THE AERONAUTS

Cert PG 100mins Stars 3

It’s up up and away on a hot air balloon ride in this handsomely crafted adventure which takes off well but sadly only fleetingly soars.

A pair of chaste Victorian pioneers go where no-one has gone before in an attempt to break the high altitude record, held by their pesky French rivals.

Having won an Oscar for playing Professor Stephen Hawking in 2014’s The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne is reunited with his co-star Felicity Jones.

But playing another real life scientist, this time meteorologist James Glaisher, Redmayne must now take a back seat to Jones’ fictitious daredevil hot air balloon pilot, Amelia Wren.

In a varied and physical role Jones is a far more compelling and enjoyably flamboyant figure than she ever was in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and even in the quieter scenes her charisma burns Redmayne off the screen.

And yes his character is very much the archetypal stuffy and repressed Victorian gentlemen explorer, but it would be so much more fun for the audience if they were sparking off each other, rather than letting Jones do all the heavy lifting.

Much like 2013’s breathless sci-fi classic Gravity, this is the story of a woman coming to terms with grief, but where that film was non-stop action, every time the action builds up a decent head of steam here, we’re brought crashing to Earth for another flashback.

And unfortunately all this clumsily assembled emotional ballast unfortunately tethers the narrative to the ground, where Himesh Patel is waiting anxiously for something to do, and where veteran Tom Courtenay is tasked with making Glaisher a sympathetic character.

Plus despite frostbite, oxygen sickness, lightning storms and a malfunctioning craft, there’s a lack of jeopardy as the script fails to find much up in the clouds to sustain an adventure.

However the production design is excellent, the stunts when they arrive are thrillingly executed and the high altitude photography is epic, crisp and beautiful.

Although The Aeronauts isn’t a deflating experience, I was left feeling pumped up.

SORRY WE MISSED YOU

Cert 15 101mins Stars 4

Bleak, compassionate, and powerful, this frighteningly realistic portrait of modern Britain by veteran director Ken Loach, is very much a companion piece to his devastating 2016 drama, I, Daniel Blake.

Kris Hitchen and Debbie Honeywood play a decent hardworking couple struggling to survive working as a delivery driver and a carer in the unforgiving regime of zero hours contracts, a system which values efficiency over humanity.

And in their damp and cramped rented home, their increasingly desperate and exhausted existence begins to impact on their two teenage kids.

Once again Loach fails to exploit the possibilities of Newcastle Upon Tyne as a location which offers plenty of opportunity to visually illustrate the UK’s wealth gap.

Plus there’s scant music and the dialogue is so functional and camerawork so perfunctory, it feels we’re watching a radio play.

Sadly there’s not much chance of this changing the world but it does make you think more kindly of white van men.

AFTER THE WEDDING

Cert 12A 112mins Stars 2

The talent of two of Hollywood’s greatest screen actresses is squandered in this solemn, superficial and dull drama.

Michelle Williams is happily running an Indian orphanage when she told she must travel to New York to secure a multi-million dollar donation from Julianne Moore’s mega successful media entrepreneur.

While there she attends a wedding where a devastating family secret linking the pair is revealed.

Lacking the wit to be satire or the campy fun of a soap opera, the super-wealthy characters mostly spend their time defending their right to be upset.

Taking itself far too seriously the script shamelessly uses an empty bird nest to illustrate the changing nature of parenting, and it’s passed about in the manner of a fizzing cartoon bomb.

Plus seeing Williams in a pashmina and meditating barefoot in an exclusive hotel suite, recalls Paul Hogan in 1980s comedy Crocodile Dundee, but without the acute social observations or self-mocking sense of humour.

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON

Cert 15 104mins Stars 3

This amiable, sweet and life affirming self/improvement comedy drama jogs merrily along full of sweat, perseverance, and second chances.

Jillian Bell is a nicely abrasive presence as the immature and unhappily overweight Brittany, who has a dead end job, high blood pressure and low self-esteem.

Told by her doctor to lose weight but unable to afford a gym membership, she starts to run the mean streets of New York and soon sets herself the seemingly impossible target of completing the local marathon.

And as she gains fitness she finds her social, romantic life improving, but it’s one step forward and two steps back as her self-defeating sense of inadequacy, difficulty in accepting help, and a toxic friendship put her off her stride.

It’s an inclusive exercise with a charming supporting cast which includes Michaela Watkins and Utkarsh Ambudkar, but be warned, you may find yourself inspired to pull on a pair of running shoes afterwards in solidarity.

OFFICIAL SECRETS

Cert15 111mins Stars 4

Keira Knightley’s talent shoulders this gripping, articulate and hugely relevant real life political thriller.

As a GCHQ translator who leaks top secret documents regarding government shenanigans in the build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Knightly excels in a well chosen role which is tailor-made to utilise her strengths.

She plays a solidly middle class professional whose conscience demands she become a whistleblower, but who quickly regrets her impulsive behaviour.

Her life begins to unravel when a national newspaper runs her story, allowing Knightley to be terrified yet resolute, and principled as she suffers investigation and intimidation by the bullying apparatus of UK government.

And with the unscrupulous secret services determined to make an example of her, it’s not a great time to be married to a Kurdish muslim Turk of uncertain UK residential status.

An excellent script expertly navigates the murky waters where the security service, law and media mix, and the tone is high in paranoia with secret meetings in underground car parks, urgent whispered phone calls and angry meetings in newspaper offices.

