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Now showing at Cineworld Bradford Bradford Leisure Exchange, Vicar Lane,Bradford,West Yorkshire BD1 5LD 0871 200 2000

  • A Most Violent Year
  • American Sniper
  • Baby
  • Birdman
  • Dolly Ki Doli
  • Ex Machina
  • Exodus: Gods And Kings
  • I
  • Into The Woods
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Mortdecai
  • Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb
  • Paddington
  • Taken 3
  • The Gambler
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
  • The Theory Of Everything
  • The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death
  • Wild

A Most Violent Year 4 stars

movie title

Abel Morales owns a fleet of oil transport trucks that carry valuable fuel to customers across the city. One of his trucks is hijacked and the driver Julian is been badly beaten. Threats to Abel's livelihood become personal, targeting his children and wife Anna, whose gangster father used to own the company. "Let me deal with this," pleads Abel. "You better," she retorts. "Because you won't like what's going to happen once I start getting involved."

  • GenreAction, Drama, Romance, Thriller
  • CastJessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Albert Brooks.
  • DirectorJ C Chandor.
  • WriterJ C Chandor.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration125 mins
  • Official site
  • Release23/01/2015

According to statistics, 1981 was the most violent year in New York City history in relation to the population. Over the 12 months, more than 1.2 million crimes were recorded including 60,000 aggravated assaults, 5,400 forcible rapes and 2,220 murders.

A crack epidemic had the city in a chokehold and Mayor Ed Koch seemed powerless to curb gang warfare and spiralling lawlessness on the subway system. Writer-director JC Chandor, who was Oscar nominated for the 2012 thriller Margin Call, uses this turbulent period as a backdrop to his masterful and searing portrait of crime and brutal punishment.

Centred on a married couple, who are struggling to keep their heating oil distribution business afloat, A Most Violent Year powerfully conveys the personal and professional sacrifices of a devoted husband and wife, who become one of the shocking statistics.

The film's pacing is deceptively steady and slow, lulling us into a false sense of security as Chandor ups the stakes for his beautifully sketched characters, forcing them to take greater risks to protect their nearest and dearest.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) owns a fleet of oil transport trucks that carry valuable fuel to customers across the city. He's a small player but hopes to expand by clinching a deal for property on the Brooklyn waterfront that will allow him to take delivery of oil from the river. Having put down 700,000 US dollars as a deposit, Abel has just 30 days to close the transaction or the vendor keeps the downpayment and can sell the land to a competitor.

Soon after, Abel learns that one of his trucks has been hijacked and the driver Julian (Elyes Gabel) has been badly beaten. Union rep Bill O'Leary (Peter Gerety) asks Abel to allow the drivers to carry unlicenced guns as a deterrent but the boss strongly objects, knowing that it will take just one stray bullet to arouse the suspicions of the crusading Assistant District Attorney (David Oyelowo).

Threats to Abel's livelihood become personal, targeting his children and wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), whose gangster father used to own the company.
"Let me deal with this," pleads Abel.
"You better," she retorts. "Because you won't like what's going to happen once I start getting involved."

A Most Violent Year hits a sweet spot on every level, from Chandor's measured direction and lean script, to the powerhouse performances. Isaac is mesmerising as an honourable family man, who refuses to sink to the depths of some of his rivals, sticking to the path of righteousness for as long as he dare.

Chastain essays another ballsy woman of substance, cutting through her husband's rose-tinted idealism with harsh home truths. When oblivion beckons for Abel and Anna, we discover the true strength of their moral compasses in the face of the corruption and senseless bloodshed.

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American Sniper 4 stars

movie title

Born and raised in Odessa, Texas, Chris Kyle becomes a professional rodeo rider until injury forces him to reassess his priorities. He enlists with the military and his keen eye - nurtured by his father who taught him to hunt at an early age - sets Kyle apart as a sniper. During four tours of duty in Iraq, he gains the reputation as the most lethal sniper in American military history, with 160 confirmed kills to his name.

  • GenreAction, Biography, Drama, Historical/Period, Romance, War
  • CastBradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Luke Grimes.
  • DirectorClint Eastwood.
  • WriterJason Hall.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration132 mins
  • Official sitewww.americansnipermovie.com
  • Release16/01/2015

Heroes come in many shapes and sizes. Born and raised in Odessa, Texas, Chris Kyle became a professional rodeo rider until injury forced him to reassess his priorities. He enlisted with the military and his keen eye - nurtured by his father who taught him to hunt at an early age - set Kyle apart as a sniper.

During four tours of duty in Iraq, he gained the reputation as the most lethal sniper in American military history, with 160 confirmed kills to his name. Such was his notoriety, the enemy nicknamed him "The Devil Of Ramadi" and put a sizable bounty on his head.

When Kyle eventually returned home, deeply scarred by clashes with insurgents and the deaths of his brothers in arms, he gradually regained his humanity and reconnected with his family by working with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a bitter twist, having survived Iraq, Kyle was killed by one of those traumatised veterans on a Texas shooting range. His achievements are celebrated in Clint Eastwood's impeccably crafted biopic, which opens on a rooftop in Iraq with Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) staring down a telescopic sight as a woman and her young son emerge from a building.

Tensions steadily cranks up as Kyle places his finger on the trigger. "They'll fry you if you're wrong," warns his compatriot Goat-Winston (Kyle Gallner). We rewind initially to Chris' childhood, where he learns how to handle a gun with his father Wayne (Ben Reed). "You're going to make a fine hunter some day," says the old man tenderly.

When dreams of bull-riding turn sour, Chris enlists and he meets Taya (Sienna Miller) in a bar. They marry and she raises their family alone while Chris fights overseas and attempts to outwit an elusive rival sniper called Mustafa (Sammy Sheik).

With each successive tour, Chris returns home unable to communicate effectively with his loved ones. "I need you to be human again," pleads Taya. "I need you to be here."

American Sniper unfolds from Kyle's fervently patriotic perspective and the lack of narrative balance might trouble some audiences. Eastwood is more interested here in the psychology of a father and husband than wading through the murky politics and morality of modern warfare.

