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Now showing at Vue Bolton Middlebrook Leisure Park, The Linkway (o,Horwich,Bolton,Lancashire BL6 6JA 0871 224 0240

  • A Most Violent Year
  • American Sniper
  • Annie
  • Big Hero 6
  • Big Hero 6 3D
  • Birdman
  • Ex Machina
  • Inherent Vice
  • Into The Woods
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Mortdecai
  • Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb
  • Nightcrawler
  • Paddington
  • Penguins Of Madagascar
  • Royal Opera Live Encore Screening: Andrea Chenier
  • Son Of A Gun
  • Taken 3
  • Testament Of Youth
  • The Gambler
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Snow Queen: Magic Of The Ice Mirror
  • The Theory Of Everything
  • The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death
  • Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy
  • Trash
  • Whiplash
  • 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.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Tuesday 3rd February 2015

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.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Saturday 31st January 2015
Sunday 1st February 2015
Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015

This film is also showing at:

Annie 3 stars

movie title

Annie lives in Harlem in the dubious care of embittered, alcoholic, faded pop star Colleen Hannigan with four other girls. During one of her regular jaunts around the city, Annie is rescued from the path of a truck by mobile phone company billionaire Will Stacks, who is running for mayor. The footage goes viral and boosts Will's approval ratings. Election advisor Guy suggests that Will temporarily adopts Annie to boost his chances of winning the election.

  • GenreAdaptation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Family, Musical
  • CastRose Byrne, Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Zayas.
  • DirectorWill Gluck.
  • WriterAline Brosh McKenna, Will Gluck.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration118 mins
  • Official sitewww.annie-movie.com/site
  • Release20/12/2014

Adapted from the popular Broadway musical, the 1982 film version of Annie is firmly ingrained in many rose-tinted childhood memories. The uplifting story of a flame-haired orphan girl who overcomes insurmountable odds to win the heart of a billionaire businessman taps into our deep-rooted sense of belonging.

Infectious music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin have reverberated throughout popular culture from episodes of 30 Rock, Glee and South Park to a sample on rapper Jay-Z's 1998 single Hard Knock Life. Will Gluck's glossy modern remake retains most of the original songbook with a couple of new soaring ballads.

Some of the updates don't quite work: changing Annie's residence from an orphanage to a foster home significantly reduces the number of children in care for one of the big song and dance numbers. Also Carol Burnett's ferocious portrayal of Miss Hannigan has been softened so Cameron Diaz retains a glimmer of likability, even when she's drunkenly snarling, "You think the world wants a smart-mouthed little girl?".

On the whole, Gluck's reworking possesses the same wholesome likability including a winning title performance from Quvenzhane Wallis, who was Oscar nominated for Beasts Of The Southern Wild.

Annie (Wallis) lives in Harlem in the dubious care of embittered, alcoholic, faded pop star Colleen Hannigan (Diaz) with four other girls: Tessie (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Mia (Nicolette Pierini), Isabella (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Pepper (Amanda Troya).

Eternally cheerful and optimistic, Annie believes her real parents will return for her and every Friday, she sits outside the Italian restaurant where her folks left her aged four with a note.

During one of her regular jaunts around the city, Annie is rescued from the path of a truck by mobile phone company billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), who is running for mayor. The footage goes viral and boosts Will's approval ratings.

Election advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale), who masterminded campaigns for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kim Jong-Il, suggests that Will temporarily adopts Annie. Will agrees and welcomes Annie into his high-tech penthouse, where she befriends the mogul's trusty assistant Grace (Rose Byrne).

Over time, Annie opens Will's heart but just when he is poised to consider adopting her forever, her real parents (Tracie Thoms, Dorian Missick) reappear. Annie lacks some of the rough charm of the 1982 film but director Gluck and his team add enough contemporary spit and polish without obscuring the story's emotional arc.

Cast lip-sync convincingly and the big numbers are slickly choreographed including a heartfelt rendition of Tomorrow from Wallis on the city streets. An extended sequence at the premiere of a fantasy film called Moon Quake Lake - featuring wink-wink cameos from Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Rihanna - is rather cute.

