THE HIGH NOTE

Cert 12 Stars 3

Freed from the constraints of the Fifty Shades series which showed off all her talents but the acting ones, Dakota Johnson delivers a warm, funny and endearing performance in this glossy and escapist romcom set in the small and incestuous LA music scene.

With uptempo soul songs on the soundtrack it begins as a reasonable cover version of 2006 smash, The Devil Wears Prada, and sees a put-upon and poorly paid personal assistant called Maggie attempting to realise her dreams of producing a new album for the ageing diva she skivvies for.

Johnson gracefully shoulders the film as Maggie with an impressive yet understated comic ability and an easy confidence which suggests playing this sort of role comes easily to her, and there’s no escaping she gives the impression of having a great deal more to give.

But the script isn’t as strong as the one her mother Melanie Griffith had in 1988’s Working Girl. And this may as well have been written back then for all the relevance the internet seems to be in this version of the music biz.

Meanwhile Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of Motown legend Diana Ross brings a tremendous swagger as Maggie’s boss. She comes armed with a delightfully earthy laugh, a tremendous singing voice talent, and a great deal of conviction when delivering a speech about the sacrifices necessary for a middle aged black woman to maintain a high profile career.

Former rapper Ice Cube plays her irate manager, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as David Cliff impresses as an aspiring musician and love interest, Bill Pullman has a brief if agreeable appearance as Maggie’s father, and Brit comic Eddie Izzard breezes though in little more than a cameo.

Having made last year’s so-so Emma Thompson comedy Late Night, director Nisha Ganatra keeps everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and provides another serviceable and female-centred piece of light entertainment.

TO THE STARS

Cert 12 Stars 3

This unforgiving portrait of small town prejudice in 1960s is also a heartfelt coming-of-age drama which is filled with fine performances but saddled with a twee sugary and sentimental soundtrack which wrestles at times with the sombre tone.

With alcoholism, depression and domestic abuse it’s a moody period piece with interiors to match, given welcome respite by the glorious expanse of the Oklahoma landscape.

Kara Hayward and Liana Liberato star as Iris and Maggie, polar opposite characters whose burgeoning friendship is to have a dramatic and irreversible impact on their lives.

Iris is a shy and bespectacled wallflower who is saved from the unwanted attentions of local boys when Maggie arrives in town with a violent intent and confidence worthy of a Western hero.

They bond over make-overs, road trips and midnight skinny-dipping sessions, and though Maggie is an inspirational figure to Iris, she has a secret which threatens their developing friendship, and it’s not just her father isn’t the glamorous photographer she claims him to be.

I’M NO LONGER HERE

Cert 15 Stars 4

There’s an extraordinary richness to this meandering yet moving drama which manages to combine a wholly original take on Mexican gang culture, a scathing view of globalisation, an exploration of loneliness and a lament for the diminishing cultural identity of local communities.

Juan Daniel Garcia is quietly charismatic as 17-year-old Ulises, an exuberantly styled devotee of Cumbia, a slowed down and hypnotic version of traditional Colombian music which sets the film’s pace and allows the characters to breathe.

His accidental involvement in a serious crime sees him sent away to New York for his own protection, meaning the late night community dancing he leads with an almost religious fervour at the film’s beginning is performed in very different circumstances at the films end.

The camerawork is often exquisite as it finds fresh angles on familiar situations, and provides an immersive and sometimes documentary viewing experience. If I’d seen this on the big screen I’d probably have given it the full five stars.

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.

A HIDDEN LIFE

Cert 12A Stars 2

Nothing less than the existence of god and the meaning of life are the lofty themes explored in this typically frustrating and contemplative Second World War drama by US arthouse director, Terrence Malick.

With terminal intensity August Diehl plays Franz, an Austrian farmer who in 1940 refuses to volunteer to serve in the armed forces and swear allegiance to Hitler, a decision which brings him into conflict with his community and the authorities and has fearsome consequences for his wife and three young daughters.

Malick remains defiant in refusing to engage in crowd pleasing melodrama, and his non-linear narrative, mournful soundtrack, and sparsity of dialogue is burnished by some arresting cinematography of the Alps.

This is not quite as painfully dull and self-absorbed as his recent films, Knight of Cups and Song to Song, for which he was deservedly pilloried and which failed to bother the box office.

However it’s easy to surmise what drew Malick to this tale of martyrdom in the face of an uncaring world.

JUST MERCY

Cert 12A Stars 3

Racism, corruption and injustice litter this solid, aspirational and heartfelt true life death row courtroom drama which challenges the institutions of the US to do better.

In a change of pace from playing boxer Adonis Creed, in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky sequels, Michael B. Jordan’s articulate dignity anchors the story as a fresh young and naive Harvard lawyer who moves to the deep south of Alabama to overturn suspect convictions.

Former Oscar winner Jamie Foxx gives an impassioned performance as a death row inmate who on the word of one unreliable witness and no evidence, was convicted of killing an eighteen year old white woman.

The script forgoes grandstanding dramatics and legal trickery in favour of quiet integrity, and makes good use of the setting of  Monroeville, which boasts of being the home of Harper Lee, author of the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

And the film is clearly a statement African Americans no longer need white saviours such as Atticus Finch to fight their legal battles for them.