DARK WATERS

Cert 12A Stars 4

Take a dip in the deep and murky legal waters of this outrageous and terrifying real life US drama involving corruption, cover up and cancer.

Mark Ruffalo is best known as Marvel superhero The Hulk, and he’s used his career muscle to produce this weighty, important, and righteous David versus Goliath battle, which makes great use of his intelligence, understated charm, and ability to project decency and integrity.

He stars as Robert Bilott, a lawyer who spends the best part of two decades working on an environmental lawsuit against one of the world’s largest chemical companies, DuPont, after he discovers they’ve been dumping toxic waste into the water, air and land of his home town where one of their major factories is based.

It’s a by-product of Teflon, used not just nonstick pans, but cars, carpets, make-up and lots of other everyday household products.

And DuPont have spent forty years poisoning the townsfolk including their own workers, and burying the scientific evidence which proved they knew it caused birth defects and tumours.

It’s a horrifying account of corporate skulduggery, but director Todd Haynes is as keen on the great personal sacrifice involved in Robert’s Damascene conversion from being a defender of wealthy corporations to the champion of powerless individuals.

There are three great supporting performances by Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman, and the script works hard to condense an incredibly lengthy and complex case, and reduces the science to a level an idiot such as myself can understand.

However thriller elements such as arson, break-ins and the threat of car bombs feel almost an oversight, and the tone is suitably dour, with occasional lighter moments of lawyer humour.

As someone who grew up in Middlesbrough, the former home of the UK’s chemical industry, this wasn’t as shocking for me as it may be for some, but it’s a powerful and hugely disturbing watch.

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THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Cert 15 Stars 4

A 21st century makeover is given to H.G. Wells’ 19th century classic story in this slick, scary and daftly entertaining slice of Friday night popcorn horror which delivers gas-lighting from beyond the grave.

Originally planned as a big budget star vehicle for Johnny Depp as part of Universal Pictures blockbuster Horror-verse films, it’s been reconfigured as a low budget project for the #MeToo generation by Blumhouse Productions, who along with trusted writer and director Leigh Whannell, previously made The Conjuring horror franchise.

The story is given fresh impetus by being told from the victims point of view, as well as tech-billionaires, online stalking, and computer hacking.

Star of TV’s Madmen, Elizabeth Moss anchors the action with a wonderfully twitchy performance as Cecilia, the survivor of an abusive relationship. But after her ex is found dead, a campaign of terror by an unseen assailant makes people doubt her sanity.

Old school special effects mix effectively with modern CGI, plus there are cheeky nods to the iconic film version of 1933 and Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 2. See if you can spot them.

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ONWARD

Cert U Stars 4

Go on a magical quest with this bright, colourful and big-hearted family fairytale which mixes high school hi-jinks and Indian Jones-style escapades in a world populated by mythical creatures such as elves and pixies instead of humans.

Two teenage elven brothers live in the equivalent of a modern US town full of electricity, cars and smart-phones, which have long supplanted the magic of wizards.

And they set forth in a battered old camper van to find a magic jewel to cast a spell to bring their dearly departed father back to life for one day.

Best known for playing Spider-Man and Star-Lord and re-teaming for first time since Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt bring an easy rapport as Ian and Barley.

Their engaging comic chemistry elevate the action as the popular actors play to type with Ian all shy and insecure, and Barley, a bullish know-it-all idiot.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus brings warmth and determination as their widowed mother, Mel Rodriguez is her likeable centaur boyfriend, and Octavia Spencer puts the roar into a fearsome non-flying manticore.

There’s no shortage of invention on show in the fabulously designed world, which teeters on the macabre as our heroes are drag along the reanimated legs and lower torso of their dad.

What sounds horribly disturbing is however a skilful, delightful, and very funny pantomime, and ties in the scripts ideas of parents being all shapes and sizes.

With the boys’ trip becoming a search for identity and role models, it’s also an opportunity for them to learn to focus, to trust oneself, and to always speak from the heart.

Dan Scanlon previously directed Pixar’s not dis-similar Monsters University, and this is an improvement on his 2013 hit.

And though Onward is not as good as the Toy Story films, it does have typically strong production values, a strongly comic and touching script, and an insanely audience friendly voice cast, making for a surprisingly emotional crowd-pleaser which is never too scary for the little ones.

