Underworld: Blood Wars

Director: Anna Foerster (2017) BBFC cert: 15

Not quite alive but still stalking us, the fifth film in this vampire franchise fails to offer much bite.

Kate Beckinsale slips back into her latex and leather catsuit as the renegade warrior vampire, Selene.

She’s being hunted by vampires and werewolves who want to exploit the powers of young daughter in their eternal war.

The plot drips with blood, birthright and betrayals. Sacred swords are taken up against poison bullets in a landscape of castles and frozen waterfalls. There’s plenty of blood splatting video game action and the stunt team do sterling work.

The venerable Charles Dance aside, the men are deathly dull. Fortunately Lara Pulver is there it raise the spirits as Semira, a lusty, busty, bad ass who amps up the camp in her vamp.

Filming in Prague adds a suitably gothic feel and presumably helped keep costs down. This episode cost half as much as the previous one, and it shows in the consistently shoddy CGI.



Ghostbusters (2016)

Director: Paul Feig (2016) BBFC cert 12A

This supernatural reboot rakes over the bones of the 1984 comedy classic but fails to scare up the fun.

 Being bravely recast with an all female team has resulted in a ferocious online furore. However this gender switching is nothing new to Hollywood, it worked super successfully for Rosalind Russell in screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940) and you don’t have to go that far back for other examples. Last year Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) gave a turbo charged reboot to that ’80’s franchise by putting the women in the driving seat.

This is very funny and scary. But only for the first five minutes before the new team turn up. From then on it’s sadly an indulgent Melissa McCarthy vehicle loaded up with CGI to paper over the holes in the weak script.

This is very much her movie and on a par with her recent The Boss (2016) and less fun than the similarly spooky Jack Black caper Goosebumps (2016).

Once again New York is awash with ectoplasm and evil spirits as the apocalypse approaches and only the Ghostbusters team of paranormal investigators can prevent it.

McCarthy and Kristen Wiig star as scientists Abby and Erin. They go into business as paranormal investigators after losing their university jobs.

Pushed into the background, poor Kate McKinnon is forced to gurn for attention as Jillian, the inventor of the teams ghoul catching gadgets.

She’s given a dance scene, an action moment and a speech, and all are great. However they feel more like ‘a bit for the trailer’ or a guilty ‘we’d better give her something to do’ than organic character reveals. McKinnon is easily best in show and I wish she’d been put front and centre.

Leslie Jones is subway worker Patty who sees a ghost and inexplicably joins up. She shouts most of her lines, probably in order to get noticed. Enough has been said about the fact there are three white scientists and one black transport worker. This isn’t a result of malicious intent but a foolish and avoidable lack of script oversight.

The dull villain played by Neil Casey is a self proclaimed genius called Rowan. He’s a janitor who wants to bring forth the apocalypse as revenge on an uncaring world.

Despite some familiar locations, New York is curiously underpopulated and never seems like a living metropolis. This neuters a threat which is never set higher than Def Con Scooby Doo.

Given far more to do than his equivalent in the first film, Chris Hemsworth has a great time at our expense as a dimwitted secretary called Kevin. He’s employed on the basis he looks like Chris Hemsworth. This is fine but is one of many underdeveloped ideas.

Other wasted opportunities include the new Ghostmobile being a hearse and having a ghost chasing scene in a death metal concert. These are starting points not jokes in themselves and are left hanging, waiting for a punchline that never arrives.

Andy Garcia’s city mayor is a character in search of a purpose. He’s picked off the nostalgia shelf  in a tick box exercise to keep the fans happy.

This is an origin story of how the gang get together. In order to eke out some sentiment it fleshes out character backstory the first didn’t feel the need to possess.

One character muses why she joined the team. Never mind the supernatural stuff, this is the real mystery that is never explained.

There’s an unfunny running gag about Chinese food which has no purpose except to indulge McCarthy’s showboating and prolong her screen time.

If because of your attachment to the original film you’re pleased this isn’t a glowing review, then you’re an idiot. No material is safe from being resurrected, rebooted or recycled, no matter how precious it is to you personally.

Plus the deficit of female led high profile films in Hollywood needs to be addressed and I would have loved the opportunity to sing the praises of a great piece of work. My fear is this weak effort may stifle the production of other potential projects.

