LEGACY OF LIES

Cert 15 Stars 3

Brummie born action star Scott Adkins busts some ferocious action moves in this hard-as-nails global spy-thriller as an ex-MI6 agent making money in illegal bouts.

Honor Kneafsey is fun as his streetwise gun-toting 12-year-old daughter Lisa, who’s unfazed by his ferocious cage-fighting skills, but whose life is at stake when her dad is dragged back into the espionage game and given 24 hours to find some secret files.

The strong location work and glossy menace is anchored by Adkins, an unsung hard working professional and likeable screen presence deserving of a more high profile gig.

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.

TENET

Cert 12A Stars 5

Delivering the blockbuster of the year, Brit director Christopher Nolan confirms his position as the foremost creator of high concept top quality popcorn entertainment with this bold, epic and ingenious mind-bending spy thriller.

As a CIA agent who’s prepared to die for his team and his cause, John David Washington commands our attention as the un-named protagonist who’s recruited by a shady agency to save the world from a Third World War, a fate claimed to be worse than armageddon.

He’s thrown into a complex time-twisting plot which circles around art forgery and arms dealers, but if you’ve seen Nolan’s 2010 smash Inception, then you’ll know to expect nothing is as straightforward as it seems.

The son of Oscar winning screen legend Denzel, Washington has inherited his father’s screen presence, charm and talent but is very much his own man, and seems utterly comfortable shouldering the responsibility for carrying a huge movie such as this.

It’s a privilege Nolan previously afforded established heavyweight stars Leo DiCaprio and Christian Bale – and Washington isn’t out of place in their company.

Washington is teamed up with former Twilight star Robert Pattinson who brings a wonderfully dry comic delivery to his lines, and his introduction is as a somewhat highly strung ex-pat gentleman thief, imagine Lawrence of Arabia being played by David Bowie.

They’re a great pairing and it’s easy to imagine either of them as the next James Bond, and Nolan’s well known love of 007 is apparent in every frame.

From the superb and thrilling stunt work which involves articulated lorries, catamarans and the crashing of a real life jumbo jet, and in the glossy location work which reaches from the US to India via Italy and Scandinavia, Bond’s influence shines through.

Among all the inventively-staged action it’s great to see former TV Eastender’s actor Himesh Patel getting a boost to the big league to complete a diverse trio of agents. And on that note it’s refreshing to see a film of this stature and sweep include important scenes between an African-American lead and an Asian woman of a certain age, the elegant Dimple Kapadia.

Recently announced as Princess Di in TV’s The Crown, Elizabeth Debicki is terrific despite being cast again as an abused trophy wife fighting for access to her young son.

There’s a welcome though brief appearance by Nolan stalwart, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh is cold heartedly monstrous as a Russian oligarch.

A dizzying and explosive adventure to rank alongside Nolan’s Inception for its ability to confound the audience, the writer and director even feels compelled to warn us early on not to try and figure out what’s happening – but just to lose ourselves in the thrill of the chase. As Clemence Poesy’s scientist says. ‘Don’t try to understand, feel it.’

Nolan’s ability to craft crowd-pleasing spectacle remains undimmed and is so brimming with confidence he dares to employ one of cinema’s oldest visual tricks and succeeds in making it seem remarkably fresh and almost groundbreaking.

Thanks in part due to Ludwig Goransson’s thunderously propulsive score Tenet sounds fantastic, and it looks incredible, especially on a giant IMAX screen. This is the biggest cinema event of the year and you don’t want to miss it.

PROJECT POWER

Cert 15 Stars 3

Two likeable stars buddy up in this high concept comic book crime thriller which barrels along with glossy special effects, strong production values and is peppered with plenty of action and an abundance of larger than life characters.

Giving movie star charisma to a workaday script which leans heavily on their talent and presence to hold our attention, Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are a former soldier and a maverick cop, who are reluctantly united in trying to find the former’s missing daughter.