Battle sequences are choreographed with meticulous precision and Cooper, who bulked up for the role, affects a drawl to perfection as he conveys the demons that haunt Kyle and drive him further from the people that love him the most.

Miller is solid in a meaty supporting role, reminding Chris of his responsibilities to his family as well as his country. "I'm making memories by myself. I have no one to share them with," sobs Taya. Kyle's memory is polished to a lustre by Eastwood's film.

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Baby 3 stars

Action, mystery.

  • GenreAction, Thriller
  • CastAkshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Tapsee Pannu.
  • DirectorNeeraj Pandey.
  • WriterNeeraj Pandey.
  • CountryIndia
  • Official site

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Birdman 5 stars

movie title

Riggan Thomson rose to fame playing a superhero called Birdman in three blockbuster films in the 1990s. Twenty years later, his career is stagnant and he is determined to establish himself as a serious artist by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway staging of Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. As opening night approaches, petty squabbles between Riggan and his cast - including Broadway star Mike Shiner - threaten to derail the vanity project.

  • GenreComedy, Drama, Indie, Romance
  • CastMichael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough.
  • DirectorAlejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
  • WriterAlejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration119 mins
  • Official sitewww.birdmanthemovie.com
  • Release26/12/2014 (selected London cinemas); 01/01/2015 (nationwide)

According to Konstantin Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg, two founding fathers of method acting, the best performers possess the rare ability to channel deeply personal recollections and emotions through their characters. These actors don't just play a role as written, they share every breath and straining sinew with their alter ego.

In Birdman, Michael Keaton inhabits the role of a middle-aged Hollywood star, whose glory days as a big screen superhero are long behind him. It's the role of a lifetime for Keaton - the role of his lifetime, no less, nodding and winking to his two stints behind Batman's cowl under director Tim Burton in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Art and real life playfully blur in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's technically dazzling comedy, which was shot on location in New York. In one of the film's bravura handheld sequences, Keaton strides purposefully through crowded, neon-lit Times Square in just his underpants as tourists clamour with their mobile devices. Literally and figuratively, he bares his soul.

Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who deservedly won an Oscar for sci-fi thriller Gravity, meticulously splice together each interlude to resemble a single, unbroken 119-minute shot.

If you look closely, you can see the joins but, as a feat of split-second timing, balletic choreography and directorial brio, Birdman is jaw-dropping - right down to the moment the camera casually pans to a drummer on the street playing the same beats and rolls of Antonio Sanchez's improvised jazz score.

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) rose to fame playing a superhero called Birdman in three blockbuster films. Twenty years later, he masterminds a comeback with nervy producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway production of Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

As opening night approaches and revered critics including Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) prepare to deliver their waspish verdict, petty squabbles between Riggan and his cast - popular Broadway star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), leading lady Lesley (Naomi Watts) and current squeeze Laura (Andrea Riseborough) - threaten to derail the vanity project.

The leading man struggles to keep personal demons at bay, exacerbated by fractious exchanges with his spirited daughter Sam (Emma Stone).

Accompanied by a rambling voiceover from Riggan that reflects the character's mental unravelling, Birdman is a wickedly funny satire of a world of overinflated egos and barely concealed vices.

Performances are uniformly excellent, from Keaton's career-revitalising turn to Stone's fearless portrayal of a recovering drug addict and Norton's hilarious embodiment of an artist, who believes that, "popularity is just the slutty little cousin of prestige".

Peppered with affectionate verbal barbs aimed at Hollywood's current glitterati, Inarritu's picture is crammed to bursting with self-referential treats that demand a second and third viewing. Birdman is the post-Christmas gift that keep on giving.

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Dolly Ki Doli 3 stars

Romantic comedy.

  • GenreComedy, Romance
  • CastMalaika Arora, Sonam Kapoor, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub.
  • DirectorAbhishek Dogra.
  • WriterUma Shankar Singh, Abhishek Dogra.
  • CountryIndia
  • Duration98 mins
  • Official site

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Ex Machina 4 stars

movie title

Nathan is a talented computer programmer at a hi-tech firm run by the enigmatic Caleb. As part of a company-wide competition, Nathan wins a weekend at the CEO's remote island retreat, journeying to the lush paradise in a private helicopter. Once he gains entry, Nathan discovers he has been hand-picked by Caleb to take part in a ground-breaking experiment: to interrogate a functioning artificial intelligence prototype called Ava.

  • GenreDrama, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller
  • CastAlicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Chelsea Li, Corey Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno.
  • DirectorAlex Garland.
  • WriterAlex Garland.
  • CountryUS/UK
  • Duration108 mins
  • Official sitewww.meet-ava.com
  • Release23/01/2015

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the original Star Wars trilogy, Alien, Blade Runner and The Terminator peddled artificial intelligence as science fantasy, the reality of conscious machines seemed a distant dystopian nightmare. Today, with voice-activated personal assistants on our mobile devices, automated restaurants and sophisticated software tracking every keystroke, a world controlled by computers appears within our sweaty grasp.

For his bravura directorial debut, London-born author and screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) explores mankind's unquenchable desire to give birth to sophisticated automata that learns from its mistakes.

Shot largely within the confines of a state-of-the-art complex, which has enough fibre-optic cabling in the walls "to reach the moon and lasso it", Ex Machina is a deeply disturbing thriller that explores the murky moral ramifications of creating a robot that could pass for human.

Nathan (Domhnall Gleeson) is a talented computer programmer at a hi-tech firm run by the enigmatic Caleb (Oscar Isaac). Out of the blue, Nathan wins a weekend at the CEO's remote island retreat and journeys to the lush paradise in a private helicopter.

At the compound entrance, Nathan is issued with a security pass that he must carry at all times. Inside, he learns that he has been hand-picked by Caleb to take part in a ground-breaking experiment: to interrogate a functioning artificial intelligence prototype called Ava (Alicia Vikander).

"If you created a conscious machine, that's not the history of man, that's the history of gods!" gushes Nathan. The programmer is dumbstruck by Ava's beauty and her ability to respond intelligently to his questions. Very quickly, Nathan grows emotionally attached to Ava and he is distressed when she warns him not to trust Caleb.

