Films Quiet at the back, the film’s about to start...
THE DEATH OF STARLIN
Once you get past the surreal idea of a movie inspired by the infamous Soviet dictator being conductedentirely in English, The Death of Stalin becomes an unexpected shout for ‘Comedy of the Year’. From the writers behind Veep and Alan Partridge, it is similarly jammed with awkward hands-over-eyes humour. There’s a stellar cast featuring Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin, with Bond girl Olga Kurylenko thrown in for balance. You’ll also spot Ystrad Mynach’s very own Richard Brake, aka the Night King from Game of Thrones too. The action takes an absurdist arc around the plotting that follows the Communist firebrand popping his marching boots. Rupert Friend is superbly oily as his son and Jason Isaacs hilariously northern depicting an army kingpin, successfully playing the whole episode for unlikely laughs.
For fans of: In the Loop; Alpha Papa
Verdict: Death has rarely been so amusing
PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN
Hot on the heels of the Wonder Woman movie comes this biopic of the heroine’s creator, Harvard psychologist Dr William Moulton Marston, played by Welsh star Luke Evans. The movie’s unwieldy title is far from the most complicated facet here: Evans smoulders as a man besotted with two women – his wife and his student mistress. The subsequent polyamorous attraction in the buttoned-up 1940s is pulled from the brink of disbelief by the fact it’s all based on actual events. Looking for busty Amazonians and action sequences? Sorry, bud, wrong movie.
For fans of: Original Sin; Dracula Untold
Verdict: Sex without a superhero in sight
BLADE RUNNER 2049
The movie that kickstarted a genre of dystopian sci-fi has been crying out for a sequel for 35 years – so long, in fact, that we’re only two years away from hitting the date of its setting. Harrison Ford, star of the original, returns, alongside Ryan Gosling, one of the next generation of blade runners (police hunting down “replicant” androids) who discovers then forms an uneasy alliance with the long-missing Ford. It all leads to a chaotic couple of hours that crackle with much, if not quite all, of the original’s near-future cool.
For fans of: Blade Runner; Dune A sci-fi must-see
You have already assumed that this reboot of the popular 1990s TV series/porn-lite titillation-fest is going to be garbage. And essentially you’re right, but it approaches the task with tongue in cheek. From the phallic beach balls and surfboard poster onwards, there’s ‘bulge in trousers’enough to make it at least mildly diverting trash. Which means among slo-mo shots, original cast cameos and scarcely palatable plot involving some criminal palaver,there are enough willy gags. The silly humour – thanks to being from the people behind Horrible Bosses – is mostly enough to keep your attention. Bonus: you get to witness Zac Efron being emasculated by the surprisingly likeable
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who slightly incongruously plays the character made famous by David Hasselhoff.
For fans of: Central Intelligence; Horrible Bosses;Baywatch (the TV series)
Verdict: Watch out, The Rock’s about
A few notable exceptions aside, Christian Bale rarely does light-hearted, and that is certainly the case with this early 20th century drama, based on true events. It catapults the Haverfordwest-born A-lister into the dying days of the Ottoman Empire and the lead-up to the Armenian genocide. Bale, sporting a prodigious beard, is an American journalist. He ends up entangled in matters of love and war in the midst of historic brutality, with his trademark intensity blazing a trail through The Promise. A century later, the issues in the movie are still raw. Turkey and Armenia still disagree over the bloody events, but this window into the time is compelling.
For fans of: Exodus: Gods and Kings; War Horse
Verdict: Not for the faint-hearted
It’s been a long wait. It’s been five years since the end of Alien prequel Prometheus teased us with a shot of the original movie’s extra-terrestrial monster. Has it been worth it? Well, with three of the Prometheus cast returning, including Michael Fassbender’s brilliantly disconnected android, there’s a sense of continuity. And the plot variation – couples sent to colonise an Earth-like planet with perhaps predictably unpleasant gory results – keeps the franchise moving forward with plenty of frights en route.