As the repercussions of his governments actions continue to make headlines in the Middle East today, Matt Smith and Rhys Ifans are the smooth and rough edges of journalism, among whose company Ralph Fiennes gets in the final word as a sympathetic lawyer.

DOCTOR SLEEP

Cert 15 151mins Stars 4

Get your Halloween started with this blockbuster popcorn supernatural thriller from horror maestro, Stephen King, which slashes its hypnotic creepiness with crowd-pleasing gore and violence.

It’s a sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining, which was famously filmed by legendary Hollywood director Stanley Kubrick in 1980 and starred Jack Nicholson as an axe wielding psychopath.

Scots actor Ewan McGregor stars as Nicholson’s grown up son, who having recovered from the childhood trauma of his dad running amok at the haunted Overlook Hotel, is now living a quiet life as a small town medical orderly.

He uses his psychic ability called ‘the shining’ to assist people in dying peacefully, but befriends Kyliegh Curran’s teenager, who possesses prodigious powers of her own.

She’s pursued by an evil cult that feeds on the psychic essence of children to prolong their own lives, and are led by the demonically seductive Rebecca Ferguson.

Both women give compelling performances, while McGregor gives a wonderfully nuanced turn, meaning when he occasionally apes the voice and mannerisms of screen dad, Nicholson, it’s all the more effective and unsettling.

Mind you, McGregor’s called handsome so many times I wonder if he contributed to the dialogue.

The ghost of Kubrick appears in the impressive production design, especially in the now ruined Overlook Hotel with its geometrically patterned carpet, and illuminated bar.

However there’s a glossy multiplex style when it comes to powerful CGI action, with many illusions, magic tricks, nightmares and out-of-body experiences, as well as a terrifically exciting gun fight.

Similar to this years other lengthy King adaptation, IT: Chapter 2, he underscores the paranormal with real world darkness such addiction, child abuse and suicide, while drawing on elements of European folklore such as vampires.

Lacking Kubrick’s icy intellectual glare, Doctor Sleep is not a masterpiece, but it is thrilling and accomplished, which is far more than we could have hoped for or expected.

MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE

Cert 15 102mins Stars 3

Fans of 1990’s Aussie rock band, INXS, will enjoy this sympathetic and generous documentary of their late frontman, who died aged only 37, in 1997.

As so often the case, objectivity and criticism is sacrificed for access, which means those queuing up to offer an opinion are his nearest and dearest who unsurprisingly only praise his sensitivity, showmanship and talent.

They also offer excuses for his poor behaviour which included drug use, temper tantrums and popularising lycra board-shorts as fashion wear.

Ex-squeeze, Kylie Minogue makes a sweet and fresh-faced contribution, and Irish rocker Bono crowbars his way in to offer no great insight.

Former supermodel and ex-girlfriend Helena Christensen offers the only surprise, explaining how a random assault on Hutchence led to brain damage, which is suggested contributed five years later  to his depression and death, officially recorded as suicide by hanging.

His music career was already in a funk by the time his traumatic relationship with married TV presenter Paula Yates dominated the headlines, and for all their success, INXS only made one great album, Kick, a song from which gives the film its name.

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP

Cert 15 99mins Stars 3

Ten years after Emma Stone gave life to the undead fun in the first infectious zombie comedy, the Oscar winner reunites with her original co-stars in this equally knockabout and sarcastic sequel.

Once more Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg ride shotgun as the bickering trio race from the White House to Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion in pursuit of Abigail Breslin.

She’s run away from home with Avan Jogia’s hippie, and there’s romance to spare with Rosario Dawson’s gunslinger, and a perky in pink airhead, Zoey Deutch.

There’s a new mutant strain of super strong zombies to deal with, plus also coming back from the dead is Ghostbuster Bill Murray, who has another cameo as himself, despite being killed in the first film.

Billed as from the writers of Deadpool and the director of Venom, it certainly shares those film’s DNA, with gleefully bloody violence, an irreverent tone, pop culture jokes and a love of muscle cars and monster mayhem.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

Cert PG 119mins Stars 4

Angelina Jolie swoops back into cinemas in her irresistible dark witch persona in this gorgeous blockbuster fairytale, the fourth live-action Disney film of the year.

The Hollywood royal is captivating as the magical Maleficent, a role which allows her to be glamorous, powerful, conflicted and regal, and have great fun being puzzled by the ways of ordinary mortals.

Five years after her original film saw Maleficent save her forest realm, she is once again considered a danger to any human who dares venture into her lands.

Elle Fanning as the sweet Princess Aurora knows better, but she antagonises her fearsome fairy god-mother by accepting the marriage proposal of Harris Dickinson’s handsome and harmless Prince Phillip.

Michelle Pfeiffer is icily authoritative as Maleficent’s rival, Queen Ingrith, who sees the impending marriage of her son not as losing a child but an opportunity to gain a kingdom and wipe out Maleficent’s woodland folk.

With an army of heavily armed henchmen and a scientist in a secret underground laboratory, Ingrith is more akin to a James Bond villain than a medieval queen. She even has a pet cat.

As ever with Disney fantasys there’s no lack of spectacle on screen, with the costumes, make-up, and locations breathtakingly rich in detail, and should be up for all the major awards.

Newcomers such as Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein play members of a threatened race, whose presence suggests a wider world for future films to explore.

The first half scene-setting of politics and social oneupmanship may pass over the heads of very little kids, but there’s always something great to look at, and the smaller woodland creatures are distractingly funny and super cute.

Plus the second half is an exciting colourful battle which swoops about the turrets of a glorious castle, and the ending is everything you’d expect from a Disney family movie. Awww.