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SPYCIES

Cert PG Stars 2

Set in a world where animals act like humans, this uninspired odd couple espionage animated adventure is an exercise in extraordinary mediocrity, with buffoonery and inter-species romance occurring with plodding efficiency.

A vain and dim secret agent cat with the unlikely name of Vladimir Willis after causes major collateral damage high speed city chase and as punishment is sent to provide security on an off-shore platform.

But a top secret substance is stolen on their watch, so along with his new partner, a soap opera-loving rat called Hector, they go undercover to a hospital to get it back. Meanwhile rare species such as the white rhino are being targeted by terrorists with ‘ice lasers’.

Some of the gadgets such as the retro flying rocket bikes are nicely designed, and the action has some zip, but the humour is flat, characters are thin and the animation looks cheap.

It’s a riff on the vastly superior Will Smith animation, Spies In Disguise and Pixar’s Oscar-winning Zootropolis, but without the wit, charm or talent of either.

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SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

Cert PG Stars 4

Nearly thirty years after taking the gaming world by storm, the world’s fastest alien hedgehog makes his film debut in this entertaining and appropriately fast-paced family action comedy.

Successfully meshing big budget Hollywood storytelling with Sonic’s playful spirit and core concept, it sees the cute and cuddly CGI critter having to collect his magic gold rings while battling the psychotic scientist, Dr Robotnik.

However in order to incorporate more relatable human characters, Sonic is dropped into our real live world, and the story is structured around a familiar and predictable ode to family, friendship, family and American small town life,

James Marsden is an agreeably amiable and comic presence as Tom, a good-natured small town sheriff with ambitions of proving himself on the mean streets of the big city.

He’s presented with the perfect opportunity when he meets the motor-mouthed Sonic who is need of taking to San Francisco which allows for some father and son-style bonding.

Voiced with enthusiasm and energy Ben Schwartz, Sonic’s epic expression of teenage loneliness and angst causes a power outage, which alerts the military to his presence and they send Dr Robotnik to investigate.

Played by Jim Carrey for whom it’s an overdue and welcome big screen return, his unique brand of deranged physical comedy is perfectly suited to the cartoon tone, and though his mania has marginally diminished with age, he still seems a biscuit short of barrel.

He’s heavily armed with mechanical gadgets which he transports around in a large black truck, which resembles the Batmobile’s angry big brother.

And the films best sequences are when we see the world from Sonic’s super fast view, with the humans seemingly frozen in time allowing him to cause merry mayhem.

My game-addicted 9 year old is going to love it, and so will yours.

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EMMA

Cert U stars 4

This fabulously dressed adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel by the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is faithful to its character, plot, period costume and humour.

More used to appearing in modern thrillers, this is an impressive change of gear for Anya Taylor-Joy, who brings a porcelain elegance to the twenty one year old Emma.

She’s a snobbish rich busybody on a difficult path to self-enlightenment and true love, whose vain attempts at playing village matchmaker powers the comedy.

And it brings her into conflict with her exasperated yet handsome and single neighbour, played by the generously whiskered Johnny Flynn.

Filmed on location in grand country houses, it also has welcome appearances from those other British institutions, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in key roles.

Concerns such as old age poverty and male toxicity play out alongside tart observations of pretension, pomposity, arrogance and cruelty.

But Emma’s growing self-awareness and kindness wins the day, ensuring this is enough to melt the heart of the most determined St. Valentine’s Day cynic.

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PLUS ONE

Cert 15 Stars 2

Featuring a dozen weddings and zero funerals, this millennial spin on the romcom is  laugh-light, derivative and strangely downbeat, and feels more like a sneering and mopey indie road trip drama than the classic When Harry Met Sally to which it owes a huge debt.

Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine star as singletons Ben and Alice, who team up as each other’s platonic plus one for the upcoming wedding season, in order to help each other find dates.

Despite much contrary evidence, the uptight Ben is described as cute, charming and funny, and being self-pitying and with his twice married dad is getting wed again, which encourages Ben’s self-pitying nature.

Alice is much more fun but in their directorial debut, writers Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer reduce her to being the conduit for Ben’s learning curve, meaning she has to be humiliated so he can grow as a person.

Few people seem to be having a good time, and nor was I.

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