For fans of: Prometheus; Alien
Verdict: An out of this world horror
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
While we're usually the first to decry the laziness of Hollywood when it comes to unnecessary remakes, they might be onto something with this re-up of the classic 1960s western. Much like the original, the starring septet is a motley crew - and we don't mean just the on-screen characters. The leading men – Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt – are a disparate A-list bunch, but a certain chemistry bonds them into a watchable proposition. As the respective tough guy, sharpshooting guy and wise guy, the trio head an enjoyable romp attempting to save the town of Rose Creek from the bad guys. There are some genuine laughs among the ricocheting bullets and look-sharp for Wales's favourite hard-man Vinnie Jones.
For fans of: The original Magnificent Seven,
The Hateful Eight
Verdict: Give it a shot
Can you believe it's been 17 years since the no-budget horror The Blair Witch Project came out of nowhere to become a box office smash – and started a weird craze for yelling “Josh!” in the woodlands across the land? Now, almost two decades later, it finally has a legit, if not particularly inspirationally titled, sequel. But guess what? It's actually pretty flipping scary. Relying on a similar first-person found-footage filming angle, it's similarly shot through with paranoia and creepy shocks as a gaggle of hapless young people investigate the supposedly haunted forest. You probably don't need us to tell you that what follows isn't a cheery life-affirming tale of happiness and hope.
For fans of: The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield
Verdict: Scarier than Tony
I, DANIEL BLAKE
Distilling all the bleak fury at the unfairness of post-Brexit Tory Britain, Ken Loach's depiction of an out-of-work carpenter's struggles turns the mundane into something extraordinary. Dave Johns, previously best known as a jobbing stand-up comedian, gives an understated masterclass as the eponymous reluctant hero, going up against the Kafka-esque benefits system after a near-fatal heart attack. Blake's health problems, however, will be nothing compared to the ache in your own heart after enduring this – all too close to reality – tale. Winner of the Palme d’Or, this is an unrepentant, unforgiving rallying call for good people who have fallen between the cracks.
For fans of: Brassed Off, The Wind That Shakes
Verdict: Broken-Britain brilliance
If you want a bit of reality-meets-drama in your next cinema outing, Steve Jobs is the film for you. It’s a biopic based on Steve Jobs’ early days, giving us an unforgiving look at Jobs and his team. Michael Fassbender has taken on the challenge of becoming the late tech guru and world-famous innovator. The backdrop of the film is based behind the scenes of three iconic product launches, ending with the climactic unveiling of the 1998 iMac; each event serves as its own mini documentary that could easily stand alone. Fassbender is joined by a starstudded cast to build a narrative based on who Steve Jobs was. Nothing is held back when considering Jobs’ personality. Every relationship is tumultuous and as deeply flawed as the man himself. This isn’t a rose-tinted glasses kind of film. It’s a gritty sneak peek at what makes a genius tick, laced with snide dialogue, ego and an undeniable greatness.
Verdict: Jobs done!
What would you do if you found a house full of corpses? Kate Macer, an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt, is present on the operation that reveals the grisly scene and decides to join a government task force set on destroying the cartel responsible. She meets her new colleagues, Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), and from that point Macer has to deal with an ongoing morality crisis as she realises that everybody seems to be above the law. She struggles with the fact that she doesn’t know the true objective of the task force and spends much of the film simply trying to tread water: surviving the tense Mexican drugs underground. From the first moment the government team crosses the border, violence follows the group. Dead bodies hang upside down, people watch furtively from the shadows, and something as benign as a traffic jam becomes a murderous trap. If you want a truly intense film experience, this action thriller is built on suspense and frayed nerves.
Verdict: Probably not one for a first date
Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s been a long time coming, but George Miller has brought the beloved Mad Max franchise back to rampage across the big screen more than 30 years after the original changed the face of the modern action film. This beauty is already critically acclaimed and has been widely regarded as the best of the Mad Max series.
