THE LOVEBIRDS

Cert 15 Stars 3

A pair of likeable stars bring a breezy freshness to this otherwise by-the-numbers romcom caper and do enough to divert you from the feeling you’ve seen it all before.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play Leilani and Jibran, lovebirds who risk becoming jailbirds when a road accident unwittingly involves them in a high powered blackmail conspiracy and a night of being chased by the police and a relentless gun-toting bad guy.

Being in possession of a phone containing compromising photographs of prominent people, they’re chased around from dinner party, to bars, and to a masked ball which unsurprisingly turns out to be populated by high society swingers.

Being tied up, assaulted and forced to dress very badly allows them to learn truths about each other and reevaluate their relationship.

If this sounds familiar well you’re probably thinking of Steve Carell and Tina Fey in 2010’s Date Night, or Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in 2018’s Game Night, and possibly a few more besides.

Where this is notably different is in the casting, as it’s still regrettably rare to see an African-American and a Pakistani-American headlining even in this sort of modest Hollywood fare.

The script is blind to their ethnicity except when gags are made about police prejudice, and even this is balanced by the vaguely sympathetic investigating officer also being African-American.

Rae is bright, vivacious and the more funny and ballsy of the two, though that doesn’t take much, as Nanjiani would probably be the first to admit he’s far from being an Alpha male.

He’s amiable screen presence and his throwaway comic asides on modern life are delivered in the passive aggressive style manner he demonstrated in 2017’s romcom success, The Big Sick, for which he was Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

A mainstream entertainment not trying to change the world, The Lovebirds provides sufficient chuckles in its enjoyable, undemanding and disposable way.

VIVARIUM

Cert 15 Stars 3

Quirky Brit actress Imogen Poots is deservedly given top billing over her more famous Hollywood co-star Jesse Eisenberg in this unnerving dystopian sci-fi horror which owes a considerable debt to the classic novels of John Wyndham.

They’re very well cast in a creepy savage satire of 21st century suburban servitude and a nightmarish dissection of modern life, whose off-beat script brings out the best in actors who’ve struggled to land leading roles suitable to their distinctive talents.

They’re nicely convincing as an aspiring couple whose relationship is tested when they become mysteriously trapped on an otherwise empty new-build identikit housing estate.

Poots is mischievous, terrified, angry, endearing and generally terrific, while the supremely articulate Eisenberg is often left speechless as their situation intensifies.

Director Lorcan Finnegan explores ideas of conformity, nesting and identity which argues civilisation is a prison which blinds us to the truth of our existence. And he has a less than kind view of estate agents as well.

FINAL WISH

Cert 18 Stars 2

Ancient demons, curses and small town prejudice can’t raise the pulse lacklustre mystery horror which is nicely shot and has a consistent tone but can’t shake up enough scares to justify the slow pace.

A hangdog Michael Welch plays Aaron, a newly qualified and heavily in debt lawyer who returns home to his family’s big old creepy rural home, where he receives a cold welcome from family and neighbours.

A mysterious urn belonging to his late father starts to make his wishes come true, but his initial happiness turns increasingly to terror as his good fortune comes at a cost to those closest to him.

As his wishes begin to come true, though his wishes are life-changing, they’re also pretty modest compared to what mine would be – though I’m guessing the budget didn’t stretch as far as my imagination does. However it does mean there’s a notable absence of what could be called premier league footballer with a pay rise excess.

RUN

Cert 15 Stars 3

A kitchen sink drama on four wheels fuelled by the romantic spirit of Bruce Springsteen’s songs, this low budget British opts for urban decay over the epic majesty of his turbo-charged tunes.

Taking it’s title and inspiration from The Boss’s classic rock album ‘Born To Run’, an industrial fishing port in Aberdeenshire offers plenty of scope to explore the restrictive and soul sapping mundanity of working class life.

Mark Stanley is a barely articulate ball of anguish and frustration as Finnie, the youngish head of a family of five who is struggling with grief, pregnancy and poor prospects.

Desperation takes him on a late night joyride around his hometown streets fuelling his dreams of leaving town forever.

From the window of Finnie’s souped-up Ford Fiesta, writer-director Scott Graham’s third feature casts an almost documentary eye over the local nightlife.

As you might expect, the sound design is great and mixes grime, upbeat techno, 1990’s pop, and of course Springsteen’s magnificent hymn to petrol-powered freedom.

THE CALL OF THE WILD

Cert PG Stars 4

Harrison Ford takes the lead from a canine co-star in this epic, expensive and determinedly old fashioned family outdoors adventure based on the 1903 novel by Jack London.

Every bit as monumentally craggy as the gorgeously photographed scenery, Ford plays a frontiersman who forms a bond with a dog named Buck, who was stolen from his home in California.

Buck may be a CGI creation but is as full of character, loyalty and bravery as any other big screen dog. Which is more than you say for the characters played by Dan Stevens and Karen Gillan.

DOGS DON’T WEAR PANTS

Cert 18 Stars 3

Love hurts in this provocative, explicit and eye-watering Finnish drama which goes so far beyond a bit of slap and tickle even ardent admirers of the Fifty Shades films may find themselves crossing their legs in sympathy.

