UNCUT GEMS

Cert 15 Stars 4

Adam Sandler gives a dazzling career best performance as a sleazy and desperate diamond dealer in this anxiety-inducing portrait of a man trying to avoid a professional and private collapse of his own making.

Best known as a comic actor but delivering a hyper-caffeinated tour de force in a rare dramatic role, Sandler benefits from the filmmaking skills of co-director and writers, Josh and Benny Safdie.

They’ve delivered another gut-wrenching crime drama to match their 2017, Good Times, which brought the absolute best out of former Twilight star, Robert Pattinson.

At the centre of the plot is the possession of a highly valuable black opal diamond smuggled into the country into the country, and on which a number of side deals are based.

Sandler is belittled, insulted and assaulted as he frantically tries to keep one step ahead of violent debt collectors.

Violent and sharply funny with an extraordinary soundtrack, the nail-chewing finale involves a basketball game, a sport I normally avoid but here had me gripped.

 

THE RUNAWAYS

Cert 12A Stars 2

The gorgeous vistas of the North Yorkshire are the best reason to see this meandering and melancholic British indie drama, which sees three kids on the run from their murderous uncle when he returns from eight years in jail.

They take a pair of seaside donkeys with them as they set off across the moors to find refuge with their estranged mother.

As the surrogate mother to her younger siblings, sixteen year old Angie is older than her years, and  young Molly Windsor brings a stubborn reserved dignity to the role, as she tries to corral her bickering siblings, played by the game Macy Shackleton and Rhys Connor.

Mark Addy, Lee Boardman and Tara Fitzgerald play the ineffectual adults in a loosely plotted and underpowered tale of neglect, alcoholism and greed.

Sadly there’s a struggle to generate humour or tension, and the tone is unsure, getting lost somewhere between the 1970 classic The Railway Children, and the nightmare of Terry Gilliam’s 2005 dark fable, Tideland.

AMANDA

Cert 15 Stars 3

Terrorism tears a family apart in this elegant and thoughtful French drama which turns a story of loss and shock grief and loneliness into one of perseverance and hope.

David is an easy living tree trimmer who tends the city parks and gardens begins a tentative romance with his neighbour Lena, a music teacher.

Vincent Lacoste and Stacy Martin conjure up a relaxed romantic intimacy in a fresh portrayal of Paris, a city busy and lived in, but not overly glamorous or touristy as is often the case on the big screen.

His idyllic life is struck by tragedy when his sister is killed, and while dealing with his own feelings of loss, David has to learn to take responsibility for his niece, Amanda.

Isaure Multrier is sweet but never cutesy in a lovely and unaffected performance as the seven year old.

It’s a necessarily melancholy affair with enough grit to keep the drama grounded, and it makes for a fresh and soulful palate cleanser after the festive excess.

INVASION PLANET EARTH

Cert 12 Stars 1

A passion for long defunct 1980’s sci-fi TV shows is necessary to survive this crowd-funded British alien abduction nightmare, which sees a psychiatrist and his patients kidnapped by extra-terrestrial warships.

There’s fun to be had with the opening scene where we watch a fake TV show called Kaleidoscope Man, clearly inspired by of Gil Gerard’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

It’s best to assume this film is intended as a sincere homage to such material, unfortunately accurately recreating the shoddy design, special effects, writing and acting of the era only results in a film of similar standard.

 

 

PLAYING WITH FIRE

Cert PG Stars 3

John Cena completes his journey from angry WWE wrestling star to harmless Hollywood leading man in this amiable, sentimental and knockabout family comedy.

As Jake ‘Supe’ Carson, he’s a control freak firefighter who’s determined to live up to his fathers legacy as he leads his small rural and dysfunctional team.

But his ambitions of promotion are threatened when he rescues a trio of kids who must take refuge in his remote fire station during a storm.

This isn’t a film where the plot holes are important, pop tunes jolly everything along, and the mild action scenes which top and tail the film are decently staged.

Young kids will enjoy the slapstick, poo jokes and the musical tribute to My Little Pony cartoons, the presence of comedy actor Jordan Peele will make you chuckle if nothing else will, and dog lovers will like the slobbering hound called Masher.

It’s all a bit Kindergarten Cop meets Home Alone and though Playing With Fire won’t set the world alight, it might temporarily warm your cockles.

 

STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Cert 12A Stars 4

Director JJ Abrams returns to the Star Wars universe to provide a suitably epic finale to cinemas greatest sci-fi saga which rockets along in fan-pleasing style and never skimps on the spectacle.

Having brought the series roaring back to life with 2015’s The Force Awakens and sitting out 2017’s The Last Jedi, Abrams satisfactorily wraps up this third trilogy with an emotional flourish which had people cheering in my preview screening in Leicester Square.

Killed off in in episode VI, the evil Emperor Palestine has returned and is hunting Daisy Ridley’s scavenger orphan, Rey, but we’re warned by the Emperor, ‘she’s not who you think she is’.

Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac reprise their roles as heroic members of the resistance, and set about the task of saving the universe, with their winning chemistry carrying us along as they try to set the galaxy to rights one last time.

Standing in their way is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, the diabolical Supreme Leader, and his chasing them about the cosmos is a deliberate attempt to keep us guessing who the Skywalker of the title is.

The zippy action will keep my 9 year old son entertained, and for fans such as me who have been there since my own childhood, it serves up a banquet of nostalgia, not least the scenes featuring the late Carrie Fisher, whose presence as General Leia is squeezed for every ounce of emotion in a dignified final appearance.

Robot C3PO provides a lot of the humour, there are light sabre duals and space battles, and cramming in so much plot, action and old favourites such as Billy Dee Williams’ scoundrel Lando Calrissian, means some new characters such as Kelly Marie Tran’s mechanic, Rose, are sidelined.

This isn’t the greatest Star Wars movie ever, and not even the best of this third trilogy, but it’s driven by the desire to reward the fans for their devotion and is a triumph of hope over fear.

 

JOJO RABBIT

Cert 12A Stars 3

This unique Second World War satirical black comedy is armed with the best of intentions and takes potshots at intolerance, indoctrination, hate, Hitler, and the stupidity of war, but too often fails to strike the funny bone.

Roman Griffin Davis is a wonderfully assured young presence as ten year old JoJo, who at a Hitler Youth camp learns to burn books and hate Jews, suffers an accident and is invalided home to his mother, a brilliant if briefly seen Scarlett Johansson.

Thomasin McKenzie is just as great as Elsa, a Jewish girl whom JoJo discovers hiding in his home, which causes him to question the wisdom of his imaginary friend, Adolf, played by Kiwi writer and director, Taika Waititi.

I didn’t laugh at his vampire comedy, What Do We Do In the Shadows, and his Marvel superhero adventure, Thor: Ragnarok is only the second best Thor film. Honestly, it’s not me it’s him.

However this is his best work, and if you enjoy his wacky sensibility, you’ll probably enjoy this more than I did.