This post-apocalyptic film follows Mad Max (played by Tom Hardy) in what is essentially a two hour chase. Charlize Theron joins the scene early on as runaway Imperator Furiosa smuggling out a harem of wives from a warlord-cum-cult leader. It’s natural to fear that Max might have lost his edge with age, but Hardy channels the raw animalism and punk flare that first landed Mel Gibson the role in the late 70s. Somewhere between the stunning visuals and authentic practical effects you realise that your heart has been pounding since your first mouthful of popcorn and you’ve never cared so much about the fate of two grimy warriors on the cusp of humanity.
Verdict: Madder than the original Mel himself
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
The Marvel stakes are upped (again) – perhaps because the previous Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, was so dull that watching comic-book ink dry was interesting in comparison. To wit: while facing another evil threat to the planet, Chris Evans's titular army man falls out with Tony Stark (the ever-smarttalking Robert Downey Jr), and a cross-Avengers battle is on. Stark's allies include the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), plus, err, the kid from Billy Elliot as a nerdishly decent new Spider-Man; the Captain just gets Paul Rudd's Ant-Man to help him out. So we know which side we're on – and it's sure gratifying to see Mr America, in Stark's words, get punched in his “perfect teeth”.
For fans of: Marvel Avengers Assemble; Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Verdict: So this is what war is good for
Ridley Scott is back and on form as he teams up with Matt Damon to deliver an intense sci-fi that weighs snark and science equally. The film is built on a foundation of hard science and technical detail that the geekiest of geeks can appreciate, while Damon’s portrayal of astronaut Mark Watney brings that humour and interminable human spirit that makes the film accessible to everyone. From the initial sandstorm that pushes Watney’s team to evacuate and leave him, presumed dead, The Martian celebrates every side of humanity from Mars to Earth.
Verdict: Out of this world
The Furious crew are back with chases that will blow your socks off... even further than the last film. Furious 7, having been anticipated for so long (due to its release being delayed by the sad loss of Paul Walker), meets and exceeds expectations for a fun action flick with as many sleek cars and gravity defying stunts packed in as possible. Vin Diesel and co. go head to head against Jason Statham’s archetypically British villain in a manhunt that spans the globe.
Deckard Shaw (Statham) is seeking revenge on Dominic Torreto (Diesel) for the damage done to his brother in Furious 6. And his vengeance has no limits as the team search for the “God’s Eye”, the glamorously named, souped up tracking software that’s central to securing help to get Shaw bumped off. The film becomes sombre at points and very much self aware as the cast emphasise their long running theme of family, felt more keenly after the loss of Walker. Aside from these especially heartfelt moments, the film is your bread and butter Fastand Furious; the effects are brilliantly done, as are the stunts.
Verdict: Fast and furious - turned up to
KNIGHT OF CUPS
If Haverfordwest's favourite son, Christian Bale, wasn't already one of the coolest movie stars on the planet, you'd be upping your envy levels after watching Knight of Cups. Thankfully this film is the absolute opposite of the medieval jousting its title suggests. Instead, Bale's character Rick is a swordsman of an entirely different type – a Los Angeles screenwriter. And he's dealing with painful events in the only way he knows how: bedding as many women as one man can medically manage. It's all filmed in a semi-woozy manner that makes the entire experience akin to The Tree of Life crossed with The Wolf of Wall Street, and Bale is so typically intense that Knight of Cups can't help but existentially imprint itself on your retinas.
For fans of: The Tree of Life; Boyhood
Verdict: Arise, Sir Bangs-a-lot
So there’s this new movie where Dick Cheney is ‘Batman’. Well, kind of. Christian Bale depicting George W Bush’s right-hand man might sound insane, but if anybody can turn his hand to almost any role in the universe, it’s Haverfordwest’s most famous son. He is nearly unrecognisable as the lead in this mirth-inducing biopic of the rise of the American vice-president, grappling with his most unattering (yet equally genius) casting since American Hustle. His supporting players in this satire from the team behind top dollar nancial crisis flick The Big Short is flat-out fabulous, not least Sam Rockwell’s mush-brained Dubya. The cutting humour turns what at the time was an incredibly divisive administration into a loveable laughing stock, with none of the po-faced dullardry
of Oliver Stone’s W – and the time is ripe, too, given Donald Trump’s reign of bigotry is making all that went before it comparatively harmless japes.