The programmer's emotions are further complicated when he learns that Ava is the latest iteration of the CEO's secret work and will, by necessity, be scrapped to make way for a newer model.

Ex Machina exerts a vice-like grip on our attention, anchored by riveting performances from the central trio. Gleeson exudes sufficient sweetness and naivete to convince us he would be an unsuspecting pawn in Caleb's diabolical and ultimately deadly game. In stark contrast, Isaac bristles with machismo and menace as he voyeuristically documents Nathan's burgeoning attraction to Ava. "Did you design Ava's face based on my pornography profile?" Nathan cheekily asks his mentor.

Vikander, who studied at the Royal Swedish Ballet School, sets the screen ablaze with her deliciously ambiguous portrayal. Flawless visual effects blend seamlessly with her luminous performance to expose Ava's inner workings as she prowls her Perspex prison cell.

Like Nathan, we're bewitched by her as she devours knowledge and begs for help to avoid the scrapheap. There's no chance of Garland's gripping film suffering a similarly grim fate.

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Exodus: Gods And Kings 3 stars

movie title

When King Seti I passes away, his son Prince Ramses ascends the throne and rules 1300 BC Egypt with an iron fist. Soon after, Ramses learns that Moses is the child of Hebrew parents and consequently he banishes his adopted brother to the wilderness, never to return. Far from the splendour of the palace, Moses encounters a burning bush and discovers that God has tasked him with leading 400,000 Hebrew slaves to freedom.

  • GenreAction, Adventure, Drama, Film, Romance
  • CastChristian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Sir Ben Kingsley.
  • DirectorRidley Scott.
  • WriterAdam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian.
  • CountryUK/US/Sp
  • Duration150 mins
  • Official sitewww.exodusgodsandkings.com
  • Release26/12/2014

The history of cinema is bookmarked by defining moments when pioneers dreamt, at considerable expense, outside the traditional 16:9 ratio of the big screen. The 1933 version of King Kong, The Wizard Of Oz, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and James Cameron's Titanic pushed the technology of the era to the limit in pursuit of jaw-dropping spectacle.

Cecil B DeMille's final picture, The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, sits proudly in that illustrious company. Shot in blistering heat, the 1956 biblical epic was the most expensive film of its time and DeMille famously clambered up the 7000-feet Mount Sinai to immortalise the moment Moses receives the Word of God.

Almost 60 years later, Gladiator director Ridley Scott attempts with limited success to update the biblical story for a modern generation raised on eye-popping digital trickery. Exodus: Gods And Kings doesn't skimp on the technological wonder including a relentless barrage of plagues.

However, the passion and fury, which coursed through the veins of DeMille's swansong, are missing. Admittedly, the 1956 picture runs an hour longer but it's this modern retelling which sags noticeably in the middle.

Before an assault on the Hittite army, an Egyptian High Priestess (Indira Varma) predicts, "A leader will be saved and his saviour will one day lead." In the heat of battle, Moses (Christian Bale) saves the Pharaoh's son Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Soon after, King Seti I (John Turturro) dies and Ramses ascends the throne.

Seeds of suspicion, sown by the priestess's prophesy, flourish and when Ramses learns that Moses is the child of Hebrews, the new pharaoh banishes his adopted brother to the wilderness. Nine years later, Moses is settled in Midian with a wife Zipporah (Maria Valverde) and son Gershom (Hal Hewetson).

Following a storm, he encounters a burning bush and a messenger of God in the form of a boy (Isaac Andrews). The child reveals that God has tasked Moses with leading 400,000 Hebrew slaves to freedom. "What kind of Lord tells a man to leave his family?" questions Zipporah. Moses' momentous course is set and the plagues rain down on cruel Ramses.

Exodus: Gods And Kings falls short of DeMille's epic rendering. The bombast and swagger are there, heightened by composer Alberto Iglesias's score, but it's on a more basic emotional level that the script short-changes us and the characters.

Bale and Edgerton, sporting scowls and mascara, barely scratch the surface of their feuding kin but Ben Mendelsohn has fun with his boo-hiss Egyptian viceroy, destined for a grisly demise. The geography of the climactic chase through the receding waters of the Red Sea is confusing.

"A leader can falter, stone will endure," observes one character about the Ten Commandments. Films can falter and it's unlikely that Scott's flawed vision will endure.

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I 3 stars

Thriller.

  • GenreRomance, Thriller
  • CastUpen Patel, Chiyaan' Vikram, Amy Jackson.
  • DirectorS Shankar.
  • WriterA N Balakrishnan, S Shankar.
  • CountryIndia
  • Official site

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Into The Woods 4 stars

movie title

The Baker and his wife yearn for a child but cannot conceive. The Witch, who lives next door, promises the couple their heart's desire if they bring her four objects before the next blue moon: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. As the fated hour approaches, the Baker and his wife resort to increasingly desperate measures to source the objects.

  • GenreAdaptation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Family, Fantasy, Musical, Romance
  • CastChris Pine, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Daniel Huttlestone, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Depp, Lilla Crawford.
  • DirectorRob Marshall.
  • WriterStephen Sondheim, James Lapine.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration125 mins
  • Official sitewww.movies.disney.com/into-the-woods
  • Release09/01/2015

Traditionally in fairytales, the bedraggled heroine wins her dashing prince, evil stepmothers get their comeuppance and abducted children escape the clutches of a witch by pushing the treacherous hag into her oven. Nothing epitomises Happily Ever After like the heady aroma of roasting human flesh.

Into The Woods keeps turning the pages on these archetypal characters, imagining what might happen as they come to terms with their actions and - in most cases - suffer the repercussions.

Light comedy and heartrending tragedy skip hand in hand in James Lapine's screenplay and Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics, which are ambrosia for director Rob Marshall, who propelled the 2002 film version of Chicago to Oscar glory.

This has nearly as much razzle dazzle including gorgeous costumes, picturesque sets and digitally enhanced magical effects. Thankfully, Marshall tones down the swirling camerawork and snappy editing here, adopting a gentler rhythm, which is less exhausting on our eyes over two hours.

