Things to do in Birmingham this weekend
Films showing this weekend
The hilarious start of this cartoon from the ‘Despicable Me’ team feels lifted from one of those pets-do-the-funniest-things montages on YouTube. Front-loading the best bits, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ begins by imagining what the animals in a New York apartment block get up to when their owners shut the door in the morning. A handsome poodle named Leonard switches on the stereo so he can headbang to hard rock. A puffy little white Pomeranian swoons in front of daytime soaps. A sausage dog gives himself a back rub with a food blender. And mongrel Max (voiced by comedian Louis CK) loyally waits by the door for his human to come home. So far, so Pixar. But things get more conventional when Max’s owner brings home an addition to the family – a slobbering rescue dog called Duke. It’s not long before the two mutts are lost in the city, falling foul of a gang of animals rejected by their owners and reduced to living in the sewers. The gang’s leader is an adorable evildoing bunny called Snowball – as villains go he feels a bit try-hard (and not nearly as twisted as teddy bear Lots-O’-Huggin in ‘Toy Story 3’). There are some funny-sweet observations about pets and our projections on to them. And the animation is expressive (though cat Chloe is not nearly cold-hearted and sociopathic enough for a mog). But the manic pace, piling on the action sequences, is exhausting. Still, what a savvy, stroke-of-genius idea for a film this is. In cities like London, New York and Shanghai, where spir
What to call this fiercely original movie? A Facebook thriller? A Google noir? Its missing-girl mystery plays out almost entirely on screens, using social media apps and chatrooms like Raymond Chandler used to use dive bars and dark alleys. The footprints being followed here are the digital kind, of course, and they’re all the scarier for that. You’ll walk away with a new awareness of just how exposed we all are to malign forces online. The missing girl is LA high-schooler Margot Kim (Michelle La), a seemingly well-adjusted teen. But in a touching, ‘Up’-like opening montage of family snaps and videos, we discover a sorrow that lingers over the family. When Margot vanishes, her dad David Kim (John Cho, terrific) turns to her search history for clues. Things, he quickly discovers, are not what they’ve seemed. Not even close. Debut director Aneesh Chaganty shifts through the gears from there, maintaining enough visual flair to keep the conceit cinematic. Strip away the tech trappings, though, and you’ll find the same joys that powered ’90s thrillers like ‘Presumed Innocent’ and ‘The Fugitive’: red herrings, a tireless detective (Debra Messing) and whiplash-inducing twists. Not all are subtle – David’s sleazy young brother may as well carry a ‘bad egg’ sign – and the rules of the film are, well, fluid, but with this many ideas flying around, you can forgive a dud or two. See it, then go home and chuck your laptop in the bin.
Calling the new A Star Is Born a “valentine” from its star, Lady Gaga, to her fans sounds a bit coy and delicate, so let’s call it what it really is: a hot French kiss (with full-on tongue), filled with passion, tears and a staggering amount of chutzpah. Generously emotional and all the more fun for it, the movie functions as something like a Marvel-esque origin story, with Gaga’s own mythology vamping it up at drag cabarets subbing in for her character’s background. It's more than smart to have cast her; it's essential to the movie even working. But to watch her character, Ally, become a star—especially onstage during the film’s live moments, which feel frightening, massive and deafening—is an incredible piece of evolution. Gaga is really acting here: shy, somehow smaller, trembling with excitement. Slowly, she blooms in the spotlight, proudly waving around that Streisand schnozz, the big voice completing the transformation. She’s extraordinary, and you root for her to go supernova per the scenario’s time-honored trajectory. Director-co-star Bradley Cooper has something else in mind, though. Just as his own performance—as Jackson Maine, this film’s rocker on the downslide—ends up being one of those grumbly beard chews (if you remember the 1976 version, you might describe it as Kristoffersonian), his steering of the drama is understated: modest and unshowy. He’s trying to make a “real” version of this glitziest of stories (whatever that means), and you love that Cooper seem
