HONEST THIEF

Cert 15 Stars 3

Liam Neeson is back in action mode in this watchable action thriller which is smart enough to plays to his increasingly dour and weary strengths while never suggesting he’s going to be breaking sweat or any new ground.

The scarcely believable set up sees the big Irish actor star as ‘The In and Out Bandit’, a former marine turned bank robber, a gentleman thief who of course who never hurts anyone and is in it for the thrills not the cash.

However when he falls in love his guilty conscience insists he turn himself in and serve his time before settling down, but he’s double-crossed by two FBI agents and soon he’s on the run with his not best-pleased girlfriend, Annie.

Best known from TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Kate Walsh is bright presence, while Jai Courtney is always been better when playing the villain and is on agreeably nasty macho form as a corrupt Federal agent.

There are car chases and shoot-outs and Neeson growls down the phone in a manner familiar from his Taken franchise, but at 68 it may be time to retire the tough guy act.

PIXIE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Following her fabulous turn as Becky Sharp in the period drama miniseries Vanity Fair, Olivia Cooke plays another mischievous smart ass schemer with a silly amount of confidence in this enjoyably raucous violent comedy thriller.

As Pixie she finds herself on the run after a heist has gone wrong with compromising photographs, a body in a car boot and a stolen bag of drugs,
Swept along in Pixie’s wake are her hapless smitten accomplices, played with agreeable self-delusion by Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack.

A modern day Irish Western set in the err, the west of Ireland it’s a foul mouthed and loose limbed affair, which it wears on its many influences on it’s sleeve.

Barnaby Thompson previously directed 2009’s St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold, and does a decent job of aping the tone of the superior Colin Farrell 2008 thriller In Bruges.

The script lacks that film’s flair but there’s an enjoyable swagger to proceedings, some lovely production design and Alex Baldwin gives a much needed boost of energy as a pistol packing priest when the pace begins to flag.

THE SECRET GARDEN (2020)

Cert PG Stars 3

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s mystery fantasy novel has been adapted for stage and screen many times and this latest version is pleasingly old fashioned, handsome, pleasant and sadly respectful to a fault.

Broadly faithful to the source material and dealing with grief, loss and loneliness, a spoilt orphan is sent to live with her stern uncle in his grandly gothic and isolated Yorkshire manor house, where she discovers a magical garden and becomes unlikely friends with a couple of local boys.

Dixie Egerickx is a confident and capable presence as our spiky heroine, but Colin Firth and Julie Walters have limited screen time, the pace is thoughtful by modern standards and the filmmakers dress up the finale with some Hollywood-style fireworks.

Full of nostalgia for the simple childhood joys of climbing, swimming and hiding from grown ups, the book it considered was a bit dull even when I was a boy, and members of the young generation such as my video game addicted ten year old may not be familiar with it, meaning parents will probably enjoy this more than the kids will.

BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM

Cert 15 Stars 5

Gloriously offensive, eye-wateringly funny and ram your own fist down your throat outrageous, Sacha Baron Cohen returns as his Kazakhstani alter ego Borat, in this astonishing mockumentary comedy sequel.

Accompanied by his 15 year old daughter, Borat returns to the US to present a monkey to Vice President Mike Pence, a set up which allows Cohen to tackle recent scandals on an extraordinary whistle-stop tour.

No matter how offensive Borat is, the people he meets are far worse and proves Donald Trump is no aberration but a horrifyingly accurate representation of the wider state of US politics.

CARMILLA

Cert 15 Stars 3

Inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 novella about vampire lesbianism, this British period romantic horror mystery has been filtered through a modern lens into a chilly and stilted coming-of-age love tragedy of superstition, punishment and prejudice – and without so much as a fang in sight.

The isolated rural life of 15-year-old Lara is disturbed when a carriage crash results in a young woman being brought into the family home to recuperate.

Though Carmilla is considered to be devilish and confined to a room, Lara is enchanted but their budding relationship is considered witchcraft, for which a terrible price must be paid.

REBECCA (2020)

Cert 12A Stars 4

Secrets, snobbery and sexual intrigue make for an extremely enjoyable watch in this sumptuous and sly adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s mystery novel, famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.

Lily James and Armie Hammer take the roles previously played by Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, as an inexperienced young woman and an aristocratic widower, whose whirlwind fairytale romance in the south of France turns into a nightmare once they’re married and living in his English ancestral home of Manderley, where the new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by the memory and reputation of her husband’s late wife.

