INMATE #1: THE RISE OF DANNY TREJO

Cert 15 Stars 4

Danny Trejo burst onto the global cinema consciousness as a knife-throwing killer in 1995’s scorching action thriller Desperado, and this fascinating and inspirational documentary explores his extraordinary life story of personal reinvention from teenage junkie to violent criminal and popular Hollywood hard man.

Raised by his extended family in a poor violent and semi-rural Mexican neighbourhood in Los Angeles, he spent much of the 1950s and 1960s in prison for armed robbery in the notorious San Quentin prison, and he’s great at describing the toxic atmosphere, the riots and his stints in solitary confinement.

Becoming the prison boxing champ in bouts where the Queensbury rules were pretty much optional, he cleaned up of drugs, found god and became a youth counsellor.

In Hollywood he’s worked notably with Charles Bronson, Salma Hayek and Robert De Niro, and his life experiences gave him a unique and very funny approach to dealing with actors.

There are interviews with his adult children, childhood friends, and co-stars, and a straightforward formula works because there’s absolutely no need to embroider his remarkable life.

THE WISHMAS TREE

Cert U Stars 3

In a fun departure for Geordie stand up-comic Ross Noble, he lends his voice to this cute and amusing Australian animated eco-friendly adventure based on the children’s book series ‘Tales from Sanctuary City’.

He adopts an avuncular and eccentric persona as Yarra, the keeper of the Wishmas Tree, guardian of the true spirit of Wishmas, and manager of the annual tradition of wish making.

Aussie actress Miranda Tapsell voices the possum Kerry, whose impetuous behaviour sees their secluded paradise homeland threatened by snow, ice and the evil forces of extinction, and so forcing herself and Yarra on a perilous quest to save their land.

The animation is more solid than spectacular but they’ve gone bananas on the cheerful colour palette and the story skips along in a well meaning manner and it should keep your little kids entertained.

Though it feels a little weird watching a festive themed film in June, it’s probably a sign we can expect Christmas decorations in the shops any second now.

7500

Cert 15 Stars 3

Tense, brisk effective and brisk, this airplane action thriller is grounded in the best sense by great central performance Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

He stars as Tobias, an American co-pilot on a Berlin-Paris flight who’s caught in a life and death struggle to save the lives of his passengers and crew after terrorists try to seize control of the plane.

Having found fame as a teen star of TV series 3rd Rock From The Sun, Gordon-Levitt graduated to blockbusters such as Looper, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises.

However this is far from an action man role but a portrait of an ordinary and mild-mannered man driven by extremes to desperate measures.

Tobias is confused and slow to respond to events and finds himself locked in the cockpit with an injured co-pilot and an unconscious terrorist, while his flight attendant girlfriend is at the mercy of the hijackers who threaten to murder their captives if Tobias doesn’t open the cockpit door.

Being a non-German speaker temporarily flummoxes the aggressors, and Tobias’s behaviour is desperate and painful as the balance of power switches back and forth.

Omid Memar is uncertain and scared as the youngest of the attackers, while Aylin Tezel is made to suffer as Tobias’s girlfriend.

It’s confidently directed by Patrick Vollrath in his feature-length film debut, who squeezes us into the claustrophobic cockpit and makes us question how would we act as Tobias does in the same circumstances.

He doesn’t keep us waiting for the drama to begin, maintains a strong tone and makes the close quarter violence shocking and realistically brief and nasty.

The sound design adds hugely to the fraught atmosphere, combining the warm hum of the instruments, heavy breathing of the injured co-pilot and the hammering of the terrorists on the cockpit door, while the calm voice of air traffic control contrasts with the onboard screams of panic and fraught shouted conversations. Book your seat now.

YOU DON’T NOMI

Cert 18 Stars 4

Showgirls was an unforgettable sleazy and bare-cheeked erotic drama and the biggest box office flop of 1995, yet as this documentary shows it was far more knowingly subversive than credited at the time.

Derided for being crude and exploitative by those who failed to see the satire in the film’s madly camp excess, Showgirls made a profit on home video where people were able watch it in the seclusion of their own home, it’s second coming sees it enjoying sold out screenings, being embraced by the drag artist community and adapted as a stage musical.

Starring Elizabeth Berkley as a dancer trying to climb the seedy Las Vegas pole from stripper to showgirl, Showgirls was directed by Dutch master Paul Verhoeven flush with success from his Basic Instinct featuring a crotch-flashing Sharon Stone.

We see how Showgirls fits perfectly within the scope of his other deliriously over the top films such as Starship Troopers and Robocop which also heavily feature nudity, vomit and violence. You Don’t Nomi is so enjoyable immediately afterwards I re-watched Showgirls. Twice.

GREED

Cert 15 Stars 4

Having made the brilliant TV series The Trip together as well as several films including the fantastic Manchester music comedy 24 Hour Party People, Steve Coogan re-teams with Brit director Michael Winterbottom in this scathing satirical comedy.