The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a child but cannot conceive. The Witch (Meryl Streep) next door promises the couple a family if they bring her four objects before the blue moon: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

The Baker and his wife head into the woods with six magic beans and encounter 12-year-old Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who is off to market to sell his cow Milky White, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who is fleeing from a ball thrown by a charming Prince (Chris Pine), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who intends to visit her Granny (Annette Crosbie) but would make a tasty snack for the lascivious Wolf (Johnny Depp), and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who is consigned to a tower which can only be accessed by lowering her flaxen hair to a smitten lover (Billy Magnusson).

As the fated hour approaches, the childless couple resorts to desperate measures to collect the objects for the Witch.

Into The Woods establishes its mood with a dazzling overture, "I Wish", elegantly introducing the characters before their fates intersect. Streep is typically spellbinding. Her voice soars and our hearts break in her solo to motherhood, "Stay With Me".

Corden and Blunt add to the film's emotional heft while Pine and Magnusson are hysterical as regal brothers in their chest-beating, thigh-slapping duet "Agony" atop a cascading waterfall. With such a large cast to juggle, the script occasionally feels disjointed and some gear changes from broad pantomime to heartbreaking grief are jarring.

But Marshall doesn't shy away from delivering bitter pills in the final act courtesy of a marauding giant (Frances de la Tour). Everything has a price, especially your heart's desire, so be careful what you wish for.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service 3 stars

movie title

Gary Unwin, who is known to his friends as Eggsy, is on the downward spiral to drugs and crime. He is dismissed as a hopeless cause by everyone except agent Harry Hart, who believes Eggsy would make an excellent crime-fighting operative. So Hart takes Eggsy under his wing and enrols the young man in a gruelling training programme against more eloquent and refined peers.

  • GenreAction, Adventure, Comedy
  • CastColin Firth, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Jack Davenport, Samuel L Jackson, Tom Prior, Mark Hamill.
  • DirectorMatthew Vaughn.
  • WriterMatthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman.
  • CountryUS/UK
  • Duration129 mins
  • Official sitewww.kingsmanmovie.com
  • Release29/01/2015

Based on the comic book series created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fast-paced spy caper about an elite group of secret agents with sharp wits and even sharper attire. Gary Unwin (Taron Egerton), who is known to his friends as Eggsy, is on the downward spiral to drugs and crime despite an impressive IQ. He is dismissed as a hopeless cause by everyone except agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who believes Eggsy has what it takes to make his mark as a crime-fighting operative. So Hart takes Eggsy under his wing and enrols the young man in a gruelling training programme run by Arthur (Michael Caine) against more eloquent and refined peers, who believe good breeding will see them through. Against the odds, Eggsy shines brighter than the so-called creme de la creme and when a technologically gifted crime lord (Samuel L Jackson) and his blade runner henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) threaten the entire world, Eggsy puts his training to good use to vanquish evil.

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Mortdecai 1 stars

movie title

When a priceless Goya masterpiece disappears without trace, clueless Inspector Martland calls in aristocratic art dealer and notorious scoundrel Charlie Mortdecai to unravel the mystery. Charlie agrees to take on the case for a sizable fee plus expenses and he criss-crosses the globe flanked by his trusty manservant Jock Strapp in search of the missing painting. En route, Charlie must placate his demanding wife Johanna and resist the seductive charms of Georgina Krampf.

  • GenreAction, Adaptation, Comedy, Romance
  • CastOlivia Munn, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Aubrey Plaza, Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • DirectorDavid Koepp.
  • WriterEric Aronson.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration107 mins
  • Official sitewww.mortdecaithemovie.com
  • Release23/01/2015

In David Koepp's poorly executed crime caper, the eponymous hero repeatedly seeks assurances from his hulking manservant that their hare-brained mission to retrieve a stolen painting will end in success. "I couldn't say, sir," dryly responds the lackey. Well I could say: it will end in boredom, despair and disbelief, and an occasional sympathetic titter for a starry cast, who have to wrap their weary laughing gear around the flaccid one-liners that litter Eric Aronson's haphazard script.

Based on the first book of author Kyril Bonfiglioli's cult trilogy, Mortdecai is an anachronistic tale of puckish rogues, swordplay and bitter love rivalry, which lampoons a culture of privilege that remains blissfully out of touch with the grim realities of modern life.

The irreverence and borderline insanity of Bonfiglioli's writing fails to mesh with exaggerated performances, cartoon violence and Carry On-style innuendos. As depictions of stereotypical British aristocracy go, this is more Downmarket Shabby than Downton Abbey.

Johnny Depp proudly combs his moustache and adopts a velvety British accent as art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, who is in dire financial straits. "We're staring down the barrel of insolvency," despairs his luscious wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is denying her husband physical satisfaction until he removes the manicured monstrosity from his exceedingly stiff upper lip.

All hope seems lost for Charlie - it's lost for us in the film's opening sequence - until high-ranking MI5 officer Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) and his sidekick Maurice (Guy Burnet) pay a visit to Mortdecai manor.

A priceless Goya masterpiece, rumoured to contain the code to a secret bank account of Nazi millions, has been stolen from a restoration house by revolutionary Emil Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky).

The police implore Mortdecai to use his shady connections to locate and retrieve the painting before Strago can sell it to finance a violent worldwide uprising. Flanked by trusty manservant Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), Charlie criss-crosses the globe in search of his prize, aided by dodgy car mechanic Spinoza (Paul Whitehouse), American billionaire Milton Krampf (Jeff Goldblum) and his nymphomaniac daughter (Olivia Munn).

Mortdecai is a car crash of broad physical comedy, crass culture clashes and preposterous action sequences, draped awkwardly around Depp's predictably showy performance.

Channelling the spirit of Terry Thomas replete with gap tooth, though none of the charm, Depp careens from one limp scene to the next like a bull in a cheap china shop. Paltrow struggles to catalyse screen chemistry with her buffoonish leading man while Bettany takes most of the bruising punches in the skirmishes that punctuate an outlandish plot.