I enjoyed McCarthy and Feig’s Spy (2015) though Bridesmaids (2011) was over praised. If you thought those were hilarious you may enjoy Ghostbusters (2016) more than I did.

Lacking the sly wit of the original but borrowing the familiar logo, costumes, equipment, theme song, dialogue and story, this adds slapstick and feels like a collection of undercooked tribute sketches happy to coast on the personality of the performers.

Original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts are among the cameos. But by the time Sigourney Weaver turns up, my interest had long since given up the ghost.




Me Before You

Director: Thea Sharrock (2016)

Get your hankies at the ready for this modern day old fashioned romantic weepie.

Based on the best selling novel by Jojo Moyes, it’s derivative, sentimental and impervious to the charms of subtlety. But it is effective.

Two fabulously attractive young people are brought together by tragedy. Once they’ve fallen in love those same circumstances threaten to tear them apart.

Sporty banker William loses the use of his legs and arms while lowly waitress Louisa loses her job. Their fates collide when she takes a job as his carer.

Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin have a hugely engaging chemistry and the film succeeds on the strength of their charm and talent.

The puppyish enthusiasm of Clarke and her incredibly expressive eyebrows contrast nicely with Claflin’s remarkably still sneer.

William teaches Louisa culture and she helps him lighten up. But his strong views on his condition threatens to cast a permanent shadow on their potential happiness.

It’s best imagined as a British version of Pretty Woman (1990) where Richard Gere is in a wheelchair and Julia Robert’s hooker is now an obliging nurse played by the ditzy younger sister of Bridget Jones (2001).

A snow clad castle dominates the chocolate box scenery as they visit the races and a concert of classical music.

It would be too easy to mock the One Nation Tory politics underpinning this twist on the Cinderella story.

It’s a fairytale world where the landed gentry casually bestow jobs on the feckless and bitter unemployed working classes. Plus there’s a singular avoidance of the practical hardships of being quadriplegic.

However Me Before You doesn’t pretend or aspire to be a movie with a social conscience.

There isn’t any ambition beyond making you smile through a bucket of tears and on that score it’s an undoubted success.

Charles Dance and Janet McTeer provide gravitas as William’s parents and Dr Who’s Jenna Coleman appears as Louisa’s single parent sister. Joanna Lumley breezes through as a fragrant wedding guest.

Clarke is famed for her frequent nudity on TV’s Game of Thrones but here keeps her curves under wraps.

This tearjerker won’t be the last performance which has Clarke’s fans reaching for the tissues.


The Imitation Game

Director: Morten Tyldum (2014)

Get quizzical with Benedict Cumberbatch in this compelling wartime thriller about real-life code-breakers.

The star of TV’s Sherlock puts in an Oscar worthy performance as Alan Turing; cryptologist, mathematician and inventor of the world’s first computer.

It unlocked the Nazi‘s Enigma code machine and so helped win the second world war – but he was later prosecuted for being gay.

A cleverly constructed narrative switches between between his arrest in 1951, unhappy schooldays and successful war years.

In 1941 he is recruited by MI6 spook  Major General Menzies (a scene-stealing Mark Strong) and placed under the sceptical Commander Denniston (wonderfully caustic Charles Dance).

Although prodigiously brilliant, Turing’s lack of social graces annoys everyone but Joan, the only female team member played by a winning Keira Knightley.

In a laboratory in Bletchely Park they try to decipher German communications before the daily code is changed.

There are over 159 million million possible combinations and every seconds delay means more Allied deaths.

So starts to Turing build his computer, an astonishing room-sized contraption of wires, wheels and whirligigs.

He nicknames it Christopher after a schoolfriend, a perfect name for anything super-intelligent but he’s unable make it work quickly enough.

Denniston wants to close the laboratory down and the paranoid atmosphere is heightened by the possible presence of a spy.

Being a British affair, the terrifically moving moment of eureka happens in the pub.

Despite saving an estimated 14 million lives and shortening the war by two years, his work is classified top secret.

So no-one is aware of his work when he is later tried and punished for indecent behaviour.

This excellent film is an insufficient legacy to a genius and British hero – but it’s a damn fine place to start.