Glenn Close is the power behind the throne in this absorbing study of a complex marriage. She’s Joan, the wife of a feted novelist, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), who’s soon to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Together with their sulky son David (Max Irons), the American couple fly to Stockholm for a whirlwind of press, functions and rehearsals – but the most telling moments happen when they're alone together in their hotel room. While Meg Wolitzer’s source novel is written in Joan’s voice, ‘The Wife’ resists narration and allows Joan to internalise her feelings, ranging from affection, concern and duty to bitterness and rage. It’s a smart move: Close’s piercing eyes dart around with telling expressions while Joe blusters on obliviously, enjoying the attention of sycophants. Not much, though, gets past Nathaniel (Christian Slater), a writer planning a biography on Joe. He shadows the couple and waits for his moment to pounce. Slater gives what could have been a stereotypical role plenty of spark, and his scenes with Close are riveting. ‘The Wife’ is also very funny, not least when the Castlemans are woken by a group of traditional singers belting out ‘Santa Lucia’ around their bed. Less successful are the flashbacks to the couple’s past in the late 50s. The younger Joe (Harry Lloyd) doesn’t seem nearly charismatic enough to sweep Joan (Annie Starke) off her feet. That said, these scenes play an important part in a story with a satisfying sting in its tail, one th
Director Lenny Abrahamson knows how to turn small spaces into big drama. His last film (‘Room’) focused on a single, small shed. The one before (‘Frank’) primarily took place in a remote music-studio cabin. With ‘The Little Stranger’ – adapted from Sarah Waters’ gothic novel – he’s expanded to the rather grander scale of an old, English manor house. But it feels no less effectively claustrophobic.That manor house is Hundreds Hall, a decaying, 18th-century estate whose old-money residents, the Ayres family, can barely manage its upkeep during the late ’40s. When their sole maid falls ill, they summon Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson), a shy, awkward fellow, who soon confesses to having a lifelong obsession with the crumbling mansion since visiting during his childhood and befriends the eldest of the Ayers offspring, the earthy, practical Caroline (Ruth Wilson).But as the stiff, white-collar doctor draws closer to the welly-wearing Caroline and begins to rather creepily exercise his aspiration for the life of the landed gentry, it also becomes evident there is a malevolent presence lurking in the shadows of Hundreds Hall – something seemingly set on accelerating House Ayres’ decline.True to Waters’ book, Abrahamson valiantly resists turning ‘The Little Stranger’ into a full-on horror show, teasing its ghostly strands by delicate degrees, while Gleeson and Wilson’s increasingly uncomfortable relationship occupies the bulk of your attention. Those hoping for ‘Insidious’-like shocks
Superheroes may save the world, but parenthood requires skills far more advanced than extendable limbs. Brad Bird’s 'Incredibles 2' – Pixar’s most spirited sequel since 'Toy Story 3' – lovingly expresses this certainty through a bighearted familial portrait wrapped in ’60s-inspired design. But the film’s disarming appeal lies in its simpler moments of domesticity, in which the members of the all-superhero Parr family lift each other up and fight for relevance in a world of indifference. Still underground with criminalised superpowers and a destroyed home, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and their children, Violet, Dash and the explosive baby Jack-Jack, quietly live in a dingy motel. Their luck turns when a pair of wealthy siblings – the naive Winston and brainy inventor Evelyn (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) – offer them a chance to restore the Supers’ reputation. While the sensible Elastigirl serves as the fearless face of the mission, Mr. Incredible hilariously Mr. Moms his way through the kids’ homework, boy troubles and newly emerging superpowers. When the state-of-the-art villain Screenslaver disturbs the picture, the entire crew, including the previous film’s charismatic ice maker Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), joins the good fight. 'Incredibles 2' comes supercharged with timely, sophisticated themes around societal apathy and gender parity. While slightly overplotted in its finale, the sleek sequel still glows with grown-up wit, with cr
It would seem a prerequisite, but the people rebooting today’s ‘Halloween’ – journeyman director David Gordon Green and his frequent collaborator, actor Danny McBride, a co-screenwriter – really love ‘Halloween’. (When Rob Zombie tried doing his remake in 2007, you weren’t sure if he was enjoying himself or hating life.) Submitting to the new version is like driving a cushy Jaguar along familiar curves: So much of John Carpenter’s immaculate grammar is impossible to improve upon, so it’s simply been redeployed, sometimes with a small twist, sometimes not. Implacable killer Michael Myers still has a fondness for stiffly sitting up like a sprung jack-in-the-box; he still lurks in slatted closets and pins boyfriends to the wall with butcher knives. What elevates ‘Halloween’ beyond mere fan service is the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis, whose willowy Laurie Strode has been converted, Sarah Connor-style, into a shotgun-toting shut-in with more than a hint of crazy about her. That’s a great reason to remake ‘Halloween’: Everyone’s waving around a gun these days, and the idea that the survivor of the so-called ‘Babysitter Murders’ would, 40 years later, become a militia-worthy nut with murderous instincts of her own has a sad symmetry to it. Laurie tells us she’s prayed for the day that Michael would escape from the loony bin, so she can have her vengeance. ‘Well, that was a dumb thing to pray for,’ a cop replies. But we’ve prayed for it, too. It’s hard to care much about a pair of
Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin, once described by one of her photographer collaborators as ‘scarier than war’, lived half of her life in combat zones, famously adopting an eyepatch after she was half-blinded by a grenade attack in Beirut. When she was killed in Homs in 2012, deliberately targeted by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, she and British photojournalist and war veteran Paul Conroy were bringing the plight of the stranded, slaughtered Syrian civilian populace to the world. Conroy subsequently wrote about the events leading up to Colvin’s death and his hair-raising escape from the city in his memoir ‘Under the Wire’. Now, along with his translator, editor and fellow survivor Edith Bouvier, he retells the story in this urgent, riveting documentary. Writer-director Christopher Martin (‘The War on Democracy’) keeps things simple, combining new interviews with grainy, shaky contemporaneous footage, much of it shot on the run or under siege on camera phones. This no-frills approach lends ‘Under the Wire’ the same stark intensity as Colvin’s best reportage. At a time when authoritarian leaders are denigrating journalists, this documentary is a reminder that heroes such as Colvin, Conroy and countless others who put themselves in harm’s way to expose the truth about war and genocide are not enemies of the people, but their voices and champions.
A stellar injustice: Hollywood has made a movie about a faked Mars landing—1977’s deliriously silly ‘Capricorn One’—but has never given the historic first moon landing its due. That’s not so hard to explain. While inspiring on a global scale, the 1969 accomplishment was pretty straightforward, dramatically speaking. Cool competence ruled the day and made it happen. The real thing was better than any film could be. Thrilling when it escapes the gravity of drab living rooms and offices, ‘First Man’ does an admirable job of complexifying a well-told tale. It presents Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling, suitably square) as a guy who, in 1961, was both puncturing the barriers of human knowledge by flying experimental planes 140,000 feet over the Mojave Desert, as well as someone who was banging his head against the finite limits of a medical science that couldn’t save his daughter from a malignant brain tumor. Faced with that pain, Armstrong (if we’re to believe Josh Singer’s script, sourced from James R. Hansen’s authorised 2005 biography) did what many military men of the ’50s and ’60s did: shut off emotionally and turn inward. ‘First Man’ makes Gosling colder than he was in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ as a replicant, itself a NASA-level achievement. Claire Foy, already stranded in one of those underwritten astronaut-wife roles, has so little to work with from Gosling, her big meltdown scene takes on a desperate grandeur. But you come to appreciate Gosling’s reserve, his shirt-and-tie star
This is the first feature from writer-director Kogonada, a Korean filmmaker who made his name with a series of online videos about filmmakers he loves, from Wes Anderson and Robert Bresson to Richard Linklater and Ingmar Bergman. You can feel Kogonada’s sensitivity to film history in his gentle story of an unlikely pair who meet in Columbus, Indiana – a city whose modernist architecture offers the film’s striking backdrop. It’s a film full of brooding atmosphere, even if the story and performances don’t always feel as polished as its photography. Jin (John Cho) is a visiting Korean, a solemn man who strikes up a walking-talking friendship with the hugely amiable and much younger Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a librarian and tour guide. Both are at crossroads in their lives: Jin’s father, an architectural expert, is dying in a local hospital; Casey must decide whether to go to university or stay at home and care for her mum, a recovering addict.There’s a lot for these strangers to share as they open up to each other, slowly and tentatively, talking about life, art and love with a platonic, cross-generational intimacy that nods to Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters in ‘Lost in Translation’. The location is the film’s real star: Kogonada lends Columbus and its fascinating buildings an air of unforced spirituality as his characters wander and drive about the city. Visually, the film is always alluring, full of curious framings and teasing moments. If only the story a