Never afraid of making himself look ridiculous in search of a laugh, Coogan sports outrageous white teeth and fake tan as a billionaire high-street fashion mogul Richard McCreadie.

Stephen Fry, Ben Stiller, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Louis Walsh and Keith Richards appear as themselves as McCreadie celebrates his 60th birthday at a lavish Roman emperor themed party on the Greek island of Mykonos.

ROGER WATERS: US + THEM

Cert 15 Stars 3

Fans of veteran British rock band Pink Floyd will enjoy this concert recording of former bassist Roger Waters filmed in Amsterdam in June 2018 as part of his sell-out arena tour.

It features songs from Floyd’s best albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon, and The Wall, as well as Water’s last album, Is This The Life We Really Want?

He’s clearly outraged at the state of the world though this a very safe, comfortable and corporate form of protest. State of the art stage visuals offer political commentary and include Pink Floyd’s iconic flying pig.

 

RADIOACTIVE

Cert 12 Stars 3

An extraordinary life is subject to an earnest but less than inspired telling in this sincere story of groundbreaking Polish scientist, Marie Curie.

It’s not for the lack of trying by talented Brit actress Rosamund Pike, who’s spiky, proud and determined as she bares her soul and her bum in her strenuous efforts to bring the double Nobel prize winner to life.

Sadly rather than focussing on the most important of Curie’s achievements, the discovery of two radioactive elements Radium and Polonium which would eventually poison her, the script falls into the elephant trap of biopics by trying to cover too much ground.

And the pace is more stately than whistle-stop as we flash back and forth as we witness her struggle against the glass ceiling of the scientific establishment, her research and her work on the battlefields of the First World War, all set against the backdrop of her busy domestic arrangements of kids and a marital affair.

There are handsome sets, costumes and performances throughout, but the science is kept to the bare minimum and we never experience the thrill of discovery.

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND

Cert 15 Stars 3

Having previously directed Knocked Up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Judd Apatow is on familiar ground with this over-long and indulgent slacker comedy drama which sees his self-penned script elevated by the quality it’s performances, not least by a terrific central performance by Pete Davidson, a regular on US TV’s Saturday Night Live comedy show, not the former Dr Who.

He plays Scott, a 24 year old failed tattoo artist from New York’s Staten Island, the poor relation to Manhattan and Brooklyn, and at first glance he appears to be the latest in a long line of Apatow’s self-pitying man-babies, with his only virtue being his friends are more stupid and unprepossessing than he is. However Davison is a charismatic presence who remains combative as he’s graced with a growing sense of self-awareness.

This is inspired by Brit actress Bel Powley as his sparky and ambitious girlfriend, and by Marisa Tomei who brings heart to the role of his widowed mother. Together they managed to charm away my scepticism.

DA 5 BLOODS

Cert 15 Stars 5

Director Spike Lee is in typically incendiary form with this timely, technically superb, important and violent drama which explores the legacy of the Vietnam war and is in parts a history lesson, political statement and a call to arms.

Set in the present day and soundtracked by Marvin Gaye’s protest songs, it’s also a determinedly mainstream entertainment and we follow four African American army veterans who’ve returned to Vietnam in search of the remains of their squad leader Norman, and a secret stash of buried treasure.

Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Delroy Lindo are a tremendous ensemble of talent with a convincing camaraderie as ‘Da Bloods’, with the latter in particular on Oscar-worthy form, with the strong character development of the first half providing emotional firepower to every bullet spent in the blood-soaked second half.

In flashback Chadwick ‘Black Panther’ Boseman appears as Norman, while Jean Reno has fun as an arrogant Frenchman representing European colonisation, corruption and exploitation.

On a creative roll after his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 2018’s undercover cop thriller BlacKkKlansman, Lee knows better than to exhaust his audience, so he uses his experience and ability to time each of his dramatic punches so they land with the greatest possible impact.

Though Lee playfully riffs on the Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now, the biggest storytelling touchstone is 1948’s Oscar-winning tale of greed and madness, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in which Humphrey Bogart starred as a desperate American adventurer abroad.

It’s fascinating to see the two films relating to each other across generations and geography in terms of style, tone and intent, and by directly referencing that classic Lee is asserting his undoubtedly deserved right to stand in the pantheon of great filmmakers.

I wish I’d been able to experience this on the big screen, though it’s no less a masterpiece on the small.

WAVES

Cert 15 Stars 3

Following his impressively claustrophobic 2017 horror, It Comes at Night, this stylish emotional family drama is very much a change of gear for director, writer and producer Trey Edward Shults.

It sees an African American family in Miami deal with a traumatic series of events which include pregnancy, drug abuse and violence.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell are impressive as teenage siblings among more established actors such as Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown.

And if you enjoyed Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the ambient rhythms served up here.