Manderley is a gothic pile and run by the evil step-mother-like presence of housekeeper Mrs Danvers, a frighteningly acid turn from Kristin Scott Thomas.

This is very much a change of pace and scale for Brit director Ben Wheatley who’s previously made low budget thrillers Kill List and Down Terrace, and should be applauded for refusing to be cowed by the ghost of Hitchcock.

Where the master of suspense suffocated his version in mesmerising black and white, Wheatley drowns the screen in gorgeous colour.

Monte Carlo dazzles in white and gold, Manderley has gorgeous textured interiors, the English coastline is glorious and a devilish red dress arrests our attention at a glamorous costume ball.

Casting the super talented Lily James allows Wheatley to use the star of Disney’s live action Cinderella to comment on the myth of happy ever after, while also paying homage to Hitchcock’s habit of terrorising elegant blondes.

As Mrs. de Winter is isolated, manipulated and humiliated by the household staff, and her older husband neglects her while obsessing over his former love, Wheatley draws parallels with Princess Diana and suggests the late royal would also qualify as a ‘Hitchcock blonde’.

Unlike Hitchcock’s masterpiece I doubt this will win the Best Picture Oscar, but it’s hugely accomplished and will make for a fascinating comparison with the upcoming series of TV’s The Crown.

OVER THE MOON

Cert U Stars 4

Science travels hand in hand with spirituality in this inventive musical animation based on a Chinese myth which shines bright with charm and fun for the whole family.

Fei Fei is a romantic-minded early teen who believes in true love and is threatened by the prospect of a new step-mother, so so along with fluffy sidekick rabbit provides comedy and cute companionship Fei Fei builds a space rocket and blasts off to the find the fabled moon goddess.

Along the way thescript draws on familiar works such as Alice In Wonderland, Wallace And Gromit, and the 1902 silent classic movie, A Trip to the Moon.

A delightful, silly colourful and exciting adventure full of space dogs, luminous lions, giant floating frogs and ping pong games in zero gravity, all of which are used to gently smuggle in a message of compassion to help young kids understand and cope with feelings of grief and loss.

An in its best moments the story muscles in on Pixar territory as a vehicle for tender heartbreak, goofy laughs and eye-popping visuals, and it left me, well, over the moon.

FINDING THE WAY BACK

Cert 15 Stars 3

Ben Affleck stars in this redemptive sports drama as an alcoholic construction worker called Jack who’s persuaded by his former high school to coach its basketball team.

I’m a big fan of the former Batman who’s famously had his own struggles with the bottle, and though it’s unwise to read too much biography into the film, there’s an emotional honesty and intensity to his performance which elevates this otherwise straightforward affair.

Melvin Gregg and Brandon Wilson are great as key players on the team, and there’s strong support from Michaela Watkins who struggles to keep Jack on the wagon.

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

Cert 18 Stars 3

This creepy psychological horror is at its strongest when allowing Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried to bicker and simmer in a fractious mood of marital mistrust and sexual insecurity, but loses its menacing allure when they’re forced apart by a script which can’t disguise its intentions.

This is surprising as director David Koepp’s writing pedigree includes blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible and Spider-Man, however he establishes a strong look and tone, and gives us for the first half at least plenty to ponder as he sends his stars to a remote Welsh house for a nightmare holiday.

KAJILLIONAIRE

Cert 12A Stars 3

My tolerance for off-beat and quirky was severely tested by this ambling crime comedy drama, which is a shame as it has a huge heart, a lot to say about relationships, some nice physical humour and strong performances from a cast wholly committed to fleshing out the filmmaker’s vision of the world.

With a steely yet compassionate eye, writer and director Miranda July explores the dynamics of abusive relationships and how the commercialisation of family life stunts emotional growth and empathy.

Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger play impoverished Californian thieves and conspiracy theorists living off the grid, and parents to a socially awkward adult daughter, who has the teeth-grindingly annoying name of Old Dolio.

Despite this hindrance, Evan Rachel Wood throws herself into her role as the plaintive young woman who has begun to question her lifestyle even before the family hook up with a new partner in crime while carrying out an insurance swindle.

Gina Rodriguez is an agreeably upbeat presence who accelerates Old Dolio’s personal growth, a process which puts her at odds with her parents.