It's a mystery how some of the so-called gags - "The file was thick and well-handled like a Welsh barmaid" - will translate for audiences across the Atlantic. On these rarefied shores, it's toe-curling comedy tumbleweed.

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Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb 3 stars

movie title

Plucky security guard Larry Daley discovers the magical Tablet Of Ahkmenrah is gradually losing its powers. Recognising the repercussions for his display case friends, he scours the globe for a solution. His epic quest leads to the British Museum in London where Larry and his chums - Wild West cowboy Jedadiah, Roman general Octavius, Theodore Roosevelt, Attila the Hun, interpreter Sacagawea, Neanderthal man Laa and Dexter the mischievous capuchin monkey - seek out Ahkmenrah's father Merenkahre, who fashioned the original tablet.

  • GenreAction, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Family
  • CastSteve Coogan, Owen Wilson, Dick Van Dyke, Rami Malek, Dan Stevens, Sir Ben Kingsley, Rebel Wilson, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Ricky Gervais.
  • DirectorShawn Levy.
  • WriterDavid Guion, Michael Handelman.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration98 mins
  • Official sitewww.nightatthemuseummovie.com
  • Release19/12/2014

It's time to say goodbye. The third chapter of the blockbusting Night At The Museum franchise has lost two of its greatest special effects - Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams - in the past 12 months. So it's fitting that Secret Of The Tomb should be an action-packed adventure punctuated with dewy-eyed farewells and warm-hearted reminiscence.

Shawn Levy's picture is a fitting swansong, reuniting most of the protagonists from the original for a final transatlantic hurrah. The script adds father-son bonding to the mix and a new Neanderthal called Laa (Ben Stiller), who is partial to munching on polystyrene foam.

For the most part though, familiarity with the series' larger-than-life characters breeds contentment. The third chapter opens in 1938 Egypt, where adventurer Robert Fredericks (Brennan Elliott) and his 12-year-old son CJ (Percy Hynes-White) stumble upon a burial chamber.

"If anyone disturbs this tomb, the end will come!" proclaims one superstitious local. Undaunted, Fredericks empties the site of its priceless artefacts, dividing the treasures between New York and London.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, the magical Tablet Of Ahkmenrah, which brings to life the exhibits of the American Museum Of Natural History, is losing its power. Security guard Larry Daley (Stiller) recognises the repercussions for his display case chums and enlists the help of museum director Dr McPhee (Ricky Gervais) to ship the tablet to the British Museum in London, home of pharaoh Merenkahre (Sir Ben Kingsley), who fashioned the tablet in honour of his son Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek).

Larry heads for the British capital with his son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) and several stowaways: Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Roman general Octavius (Steve Coogan), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), interpreter Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck), Laa and Dexter the capuchin monkey.

Aided by dashing Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) and hindered by local security guard Mindy (Rebel Wilson), Larry races against time to restore the tablet's lustre before the magic dissipates forever.

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb milks our affection for the characters without exhausting our good will. There's nothing innovative in the third film but good humour and sweetness prevail, and the script continues to have fun juxtaposing the modern and ancient worlds like when Sir Lancelot asks Nick, "Have you ever held a blade?" and the teenage responds, "Only in World Of Warcraft."

London looks splendid through Levy's lens, accompanied by a predictable yet rousing chorus of The Clash, and an extended cameo by a Hollywood superstar during the frenetic denouement is a treat. Stiller seems to have tears in his eyes for most of the second half, relying predominantly on co-stars to lasso the laughs.

When Williams' waxwork President acknowledges the end is nigh and softly remarks, "You have to let us go," it's hard not to get a little lump in your throat.

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Paddington 4 stars

movie title

A young Peruvian bear with a passion for the British heads to London in search of a new home. At Paddington train station, he meets a boy called Jonathan Brown and his parents, who offer the lovable creature, christened Paddington, a temporary haven. At large in a strange city, Paddington wreaks havoc in the Brown household. Then an evil museum taxidermist named Millicent glimpses the wondrous bear and realises that he would make the most perfect addition to her collection.

  • GenreAdaptation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Family
  • CastHugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, Ben Whishaw, Nicole Kidman, Imelda Staunton.
  • DirectorPaul King.
  • WriterPaul King.
  • CountryUK/Fr
  • Duration95 mins
  • Official sitewww.paddington.com
  • Release28/11/2014

More than 50 years after he first appeared in print, author Michael Bond's beloved bear Paddington has finally arrived on the big screen in his first star-packed family adventure. Upcoming director Paul King's film lovingly weaves the traditional tenets of the duffel-coat wearing bear's story into a modern narrative.

Like the books, the film starts in deepest, darkest Peru, where a well-mannered three-foot bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) lives with his elderly Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon). In their youth, Lucy and Pastuzo were visited by a kindly English explorer who left his red hat with his furry friends.

When their home is threatened, Aunt Lucy packs her nephew off to the safety of London to track down the explorer, who has promised that there will always be a home for them in the capital.

Of course, after sailing the oceans in a boat filled with supplies of his treasured marmalade, the bear finds London isn't actually that friendly. In fact it's pretty miserable what with the drizzly weather and glum commuters pushing and shoving their way out of Paddington station and ignoring his pleas for a home.

"Sorry, we haven't got time for this," cries worrywart Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville), while his moody daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) exclaims she's "embarrassed" to be near the small grisly, who has a 'Please look after this bear' sign around his neck.

Luckily, warm-hearted Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) and son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) vow to take the furry chap home for the night. Naming him Paddington after the station where they found him, the Browns introduce their guest to kindly housekeeper Mrs Bird (Julie Walters).

But disaster soon strikes when Paddington tries to freshen up in the bathroom, resulting in a flood, two earwax-stained toothbrushes and a sharp telling off. Determined to find the explorer, Mrs Brown takes Paddington to see her friend Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent), an antiques dealer who might have clues to his existence.

In doing so, they attract the attention of cranky curtain twitcher Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi) and a slimy associate of villainous taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman) who is hell-bent on "stuffing that bear". With Millicent determined to get her mitts on Paddington to display him in the Natural History Museum, the Browns find themselves on a humdinger of a cat and mouse chase to try and keep their furry friend safe.