Pekka Strang bares his soul – as well as the rest of himself – as a heart surgeon struggling to cope after the accidental drowning of his beloved wife.

He begins secretly spending his time in a sex dungeon with a dominatrix who calls him a dog and demands him to strip, hence the title, and as he finds solace in his own humiliation, the two lost souls begin to connect.

The appropriately named Mona also works as an osteopath, clearly a bit of a busman’s holiday for the broad minded professional.

This blackly comic chamber piece is definitely not for the timid or squeamish, it’s sensitive to its characters needs and everyone comes out with their dignity intact, though you can’t say the same for all their other bits.

EDGE OF EXTINCTION

Cert 18 Stars 2

Blood, mud, skulls and cannibal gangsters feature heavily in this violent and nasty low budget British dystopian sci-fi thriller, which sadly lacks the invention, scope or devious camp sensibility which made it’s spiritual grandfather Mad Max, such a full throttle success.

Set fifteen years in the future after an atomic war, a lone scavenger becomes the reluctant ally of other survivors to mount a desperate rescue mission.

A welcome absence of CGI sees the blood-spurting action use medieval weapons and a lot of fake blood, and though the relentlessly grim tone is almost provocative, it’s grounded in the gritty realism of its desolate locations.

An overgrown comprehensive school has ‘welcome to hell’ sprayed above the front door, but I’m not sure if the graffiti is pre-apocalypse or not.

Originally titled ‘The Brink’ and a labour of love for director Andrew Gilbert who’s not short of ambition and stages a tasty finale where the remnants of civilisation make a final stand against the forces of chaos, but it’s a slog to get there.

THE DALAI LAMA – SCIENTIST

Cert U Stars 4

Science and faith enjoy an unlikely love-in as this documentary about the Buddhist leader combines animation, interviews, and previously unseen archive footage, while revealing him to be a far-sighted and astute political operator on the world stage.

Exiled since 1959 when the Chinese army occupied his country the political and spiritual leader of Tibet took refuge in India, he cuts an attentive, polite, wily, charming and quite jolly figure.

A syrupy narration explains how his childhood interest in science has been the driving force for meetings with leading Nobel prize-winning scientists, and loose comparisons are drawn between buddhist beliefs and scientific such as quantum physics, cognitive science, and neuroscience.

I began watching with skepticism and ended in awe at the 85 year old, as his decades long strategy of Buddhist and Western scientific co-operation is now bearing fruit as he uses research projects to build bridges to the Chinese scientific community, a clear gateway to pressuring the Beijing authorities to re-examine their policies regarding Tibet.

PROXIMITY

Cert PG Stars 3

Old school aliens, conspiracy theorists and menacing government agents make for throwaway entertainment in this cheesy sci-fi which successfully summons the goofy spirit of 1980’s family adventure such as Flight of the Navigator.

Ryan Masson is badly dressed and convincingly socially inept as Isaac, a likeable yet lowly and nerdy Nasa scientist, obsessing over the future of possible Mars exploration.

While in the countryside recording a video diary, Isaac films a large meteorite crashing nearby, and waking up three days later he’s convinced he’s been the victim of an alien abduction and now possesses psychic powers but is accused of being a fraud by the media.

Isaac finds a sympathetic ear in Sara, a fellow abductee, and Highdee Kuan makes an attractive foil for Masson’s out-of-his-depth geek, but the pair’s search for answers attracts unwanted attention.

They’re soon on the run in a world of mysterious operatives in dark sun-glasses, sleek black cars, white interrogation rooms, laser guns and android henchmen.

The film makes a virtue of these overly familiar elements, plus it’s a joy to see flying saucers in their traditional shape as giant, beautiful, metallic spinning frisbees, and we’re not kept waiting long to meet the aliens, who are in the classic 1950’s mould; tall, thin and angular with large eyes.

Although set in the here and now, the last time I saw anybody using Isaac’s shoulder carried VCR, it was Michael J. Fox in the classic caper, Back To The Future. It’s one of the cute references which demonstrate the film’s love of the movies of the period and along with the synth pop songs on the soundtrack, add to the general 1980’s vibe.

A passion project for writer director Eric Demeusy who’s previously been a special effect guru on TV”s Stranger Things and Game of Thrones, and as he impressively stretches his slim budget and story across an ambitious canvas, he adds sparkle to his lightweight fun.

ENEMY LINES

Cert 15 Stars 3

Opening titles of real war footage set a chilly and sombre tone to this respectful and effective Second World War action adventure is a by-the-numbers boys’ own adventure lifted by its great locations and a hard working cast.

John Hannah keeps a stiff upper lip as the British Army liaison officer back in Blighty as English actor Ed Westwick stars as a square-jawed US Major leading a team of British commandos to extract an important scientist from the hands of the Germans in Nazi-occupied Poland of 1943.

Of course plans go awry, radios don’t work, they can’t identify which locals are collaborators, and the Russian army who are much more used to fighting in the bleak snow covered landscape, are also the same target.

There’s plenty of courage and sacrifice among the many shoot-outs, and the fierce and the excitingly staged three-way battle of foreign troops on Polish soil to determine ownership of Polish resources, can be read as a scathing view of the war.