For fans of: Veep; The Big Short
Verdict: You’d be a Dick to miss it
Director Sam Mendes wowed us with 007 reboot Skyfall so his new Bond movie has a lot to live up to – luckily for us, and him, it’s a genuine competitor for best yet from Daniel Craig’s era, and right up there with Goldfinger as all-time top dog. Craig is as suave as ever as he travels round the world ticking every box for a hallmarked Bond film. A cryptic message from his past makes him go underground, leading him on a war path across the globe to uncover the secrets of SPECTRE, a mysterious and dangerous organisation. An intricate puzzle links SPECTRE to Bond, and it’s up to him to figure out where the pieces are and how they fit together. The film is split between Craig’s adrenaline-fuelled action and M’s post-Snowden political battle to keep the secret services running. With what’s probably the darkest, grittiest and most complex Bond to date, Mendes has taken 007 and the action movie genre to new levels of cinematic spectacle. Make no mistake though, it’s also a breathless rollercoaster of thrills. From one intrigue to another, you won’t even have time to stop and ask questions as the classic Bond pace keeps you riveted. Baddie Christoph Waltz lives up to his Inglourious Basterds billing whilst Craig continues to evolve his portrayal of Bond, channelling dark moods, dry humour and his famous pout to give us a multi-faceted, stoic, yet charming 007, one that’s comfortably the best since Connery.
Verdict: 10 out of 10 for 007
Ethan Hawke stars in a film that covers the reality of war. Only, the front lines have moved from one side of the world to the other as Major Thomas Egan (Hawke) controls drones from Las Vegas. This is a war movie that sits on the better side of Clint Eastwood’s action-based American Sniper to convey an aspect of war that is both detached from, but intrinsically linked to, the heat of the battle. This is the realistic and introspective face of the modern war film.
When Egan’s unit is sub-contracted by the CIA, the orders to kill become less and less discriminate. Egan begins questioning the ethics and effects of his drone attacks and thus embarks on a psychological journey that threatens his sanity and relationship with his wife. The script is well crafted and provocative and Hawke’s portrayal of Egan serves to emphasise this. It’s a “show, don’t tell” kind of film and perfect if you want something a bit deeper.
Verdict: Fresh perspective on the war film
THE JUNGLE BOOK
While the average cinematic adaptation of classic literature might have you ditching the popcorn in favour of going down the pub, this take on Rudyard Kipling's epic tale has a cast that elevates it above tired blockbuster cash-ins. In fact, the eclectic voice actor choices are positively inspired: Bill Murray as dopey bear Baloo, Christopher Walken bringing kook to orang-utan King Louie and Idris Elba as stately Shere Khan. But it's 12-year-old Indian-American debutant Neel Sethi who steals the show, perfectly feral as wild child Mowgli. Among plentiful CGI beasts, he's a worthy central live action figure for Kipling's enduring story.
For fans of: The Life of Pi, Maleficent
Verdict: Book your tickets now
STATE LIKE SLEEP
A seedy drama with indie-cinema kudos aplenty – not least that it centres on Belgium – State Like Sleep follows the aftermath of a famous actor’s suicide, as his widow tries to figure out her husband’s demise. All leads seem to point to a high-end gentleman’s club, where she encounters the two true stars of the film: Edward and Emile. The former is played by one of the actors of our generation, Michael Shannon, who reliably delivers his idiosyncratic brand of intense menace; Luke Evans, the best thing to come out of Pontypool aside from a bunch of rugby players, almost steals the show with a dollop of Gallic grease as peroxide man of mystery Emile. There is tension aplenty, although a good proportion of the movie appears to involve the widow (Katherine Waterston) attempting to sleep her way round half of Brussels. Gladly, the twisty plot is a little more nuanced than a string of bedroom encounters.
For fans of: Enter the Void; Eyes Wide Shut
Verdict: You will be wide awake until the very end 3/5