As comforting and sweet as Paddington's beloved marmalade, King's delightful adaptation has heaps of heart and enough humour and carefully plotted cameos to ensure everyone more than grins and bears his adaptation.

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Taken 3 3 stars

movie title

Ex-government operative Bryan Mills has put the past behind him and is looking forward to an overdue reconciliation with ex-wife Lenore and daughter Kim. Their happiness is cut short when Lenore is brutally murdered and Bryan is framed for the heinous crime. Determined to clear his name and unmask the real culprit, Bryan goes on the run with the CIA, FBI and police led by Franck Dotzler in hot pursuit.

  • GenreAction, Thriller
  • CastFamke Janssen, Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Forest Whitaker, Leland Orser, Dougray Scott, Sam Spruell.
  • DirectorOlivier Megaton.
  • WriterLuc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen.
  • CountryFr
  • Duration109 mins
  • Official sitewww.taken3movie.com
  • Release08/01/2015

History repeats with predictably calamitous consequences in Olivier Megaton's high-octane thriller Taken 3. In previous films, former Special Forces operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) single-handedly brought down an Albanian human trafficking ring and its underworld offshoots. He left devastation and an impressive double-digit body count in his wake.

Surely, the east European criminal fraternity would have learnt that Mills and his family are off-limits. Alas, the Russians haven't received that memo because they foolishly try their luck against the hulking avenger in this frenetically edited instalment.

Scriptwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen attempt to convince us that the third film is different from its predecessors by engineering a murderous twist that transforms good guy Bryan from righteous hunter into wanted fugitive. However, once the turbo-charged car chases and bruising fisticuffs begin in earnest, Taken 3 eases back into a familiar bloodthirsty groove.

As the film opens, Bryan is playing doting father to his grown-up daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who is settling down with her boyfriend (Jonny Weston). Ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) continues to question her marriage to second husband, Stuart St John (Dougray Scott), and Bryan gives her a key to his flat if she needs to get away.

Soon after, Bryan returns home to find Lenore in his bed with her throat slit. He's the prime suspect and manages to escape local police so that he can call Kim and deliver the bad news about her mother.

"Someone murdered her in my apartment. It looks like I did it," Bryan confesses. Determined to clear his name and unmask the real culprit - tattooed kingpin Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell) - Bryan goes on the run from the CIA, FBI and police led by Detective Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker).

"This is going to end badly for you," yelps one officer during a chase.
"Don't be such a pessimist," deadpans Bryan, who risks everything to exact his bone-crunching brand of justice with the help of retired CIA pals Sam (Leland Orser), Bernie (David Warshofsky) and Casey (John Gries).

Taken 3 delivers a cacophonous conclusion to the franchise that has reinvented Neeson as a big screen action star. Megaton orchestrates the set pieces with brio, sacrificing plausibility at the altar of increasingly outlandish thrills and spills.

Whitaker lends gravitas to his underwritten role as the canny cop, who begins to doubt Bryan's guilt, while Neeson barks his perfunctory dialogue with aplomb. "How did I escape?" he growls at one juncture, cueing a cheeky flashback that explains his miraculous survival of a flaming car wreck.

The leading man's ability to evade certain death becomes a delicious and unintentional running joke. On this evidence, nothing short of a direct hit from a nuclear warhead could stop him. Taken 4 A Ride is surely just a matter of time.

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The Gambler 3 stars

movie title

College professor Jim Bennett loses at the blackjack table in an underground den run by one of his creditors, Mister Lee, leaving Jim with seven days to find 240,000 US dollars. Without enough money to stake at a table, Jim borrows 50,000 US dollars from Neville Baraka and also turns to his mother for help. A further loan from a hulking gangster called Frank gives Jim the collateral he needs to gamble himself back into the black.

  • GenreDrama, Romance, Thriller
  • CastMark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson.
  • DirectorRupert Wyatt.
  • WriterWilliam Monahan.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration111 mins
  • Official sitewww.thegamblermovie.com
  • Release23/01/2015

Silence is golden for everyone except American screenwriter William Monahan. With an Oscar on the mantelpiece for The Departed, his English language reworking of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the Massachusetts-born scribe attempts a similar feat of alchemy with this modern update to the 1974 film of the same name directed by Karel Reisz.

Alas, Monahan's penchant for excessively wordy set pieces proves an insurmountable distraction. He arms the cast with polished one-liners and barbed retorts that would draw blood if his woe-begotten characters weren't so emotionally cold and distant.

After the first hour of endless verbosity, I hoped - in vain as it transpired - that Monahan would rein in the dialogue and let actions speak a hundred words instead. No such luck. But then good fortune is in perilously short supply in Rupert Wyatt's film, which unfolds through the bloodshot eyes of a college professor, whose daredevil antics at the blackjack table have left him heavily in debt to men who trade in violence.

From the moody opening frames, all bets are off whether the eponymous gambler will end his losing streak and evade a knee-capping - or something worse. The misery begins with Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) striding into an underground den run by one of his creditors, Mister Lee (Alvin Ing).

The night ends badly, as usual, leaving Jim with seven days to find 240,000 US dollars. "Get me my money," threatens Mister Lee. Without enough money to stake at a table, Jim borrows 50,000 US dollars from Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) and also turns to his mother (Jessica Lange). "I don't want to understand the nature of your problem. I just want you not to have it," she snarls.

A further loan from a hulking gangster called Frank (John Goodman) gives Jim the collateral he needs to gamble himself back into the black. Meanwhile, Jim spars with his students and sparks an affair with his most talented pupil, Amy (Brie Larson).

As time runs out for Jim to settle his spiralling debts, Neville issues a stark warning: "I'm going to kill that pretty little blonde girl, mail you the pictures, and kill you next."

The Gambler stakes everything on Monahan's screenplay and incurs losses. Wahlberg is elevated by the material but those long speeches, including a centrepiece rant in the lecture theatre, become wearisome.

He verbally jousts with Lange in fiery form as a matriarch who is sick of hauling her son out of the mire. Larson is shamefully underused in an underwritten supporting role.

