END OF WATCH

Stars 3

The writer of the Oscar winning smash hit Training Day, returns with another gritty police thriller set in South Central LA, but with a Denzel Washington-shaped hole where the charisma should be.

Writer and director David Ayer, shot entirely on location in fidgety, semi-documentary, police-cam video style, creating a loud and tense gun and drug movie where the highest ambition police officers have is to survive their shift and have their timesheet signed off, End Of Watch.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Mike Zavala Michael Pena are patrol car partners who come across a safe house belonging to a Mexican cartel who immediately put a price on their heads for disrupting their lucrative drugs trade.

The cops aren’t the brightest guns on the street but they are mostly honest and unquestioningly brave. Patrolling is a series of verbal abuse, brutal fist fights and vicious gun battles, and even the music is aggressive.

Off duty, Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez provide strong acting support as their wives, with America Ferrera and Frank Grillo as their fellow officers.

Watching this film is like being trapped for two hours in a small steel cage with a pair of uniformed, squabbling, slurping, chattering caffeinated kids, before being released on a regular basis to be shot at by angry Uzi abusing gangsters.

Ayer doesn’t wholly commit to his handheld format which reduces its authenticity, and the last two scenes are unnecessary and lessen the films impact.

Despite this the two officers hold your sympathy and attention because although they’re not as interesting or entertaining as the film believes they are, even the most basic police work involves being screamed and shot at.

Their wives are the only lightness in their lives and in the movie and are a sweet and sassy counterpoint to the constant aggravation the men experience on duty.

This is a portrait of a city in a state of siege, and the only advice the script can offer is to wear comfortable shoes and a bulletproof vest.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Cert 12A 129mins Stars 4

You won’t believe what you’re seeing in this comic book action adventure as Spider-man hits the high spots in a deliciously deceptive head-spinning romp.

A direct sequel to blockbuster smash, Avengers: Endgame, this is a mischievous mix of sweet high school romcom, fun teenage spy caper and exciting superhero CGI spectacular.

Peter Parker is in romantic pursuit of classmate MJ, on their school’s European vacation, when his costumed alter-ego Spider-man learns heroes don’t get holidays. 

Grumpy secret agent Nick Fury teams Spider-man with superhero Mysterio, which will be a surprise to long-time Spidey fans as Mysterio is one of the web-swinger’s best known arch-villains.

But re-inventing Mysterio as a dimension-hopping hero with a tragic past makes him a more interesting character while also tying this version of Spider-man into last year’s animated Multi-verse adventure.

Parker identifies Mysterio as the man to replace Iron Man as his mentor, and they set about battling the Elementals, extra-dimensional giants with power over air, earth, wind and fire.

Returning with a winning chemistry as Peter Parker and MJ, Brit actor Tom Holland and pop star Zendaya are the beating heart of the film, with her self-contained charisma making MJ the best superhero squeeze since Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, in 1978’s Superman.

And they’re reunited with the key young cast members of Spider-man: Homecoming, and Marvel fan favourites such as Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei reprise their roles as the adult guardians.

Indie movie star Jake Gyllenhaal brings his unique brand of loopy intensity to Mysterio, and while he often gives the impression of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s a useful quality to have when playing a guy trying to save the planet.

Having Parker unveil various old and new Spider-suits is part of a stream of call-backs to previous films, which will have fans cooing in delight.

Plus a pair of fat-rimmed hi-tech spectacles are a knowing wink to Michael Caine’s 1960’s spy, Harry Palmer, and neatly magnify the script’s central concerns.

While the film wears the frothy air of an espionage caper, the tone disguises some very serious thoughts about fake news and multi-media manipulation, while reminding us Parker was employed in other incarnations as a photojournalist.

From dealing with the fallout of Endgame to deciphering what Marvel has in store for Spider-man, there’s a lot to uncover in this, and one of the best secrets is kept until after the credits, so make sure you stay until the absolute end.

15 MINUTES OF WAR

Cert 15 Stars 3

Olga Kurylenko grabs the opportunity to stretch her talents, as a US teacher in this agreeably tense hostage drama inspired by true events of 1976 in East Africa.

And the former Bond girl delivers a more compelling performance than Brit actress Rosamund Pike did in last year’s similarly themed Ugandan kidnap thriller, Entebbe.

