slapstick and feels like a collection of undercooked tribute sketches happy to coast on the personality of the performers.

Original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts are among the cameos. But by the time Sigourney Weaver turns up, my interest had long since given up the ghost.




Maggie’s Plan

Director: Rebecca Miller (2016) BBFC cert. 15

The best laid plans of Greta Gerwig go awry in this New York comedy of manners.

As Maggie she is forever interfering in the lives of others and must learn restraint in order to find her own happiness.

She’s a sensible shoe wearing singleton who is ready to have a kid but lacks a boyfriend. Her scheme to inseminate herself via a sperm donor is interrupted by the appearance of John, a hunky academic.

This doesn’t endear Maggie to his wife Georgette and their kids. Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore enjoy themselves as the feckless, self pitying, dishonest man child and his ferociously poised Danish wife.

The script gives John the anthropologist a forensic examination and finds the behaviour of this modern man severely wanting. But it also has the heart to allow the him at least a small measure of self respect.

Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph offer Maggie an alternative view of life as home truth dispensing best friends and Travis Fimmel is sweet as a lyrical pickle entrepreneur.

As a director Miller is in love with the city and it’s full of therapy, hipster beards, wooly hats, street entertainers, health food, ice skating and outdoor markets, but keeps its quirky mannerisms to a thankful minimum.

And her script obeys the rules of a romcom while functioning as a commentary on our atomised society, one which is indifferent to reducing conception to a mechanical process involving a syringe and a smart phone app.

Maggie’s Plan plays as an updated version of Jane Austen’s Emma filtered through Woody Allen, and is an honest, sharp and very funny look at modern life.