Director Wyatt should crank up tension every time Jim sits down at a card table. Instead, we savour the momentary silence as the lead character stops philosophising to concentrate on the deck.

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The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies 3 stars

movie title

The company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield fails to slay the dragon Smaug in his Lonely Mountain lair. The majestic creature takes to the skies and Bilbo Baggins watches in horror as Smaug prepares to incinerate Lake-town and its residents. Bard the Bowman possesses the last remaining black arrow and is the only thing standing between the dragon and total annihilation. Elsewhere, Gandalf is imprisoned at Dol Guldor by the Necromancer, who unleashes legions of orcs upon the Lonely Mountain.

  • GenreAction, Adaptation, Adventure, Fantasy
  • CastSir Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Hugo Weaving, Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • DirectorPeter Jackson.
  • WriterFran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson.
  • CountryNZ/US
  • Duration144 mins
  • Official sitewww.thehobbitblog.com
  • Release12/12/2014

Almost 13 years to the day since director Peter Jackson first transported us to Middle Earth, the Oscar-winning New Zealand filmmaker completes his tour of duty of JRR Tolkien's novels. It has been a long and sometimes gruelling slog since The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King. Giddy expectation has crashed and burned, with only a few smouldering embers for ardent fans to stoke in the hope that Jackson might redeem himself with this concluding chapter of The Hobbit trilogy.

Alas, The Battle Of Five Armies bids farewell to the hobbits, dwarfs and elves with a whimper rather than a bang. The script occasionally deviates from Tolkien's source text, contriving one superfluous and protracted interlude with elvish allies Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) to provide a flimsy bridge between the two series.

Jackson's mastery of action sequences is beyond doubt - the two set pieces, which bookend this film, are executed with flair, precision and a miasma of impressive digital effects.

However, all that technical sound and fury without comparable emotional heft makes for increasingly wearisome viewing. We should be thankful this concluding jaunt is the shortest of the six: a mere 144 minutes.

The company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) including Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) watches in horror as the mighty dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) incinerates Laketown. As the flames rise, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) prepares to launch the last remaining black arrow at the beast.

His children seek cover with elf warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and badly injured dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). Nearby, the Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and snivelling henchman Alfrid (Ryan Gage) make their escape in a barge laden with gold.

At Dol Guldur, Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) escapes from the clutches of the Necromancer (Cumberbatch again) and beats a hasty path to the mountains, where various tribes will converge. "You must summon our friends, bird and beast - the battle for the mountain is about to begin!" bellows the wise wizard.

As the fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance, Thorin sacrifices everything in his selfish pursuit of the mythical Arkenstone.

The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies follows a similar template to earlier pictures, resolving plot strands including the forbidden romance of Tauriel and Kili as the blood flows in brutal fight sequences. Comical interludes with Alfrid seem to jar with the darker tone that pervades this chapter, including the inevitable loss of at least one hero in the melee.

Freeman's performance provides a flimsy emotional fulcrum while co-stars battle with their characters' demons or hordes of bloodthirsty orcs. As the end credits roll, accompanied by an original song from Billy Boyd who played Pippin in The Lord Of The Rings saga, we feel a sense of relief rather than sadness.

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The Theory Of Everything 4 stars

movie title

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking falls head over heels in love with English literature student Jane Wilde at 1960s Cambridge University. Their fledgling romance is tested by his diagnosis with motor neurone disease. Stephen's parents Frank and Isobel try to warn Jane off their son, fearful of emotional devastation that will be wrought if he dies within the two years predicted by doctors. However, she defies everyone, determined to love Stephen for as long as they are together.

  • GenreAdaptation, Biography, Drama, Romance
  • CastEddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis.
  • DirectorJames Marsh.
  • WriterAnthony McCarten.
  • CountryUK
  • Duration123 mins
  • Official site
  • Release01/01/2015

In Scottish novelist JM Barrie's most beloved work, Peter Pan famously contemplates his mortality on Marooner's Rock and observes, "To die will be an awfully big adventure". For more than half a century since he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has - happily - pushed aside his awfully big adventure and astounded the medical community.

Defying the short life expectancy associated with the rare condition, he has married twice, raised a family and altered our narrow perception of the universe including the publication of his worldwide bestseller, A Brief History Of Time.

As Hawking remarked at a press conference in 2006, "However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope." Those inspirational words are repeated verbatim in The Theory Of Everything.

Based on the memoir Travelling To Infinity by Jane Wilde Hawking, James Marsh's deeply moving drama charts the romance of Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and first wife Jane (Felicity Jones) from fleeting glances at a party at mid-1960s Cambridge University through their subsequent battle against MND.

Stephen's parents Frank (Simon McBurney) and Isobel (Abigail Cruttenden) initially warn Jane off their son, fearful of the emotional devastation that will be wrought if he dies within the two years predicted by doctors. "It's not going to be a fight, Jane. It's going to be a very heavy defeat, for all of us," laments Frank.

Love must find a way and Jane defies everyone, even a pessimistic Stephen, to stand beside her soul mate. "I want us to be together, for as long as we've got," she tells him. "If that's not very long then - well, that's just how it is."

Her resolve inspires Stephen to continue his search for "one single elegant equation to explain everything". Aided by choirmaster Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox) and carer Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), Jane raises the couple's three children and holds their marriage together.

The Theory Of Everything is anchored by two of the year's best performances. Redmayne is simply astounding, affecting a mesmerising physical transformation that surely warrants an Oscar. He brilliantly conveys every raw emotion or flash of impish humour with his eyes or the twitch of a facial muscle.

Jones is equally compelling as his soul mate, who sacrifices everything in the name of love. The scene in which she finally acknowledges hard-fought defeat to save the relationship and tearfully tells Stephen, "I have loved you... I did my best," is heartbreaking.

Director Marsh uses simple visual motifs to illuminate the complex cosmology, such as a swirl of cream in a cup of coffee to represent a spiral galaxy in Stephen's mind. With its delicate balance of tear-stained drama, deeply felt romance and comedy, The Theory Of Everything hits upon a winning formula.

