BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

Stars 2

Hoping to cast a spell over the young adult Twilight audience, this gothic love story fails to enchant.

When the mysterious and beautiful Lena moves to a new town she meets the studious Ethan at high-school. Due to being a witch, Lena is forbidden to love a mortal, but passions quickly develop and she is torn between her true love and an age old curse.

But the characters are thinly written, jokes fall flat, the dialogue is workaday and Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich as the central pair are fail to engage with each other or us.

Bringing a welcome sense of absurd are Brit stars Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, and while he’s a purring pianist in a pyjama suit, she Thompson alternates between sour and evilly captivating.

The inconsistent tone veers between lightweight gothic romance and high camp pantomime, and despite the spells and witchcraft, there is not much magic being cast here.

A HIJACKING

Stars 4

From the writer of Danish TV series Borgen and last year’s brilliant drama, The Hunt, comes this blood-curdling intense hostage drama.

When a Danish container ship is hijacked in the Indian Ocean by gun-wielding Somali pirates, the Danish CEO of the ship’s company hires a hostage situation expert, only to ignore his advice and preferring to take responsibility for negotiations himself.

When the pirate negotiator demands millions and Peter offers thousands and a lengthy stand-off begins.

In increasingly squalid confines both on board and offshore, psychological damage is inflicted on the captives as they become the frayed rope in an egotistical and financial tug of war.

Sharply written and performed by an increasingly raw cast in an atmosphere which is painfully claustrophobic right up to the gripping finale, it holds your attention like a loaded gun to the forehead.

FLIGHT

Stars 2

There’s no need to fasten your seat belts for this sluggish exploration of alcoholism which is as dull as listening to the pub bore.

Denzel Washington heads up a strong cast as ‘Whip’ Whitaker, an alcoholic airline pilot who heroically saves the lives of the passengers when his plane crashes.

Taking off with huge energy, there are scenes full of nudity, drugs, booze and a brilliantly staged plane crash that may put you off flying for life.

Who or what can be established as the cause of the crash could mean Whip being charged with manslaughter and possible life imprisonment, not to mention the closing of the airline and loss of jobs.

But what could have been a gripping court procedural film instead descends into a dreary account of Whip’s struggle with the bottle and the eventual courtroom scene is perfunctory at best and a long time coming.

Washington employs his talent and charisma to carry the film and is not afraid to play a character who is an unlikable drunk stumbling to a possible redemption.

John Goodman’s comic performance as drug dealer Mays is like sticking helicopter blades on a 747. It’s ridiculous and spins you off in the wrong direction with a terrible crunching of gears.

Kelly Reilly plays a heroin addict love interest who is ushered in and out of the movie without affecting anyone at all.

There is a dull AA scene and lots of Whip wandering around slurring and occasionally being a bit obnoxious. By the time we get to court we don’t really care what happens to him.

Washington is given some awful lines to do his best with and the final scenes seemed tacked on and are unconvincing.

Far from being a warning of how alcohol ruin’s live, the strongest message here is that apart from making you an ace pilot and so a saver of lives, cocaine is is the ultimate hangover cure.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

FLATLINERS (2017)

Cert 15 Stars 1

Way back in the summer of 1990 and flush from the mega success of Pretty Woman which made her a global name, Julia Roberts starred in a horror about medical students who experiment in life after death.

This laughably poor and lifeless remake sees Ellen Page struggling to inject some vitality into a brain dead script while everyone tries to keep a straight face.

McMafia star James Norton fronts out his embarrassment at being involved, and Keifer Sutherland has the dubious distinction of appearing in both versions.

This is dead on arrival.

MOLLY’S GAME

Cert 15 140mins Stars 4

Aces actress Jessica Chastain goes all in and comes up trumps in this terrific poker playing biopic.

This is practically Goodfellas for the girls, a super glossy, high tempo character driven drama, stacked with high stakes all-night card games, drugs, alcohol, violence and the Russian mob.

The real life Molly Bloom was an Olympic standard skier who postponed a law degree at Harvard to spend a year relaxing in the Los Angeles sunshine.

Soon she’s running big money card games in LA and New York for the super rich and famous. Always under-estimated by men due to her lip gloss and low cut tops, the knowingly glamorous Molly uses her wits to exploit men’s stupidity and amass a fortune.

But the FBI arrest her and she’s forced to make a choice between integrity and freedom. 

Bang at the centre is yet another terrific performances from the mesmerising star of Miss Sloane, Zero Dark Thirty and more.

Chastain users her ferocious charisma and dynamite talent to deliver a performance of nuclear articulacy. She should just be given this year’s best actress Oscar and be done with it.

The script by director Aaron Sorkin, writer of TV’s The West Wing, provides her with a stream of acidly comic lines which she fires off with self amused detachment. He also directs with dynamism and takes every opportunity to point out how misogyny fixes the odds in powerful mens’ favour.

Just as in Sorkin’s biopic of tech guru Steve Jobs, the emotional weight of the story rests on a parent/child relationship. However it’s disappointing this strong and independent women is defined by a relationship, and not allowed to succeed or fail without reference to a significant other. 

Supporting players Kevin Costner and Idris Elba just about manage to stay in the game, but it’s Chastain who holds all the cards.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Cert PG 104mins Stars 3

Roll up to get your tickets for this enjoyably exuberant period musical based on the life of circus impresario, P. T. Barnum.

Absurdly sentimental and generous in its portrayal of the self-styled greatest showman, it’s an all singing and dancing rags to riches tale which despite the presence of a glamorous trapeze artiste, never really flies.

It’s greatest strength is in the casting of Hugh Jackman as Barnum, and he fizzles with old school razzle dazzle in a role which maximises talents.

With his experience of performing in London’s West End in shows such as Oklahoma! there isn’t a movie star today better equipped to play the part, and the likeable Aussie actor seizes the opportunity to unleash a full beam performance.

As Barnum’s business partner, Zac Efron harnesses his High School Musical pedigree to decent effect. He’s romantically paired with popstar Zendaya, who builds on her impressive acting turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Dreaming big to please his wife and daughters, Barnum puts on stage a collection of differently bodied people, who are variously large, small, hairy or conjoined.

But his hard won success is threatened when his head is turned by Rebecca Ferguson’s sexy Swedish songbird.

This is a Disneyfied vision of Barnum’s life, written by Bill Condon who directed this year’s monster smash, Beauty and the Beast. He creates a highly stylised world where the the circus seems more real than the outside world.

A virtue is made of his extravagant salesmanship techniques and his financial shenanigans and exploitative tendencies are glossed over.

But it’s heart is the right place, emphasising equality, celebrating diversity and defending the rights of anybody to burst into song at the drop of a top hat.

The Greatest Showman succeeds in offering colourful easy going entertainment for a couple of hours. Which from the little we learn of him, I imagine the real Barnum would heartily approve.

 

 

JUNGLE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Daniel Radcliffe leaves Harry Potter well behind him when he gets lost in this real life Bolivian survival adventure.

As the Israeli Yossi Ghinsberg he joins a group of footloose and fancy-free Western backpackers who go off-roading in search of a rural village.

As well as dodgy accent and bushy beard, he’s soon suffering separation, isolation, starvation, hallucination and attack by hungry creatures.

It’s directed by Greg McLean who made the thrillingly entertaining Wolf Creek films and last year’s insane The Belko Experiment. This isn’t his best work, but unlike Yossi, it’s not far off.