Her disappearance is connected to gangs who are flooding the city streets with a new illegal super drug called Power, whose good trips can give you superhero speed, strength or other powers, but a bad dose can see you explode. It’s worth watching for the ice women, the flaming man and the chameleon guy.

They guys are accompanied by a young teenage street hustler called Robin who demonstrates her talent for freestyle rap, a hell of a thing for actress Dominique Fishback to attempt in front of Foxx, who won an Oscar for playing jazz and blues music legend Ray Charles.

MESSAGE MAN

Cert 18 Stars 3

An idyllic island is the setting for this brutal and gory Australian thriller which dresses up a story straight out of a Clint Eastwood western with the glossy modern thrills of a Bond movie.

A retired hitman drifts into a small town on an Indonesian island and when he helps out a poor family in trouble with a local gang, a bloodbath begins involving pistols, bombs, swords and machetes.

Writer and director Corey Pearson provides uncomplicated but effective action while marrying film-craft with style and flashes of humour, I just wish he’d cut to the chase a little sooner.

THE OLD GUARD

Cert 15 Stars 2

Charlize Theron’s latest action thriller is a wannabe franchise starter but instead of being an extravagant exercise in gleeful mayhem promised by the outlandish concept, it delivers a curiously flat experience in a painfully pedestrian manner.

With centuries old immortal warriors battling their way across time, this could easily have been a storming feast of inventive comic book violence, like 1988’s Highlander updated for the 21st century.

Highlander is a big bag of swashbuckling nonsense and one of my favourite films, however where it featured a contest to the death for the ultimate prize, here they’re a sword-carrying band of do-gooding undercover mercenaries, a bit like TV’s the At-Team, but without the knowing sense of escapist fun.

Wanting to anchor the story firmly in the real world the script includes kidnapped African schoolgirls, Afghanistan action, and an exploitative pharmaceutical corporation.

But it takes itself far too seriously and is played with the earnest and weary tone of an existential drama as characters struggle to cope with the pain of never-ending life.

Worse the adequately-staged action is formulaic and nowhere near as thrilling as Theron’s blistering fights in 2017’s thriller Atomic Blonde. Here she’s the leader of the soldiers teaching the newly immortalised KiKi Layne how to survive as an outsider in a world which fears you.

As for Theron’s team, Matthias Schoenaerts is even more morose than usual, while Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli are sympathetic but forgettable, and collectively they’re far from a bundle of laughs. But as the villain is tragically underpowered, they’ve little reason to raise their game.

The most interesting character is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s former CIA agent who commissions Theron’s team to stage a daring rescue, and terrific as the British actor can be, even he struggles with the misjudged tone, which is a criminal waste of talent as he’s more than capable of delivering the outrageous performance necessary to carry the material.

PAYBACK

Cert 15 Stars 2

West Midlands-born kick boxing champ turned actor Scott Adkins brings a Jason Statham-esque swagger and action skills to this low rent sequel to 2018’s brash action crime thriller The Debt Collector.

He makes a bickering double act with Louis Mandylor as they go to Las Vegas to see a criminal casino owner who owes money to their boss. Meanwhile, a notorious drug kingpin is after them to avenge his brother’s death.

British writer and director Jesse V. Johnson keeps everything simple and direct with a blood, bullets and banter approach, and while nothing’s very original I was never bored.

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.

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.

BLOODSHOT

Cert 12 Stars 2

Based on a character from Valiant Comics this derivative revenge sci-fi action thriller was intended to kickstart a franchise, but the film’s disastrous box office performance underscores the it’s star Vin Diesel is only a bums on seats draw when in his Fast and Furious franchise or in his xXx films.

Diesel bullies his way through a lacklustre plot as a Marine who was killed in action and reborn with enhanced powers by a powerful organisation intending to use him as a weapon. Toby Kebbell, Talulah Riley and Guy Pearce do their best in this anaemic shoot-em-up.