MY SPY

Cert 12A Stars 3

This silly, sweet and very self-aware espionage action comedy sees former wrestler Dave Bautista in his best leading role so far as a CIA secret agent taking on his toughest challenge.

A fan favourite from Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy films due to his dynamite dead pan delivery and a willingness to be the butt of jokes, he makes an entertaining double act with a streetwise 9 year old.

Utterly un-awed by her super-sized co-star, Chloe Coleman is a wonderfully confident charmer who plays the sarcastic and tech savvy young subject of a CIA surveillance operation.

She’s the estranged niece of a ruthless arms dealer who’s trying to get his hands on some plutonium.

There’s surrogate father-daughter bonding, ice skating, puppy dog shenanigans and the cold blooded treatment of a goldfish.

I enjoyed hanging out on the stakeout so much I was almost disappointed when the bad guys arrived for the explosive finale.

A far smarter and funnier film than the trailer suggests, I laughed far more than I thought I would and so will you.

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MISBEHAVIOUR

Cert 12A Stars 3

Feminists rock the Royal Albert Hall in this disappointingly tame and light-hearted account of the controversial true events of the 1970 Miss World beauty contest final, a competition with a then bigger global TV audience than the Moon landing or the World Cup.

There’s some great British on show, as Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley lead the charge as activists disrupting the show with rattles, flour bombs and water pistols.

Knightley is engaging and earnest as always, and well cast as the posh single mother and mature student who’s drawn into the world of activism after being belittled in academia.

When she meets a sneering commune dweller, she becomes a key player in sadly the least interesting and convincing performance by the usually brilliant Buckley.

Sympathy is given to the thinly sketched contestants who see the substantial cash prize as the means to a better life, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw offers dignity as the eventual winner Miss Grenada.

Her best moment is when she points out to Knightley how the struggles of white western women are very different in scope  to those of black African women, but generally she struggles with the weak script along with everyone else.

Rhys Ifans gives a clownish turn as impresario, Eric Morley, and  Greg Kinnear gives an listless and unflattering portrait of showbiz legend and host, Bob Hope.

Billed as a comedy-drama but less than compelling on either front, its refusal to portray any sleazy or predatory behaviour – Bob Hope aside – lessens the dramatic impact, which undersells the women’s achievement in garnering global publicity and kickstarting the feminist movement in the public consciousness.

And always pulling its punches, it barely hints at any possible influence the Prime Minister of Grenada may have exercised on the contest as a member of the judging panel.

Despite its best intentions Misbehaviour is as unthinking a celebration of sisterhood as the contest itself.

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THE HUNT

Cert 15 Stars 4

Riding high with their inventive remake of The Invisible Man, this gleefully violent satirical thriller from the Blumhouse Studio sits closer to their violent ‘Purge’ franchise as a box of gory and provocative popcorn fun.

Based on the 1924 short story by Richard Connell but still horribly topical, a cabal of the global liberal elite have kidnapped a dozen working class ‘deplorables’ to hunt for sport.

Emma Roberts, Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank are terrific in different ways as the action throws in grenades and bullets, and gives a new meaning to owning a pair of killer heels.

Intended for release last year, it was postponed in the wake of mass shootings in the US, and after taking flak for it’s anti-conservative standpoint – including some from President Trump – although of course, hadn’t seen it at the time of his tweeting.

However the film’s viewpoint is far more interesting, as the blood splattered script mixes George Orwell with online conspiracy theorists and climate change deniers while taking wild pot shots at gun ownership and celebrity charity posturing.

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MILITARY WIVES

Cert 12A Stars 4

Two great actresses go to war with each other in this hugely emotional and thoroughly British and uplifting feel-good comedy drama from the director of 1997’s famous British victory, The Full Monty.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan play the combative mother hens scratching out battle lines as they struggle to put an all-women amateur choir through singing boot camp.

They’re attempting to to boost morale while their soldier spouses are on a six month tour of Afghanistan, but squabbling, stage fright and a betrayal of a confidence threatens their prestigious appearance at the Royal Albert Hall as part of a Remembrance Day concert.

Best known from Four Weddings and A Funeral, it’s a surprise to see the ever elegant Scott Thomas return to low budget crowd pleasing material such as this, having spent her career mixing minor roles in Hollywood blockbusters with major ones in French arthouse films.

Incapable of giving less her formidable best, she brings sharp edges and shifting emotional layers as a posh and pushy busybody who hides her grief by bullying the women into shape.

And this brings her into conflict with Horgan, who’s popular among the women for her more relaxed approach.

Inspired by a true story of singing spouses which featured in Gareth Malone’s 2011 hit BBC documentary and produced a number one single, the predictable storyline is part of the film’s charm, and allows us to enjoy the strong character work and humour as the women discover confidence and resolve.

Though the musical sequences lack the heart-racing thrills of Brassed Off, it’s full of familiar pop tunes, with the camaraderie of Calendar Girls, plenty of cross-generational appeal and a cast representative of every corner of the British Isles. 

Mercifully the script doesn’t shy away from the men risking their lives for their country, which gives depth to the drama and the songs and is surprisingly emotional.

It’s probably going to be my mother’s new favourite film.

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ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA

Cert12A Stars 3

Daniel Radcliffe attempts a long walk to freedom in this deft and tense thriller based on a real-life prison escape during the barbaric regime of 1970’s apartheid South Africa.

The Harry Potter star has been in the public eye so long its remarkable to consider he’s still only 30 years old, and is well cast as a committed young political idealist.

As the bearded and bespectacled Tim Jenkin, he’s viewed as a traitor to his country and race, and described as ‘the white Mandela’ due to his opposition to the government.

Serving a 12 years stretch for activism and regarding himself a prisoner of war, he’s out of his depth in the harsh prison regime but with unexpected reserves of ingenuity, resilience and bravery.

Though this lacks the swaggering epic action of classic The Great Escape, or the macho sweaty grit of Clint Eastwood’s Escape From Alcatraz, it’s well-crafted, nicely performed and very strong on the mechanics of the escape and the inventive use of the basic materials the prisoners have access to.

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