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The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death 3 stars

movie title

At the height of the Second World War, stern headmistress Jean Hogg and caring young teacher Eve Parkins abandon their school in London to evacuate a group of pupils to the safety of the countryside. Dr Rhodes leads the school party to its new home: the dilapidated Eel Marsh House. Unaware of the dark history of their refuge, the teachers and pupils settle into a routine but the spectre of the house latches onto one boy.

  • GenreDrama, Horror, Romance, Thriller, War
  • CastJeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory, Phoebe Fox, Oaklee Pendergast.
  • DirectorTom Harper.
  • WriterJon Croker.
  • CountryUK
  • Duration98 mins
  • Official sitewww.facebook.com/TheWomaninBlackAngelofDeath
  • Release01/01/2015

Ghost stories are well suited to the visual medium of film because what terrifies us aren't the things we can see in the cold light of day but the unspoken horrors that lurk just out of shot or in the inky blackness of a dimly lit background. The monsters that induced wide-eyed terror in our childhood lurked under the bed or in the wardrobe.

They were silent, deadly menaces, conjured by febrile imaginations and drip-fed on our irrational yet all-consuming fear. Over the decades, filmmakers have preyed mercilessly - and sometimes masterfully - on this deep-rooted, primal paranoia to quicken the pulse and whiten our knuckles.

Hammer Horror's 2012 film version of The Woman In Black, based on Susan Hill's celebrated horror novella of the same name, certainly hit a raw nerve. Blessed with a post-Harry Potter leading role for Daniel Radcliffe, the resolutely old-fashioned haunted house yarn became the most successful British horror film for 20 years.

When those box office tills started ringing, Tom Harper's sequel was a foregone conclusion. Set 40 years later during the Blitz, Angel Of Death continues the reign of terror of the vengeful ghost, which haunts the cobweb-strewn hallways of Eel Marsh House.

Stern headmistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) and sensitive teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) evacuate a group of London schoolchildren to the countryside including a shell-shocked boy called Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), whose parents perished in the latest barrage of German bombs.

Their guide, Dr Rhodes (Adrian Rawlins), shepherds the school party to its new home: the dilapidated Eel Marsh House. "The place has been deserted for years," he assures the women and their wards.

Unaware of the building's grim history, the school party settles into a new routine. The spectre of the house (Leanne Best) latches onto Edward, who is being bullied, and exacts revenge on one tormentor Tom (Jude Wright) before turning her attention to the other interlopers.

Eve musters her courage to protect her young charges, aided by a handsome pilot called Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), who is stationed nearby.

The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death is bereft of original ideas and resorts to a familiar array of ominous creaks and groans to herald the arrival of the eponymous spirit. Fox's plucky heroine puts herself in harm's way with such foolhardy regularity, you have to question her suitability as a teacher.

Meanwhile, McCrory purses her lips for portentous remarks like, "Our worst enemy is ourselves: our fears, doubt, despair. That's what will destroy us." Duly noted.

In response, perhaps, to complaints from parents about the 12A classification of the first film, Harper's sequel sports a 15 certificate and a warning about strong horror and threat. Ironically, the original was scarier and shoe-horned more jump-out-of-your-seat boos into 90 minutes.

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Wild 4 stars

movie title

In 1994, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed decides to come to terms with the death of her mother by embarking on a gruelling 1,100-mile solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington. She is ill-prepared for her odyssey, weighed down by a cumbersome backpack overstuffed with useless items including the wrong gas canister for her cooking stove. Cheryl gradually nurtures her survival instincts to overcome her fears and the perilous terrain.

  • GenreAdaptation, Biography, Drama
  • CastLaura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Reese Witherspoon, Thomas Sadoski.
  • DirectorJean-Marc Vallee.
  • WriterCheryl Strayed, Nick Hornby.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration115 mins
  • Official sitewww.howwilditwas.com
  • Release16/01/2015

It's a perfect paradox. Sometimes to find yourself, you have to completely lose yourself: strip yourself bare of home comforts, temporarily sever emotional ties and stare your demons in the eye. Only when you hit rock bottom with an almighty thump can you honestly assess your strengths and frailties, and gain a deeper appreciation for the people who are important to you.

In 1994, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed decided to come to terms with the death of her mother by embarking on a gruelling 1,100-mile solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington.

She was ill-prepared for her odyssey, weighed down by a cumbersome backpack overstuffed with useless items including the wrong gas canister for her cooking stove. Alone in this unforgiving wilderness, Cheryl initially relied on the kindness of strangers to survive, but gradually nurtured her survival instincts to overcome her fears and the perilous terrain.

She subsequently penned the moving memoir Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail, which British novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy) has adapted beautifully and elegantly for the big screen.

Jean-Marc Vallee's film opens with Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) at a critical and painful juncture of her trek. Standing on a ridge above a breathtaking northern Californian vista, she removes one of her hiking boots and a bloodied sock then tears off a loose toenail.

The jolt of pain sparks a miasma of flashbacks to Cheryl's past and her bond with her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern), who is diagnosed with lung cancer and dies when Cheryl is 22. There are scenes of domestic intimacy and tension with her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), and her best friend Aimee (Gaby Hoffmann), who sends food parcels for Cheryl to collect along the route.

Her exhausting journey is punctuated by nightmarish memories of Cheryl's descent into sex- and alcohol-fuelled oblivion - a futile effort to salve the pain of Bobbi's death, which sounds the death knell for her marriage. "I'm going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was," Cheryl resolves.

Anchored by a tour-de-force performance from Witherspoon that is a shoo-in for Oscar consideration, Wild is an emotionally uplifting drama that celebrates the endurance of the human spirit and the restorative power of a mother's love.

Vallee, who helmed yesteryear's Oscar winner The Dallas Buyers Club, directs with flair, juxtaposing the picturesque splendour of Cheryl's surroundings with the internal darkness that nudges her to the brink of self-destruction.

The fragmented timeline doesn't impact greatly on dramatic momentum and Hornby sketches some powerful scenes of threat and self-reflection including a moving encounter on the trail with a woman and her grandson that finally opens Cheryl's floodgates and loosens ours too.

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