Gun wielding terrorists kidnap her young class but their school bus crashes within sight of the Somali and Djibouti border, leading to an armed stand-off.

Strong location work provides a dusty authenticity, and the script is unafraid to draw parallels to contemporary events.

A QUIET PLACE

Cert 15 Stars 5

Writer and director John Krasinski co-stars alongside real-life wife, Emily Blunt, in this magnificently terrifying apocalyptic horror.

They play a married couple whose family are struggling to survive in a near future world where civilisation has been destroyed and humans are preyed on by creatures who hunt by sound.

Produced by Transformers supremo, Michael Bay, it scared up a thunderous £250m at the global box office on a tiny £13m budget. Smart, sharp and shocking, it’s a stunning example of how to use the simplest techniques to create nerve-snapping tension and will leave you silent with fear.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

Cert 12A 147mins Stars 5

Tom Cruise crashes back into cinemas with the sixth outrageous, death defying and exhilarating episode of his all-action espionage franchise.

IMF agent Ethan Hunt is the US answer to James bond, and Cruise chose to accept his first mission in the role back in 1996, and this is by a running jump the best one yet.

The preposterous plotting involves some missing plutonium and a terror organisation trying to establish a new world order. Plus of course the familiar latex masks, a series of betrayals and the famous signature tune.

Humour lands with the almost same impact as the punches as we’re whisked from Paris to London and Kashmir in bikes, boats, cars and helicopters, through a series of wildly improbable stunts. 

It begins in a surprisingly low key fashion with Hunt having doubts over his chosen career, but he’s soon accepting a new mission, aided by trusted colleagues Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg.

Joining them is former Superman, Henry Cavill, who’s on career best form as a CIA agent tasked to shadow Hunt and help complete his task.

And a cocktail lounge punch-up involving Rebecca Ferguson and The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby, suggests the possibility of an all female spin-off mission should Cruise ever decide he’s too old for all this.

He was famously injured during filming and his willingness to put his body on the line for our entertainment is what makes this franchise so compelling, 

Plus each dazzling display of virtuoso stunt work exceeds the previous one in ambition and scope and is conceived and executed with clockwork ingenuity. And they’re performed on location with a minimum of CGI assistance, adding to our gobsmacked disbelief. This is best watched on an IMAX screen for maximum effect.

Fallout establishes a new high bar in slick, glossy stunt-driven action adventure, and next year’s 007 film will have to keep it in its sights if Bond wants to remain top gun.

SKYSCRAPER

Cert 12A 102mins Stars 4

Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson cements his place at the pinnacle  of the Hollywood pile with another hugely entertaining action adventure to follow this year’s Rampage, and the Jumanji sequel.

He plays a former marine injured in a hostage rescue and now wears a prosthetic leg, working as a safety assessor in Hong Kong on the world’s tallest and most hi-tec building.

When a criminal gang set the building on fire, he must swing in to action to save his wife and kids.

The international cast and setting brings maximum appeal to the Chinese cinematic market, now the globes biggest.

There’s no escaping Skyscraper is built on the foundations of 1974 disaster classic The Towering Inferno, and 1988 terrorist thriller, Die Hard, while the tone is peak Arnold Schwarzenegger at his cheesey action best.

It’s an express elevator ride of slick stunts and knowingly preposterous plotting, and as the cast kept commendably straight faces I grinned my way through 220 floors of pure popcorn fun. 

 

 

THE FIRST PURGE

Cert 15 97mins Stars 3

This brisk and effective prequel to the hugely successful horror action trilogy is a typically blood splatting mix of carnage and satire.

It shows how a far right government uses a mass psychological experiment named the ‘purge’, to exploit the anger of social deprivation to cull the poor and so consolidate political power.

When New York’s Staten Island is quarantined and for twelve hours all crime, including murder, is legal, some turn to prayer and others to party.

However it soon becomes a warzone, with violence inflamed by social media, and a drug dealer must run the gauntlet of violence to rescue his former lover. Y’Lan Noel has a muscular charisma as Dmitri, and Lex Scott Davis is dainty but deadly as Nya.

The costume department has great fun creating nightmarish masks and outfits as booby trapped teddy bears and needle gloves are macabre additions to machine pistols and drone warfare.

I doubt this first Purge is the last one.