"People love musicals, they're magical," observes one character. This version of Annie has an ample sprinkling of that lustre dust.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Sunday 1st February 2015
Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015

This film is also showing at:

Big Hero 6 4 stars

movie title

Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada idolises his older brother Tadashi, who is one of the star pupils of Professor Robert Callaghan, head of the robotics program at San Fransokyo University. A fire at the university ends in tragedy and poor Hiro is consumed with grief until his brother's greatest creation, a self-inflating personal healthcare robot called Baymax, helps the teenager to come to terms with his loss.

  • GenreAction, Adaptation, Animation/Cartoon, Comedy, Family, Family, Science Fiction
  • CastRyan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, TJ Miller, Daniel Henney, James Cromwell, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr.
  • DirectorDon Hall, Chris Williams.
  • WriterRobert L Baird, Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration114 mins
  • Official sitemovies.disney.com/big-hero-6/
  • Release30/01/2015

Never underestimate the soothing power of a hug. With one simple squish, you can provide comfort, encouragement or a simple how-do-you-do that transcends a thousand well-chosen words. Big Hero 6 is the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug, embracing the old-fashioned family values of the Walt Disney brand alongside cutting-edge computer technology that audiences now expect to dazzle their senses.

Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams marry dizzying action sequences that look even more spectacular in 3D to an emotionally rich story of a lonely boy's unshakable bond with his self-inflating robot protector, recalling the magical 1999 animated feature The Iron Giant.

The inquisitive automaton Baymax is the stuff that sweet celluloid dreams are made of: tender, loving and unwittingly hilarious. Every child will want their own marshmallow man to snuggle at night and keep them safe from the harsh realities of modern life that weigh heavily on the film's grief-stricken adolescent hero.

"I see no evidence of physical injury," informs the robot as he scans the boy's body.
"It's a different kind of hurt," laments the teenager.

Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) idolises his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who is a star pupil of Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), head of the robotics program at San Fransokyo University.

A fire on campus culminates in tragedy and shell-shocked Hiro is inconsolable until his brother's greatest creation, a personal healthcare robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit), helps the teenager to confront his loss. As the boy discovers Baymax's functionality, he also stumbles upon a secret: the fire might not have been an accident.

Indeed, a greedy entrepreneur called Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) might have started the blaze. Aided by Tadashi's loyal friends GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and Fred (TJ Miller) plus an upgraded Baymax, Hiro resolves to discover the truth about the deadly inferno.

Based on an obscure title from the Marvel Comics universe, Big Hero 6 is a rip-roaring opening salvo in a potential new franchise. Directors Hall and Williams orchestrate the requisite thrilling set pieces with brio, including an unconventional dash through the undulating streets of San Fransokyo that knowingly flouts traffic laws.

"There are no red lights in a car chase!" squeals GoGo. The animators and script never lose sight of the central relationship of Hiro and Baymax, sketching that bond in exquisitely deft strokes. Grown men will be choking back tears.

Big Hero 6 is preceded by Patrick Osborne's Oscar nominated short Feast, which charts the relationship between a Boston terrier and his master from puppyhood to middle age in a series of vignettes. It's a pick of the animated litter that leaves an indelible mark on the heart, just like Hall's and Williams' turbo-charged main feature.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Sunday 1st February 2015
Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015

This film is also showing at:

Big Hero 6 3D 4 stars

movie title

Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada idolises his older brother Tadashi, who is one of the star pupils of Professor Robert Callaghan, head of the robotics program at San Fransokyo University. A fire at the university ends in tragedy and poor Hiro is consumed with grief until his brother's greatest creation, a self-inflating personal healthcare robot called Baymax, helps the teenager to come to terms with his loss.

  • GenreAction, Adaptation, Animation/Cartoon, Comedy, Family, Family, Science Fiction
  • CastRyan Potter, Jamie Chung, Scott Adsit, TJ Miller, Daniel Henney, James Cromwell, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr.
  • DirectorDon Hall, Chris Williams.
  • WriterRobert L Baird, Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration114 mins
  • Official sitemovies.disney.com/big-hero-6/
  • Release30/01/2015

Never underestimate the soothing power of a hug. With one simple squish, you can provide comfort, encouragement or a simple how-do-you-do that transcends a thousand well-chosen words. Big Hero 6 is the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug, embracing the old-fashioned family values of the Walt Disney brand alongside cutting-edge computer technology that audiences now expect to dazzle their senses.

Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams marry dizzying action sequences that look even more spectacular in 3D to an emotionally rich story of a lonely boy's unshakable bond with his self-inflating robot protector, recalling the magical 1999 animated feature The Iron Giant.

The inquisitive automaton Baymax is the stuff that sweet celluloid dreams are made of: tender, loving and unwittingly hilarious. Every child will want their own marshmallow man to snuggle at night and keep them safe from the harsh realities of modern life that weigh heavily on the film's grief-stricken adolescent hero.

"I see no evidence of physical injury," informs the robot as he scans the boy's body.
"It's a different kind of hurt," laments the teenager.

Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) idolises his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who is a star pupil of Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), head of the robotics program at San Fransokyo University.

A fire on campus culminates in tragedy and shell-shocked Hiro is inconsolable until his brother's greatest creation, a personal healthcare robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit), helps the teenager to confront his loss. As the boy discovers Baymax's functionality, he also stumbles upon a secret: the fire might not have been an accident.

Indeed, a greedy entrepreneur called Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) might have started the blaze. Aided by Tadashi's loyal friends GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and Fred (TJ Miller) plus an upgraded Baymax, Hiro resolves to discover the truth about the deadly inferno.

Based on an obscure title from the Marvel Comics universe, Big Hero 6 is a rip-roaring opening salvo in a potential new franchise. Directors Hall and Williams orchestrate the requisite thrilling set pieces with brio, including an unconventional dash through the undulating streets of San Fransokyo that knowingly flouts traffic laws.

"There are no red lights in a car chase!" squeals GoGo. The animators and script never lose sight of the central relationship of Hiro and Baymax, sketching that bond in exquisitely deft strokes. Grown men will be choking back tears.

Big Hero 6 is preceded by Patrick Osborne's Oscar nominated short Feast, which charts the relationship between a Boston terrier and his master from puppyhood to middle age in a series of vignettes. It's a pick of the animated litter that leaves an indelible mark on the heart, just like Hall's and Williams' turbo-charged main feature.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Sunday 1st February 2015
Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015

This film is also showing at:

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.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015

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.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Saturday 31st January 2015
Sunday 1st February 2015
Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015

This film is also showing at:

Inherent Vice 3 stars

movie title

Larry "Doc" Sportello is a private eye and hippie, who lives in a ramshackle house on Gordita Beach. Alluring old flame Shasta Fay Hepworth returns unexpectedly to beg Doc's help tracking down her new beau, billionaire land developer Michael Z Wolfman. Shasta claims Wolfman has been kidnapped and consigned to a mental institution by his money-grabbing wife. Doc takes on the case and intrigue piles upon deception as unearths the truth about Wolfman's disappearance.

  • GenreAdaptation, Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller
  • CastOwen Wilson, Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon.
  • DirectorPaul Thomas Anderson.
  • WriterPaul Thomas Anderson.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration149 mins
  • Official sitewww.inherentvicemovie.com
  • Release30/01/2015

Somewhere in the psychedelic haze of pot fumes that shroud Inherent Vice, there is a groovy slice of California noir spluttering to be seen and heard. Patient audiences, who indulge the whims of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson will be rewarded with a hallucinogenic crime caper crammed with quirky characters including another eye-catching lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

However, Anderson doesn't make it easy to fall in love with his picture. Pacing is deliberately pedestrian and the running time, one puff shy of two-and-a-half hours, is a test of mental and physical endurance.

His script, adapted from Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name, demands constant attention. Very little happens over the course of the 149 minutes but Anderson presents the narrative as an almighty tangle of convoluted plots threads. Take a toilet break at your peril.

Larry "Doc" Sportello (Phoenix) is a private eye and hippie, who lives in a ramshackle house on Gordita Beach and occasionally drifts into an office he rents, replete with a sassy receptionist (Maya Rudolph).

Alluring old flame Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) returns unexpectedly to beg Doc's help tracking down her new beau, billionaire land developer Michael Z Wolfman (Eric Roberts). "She was laying some heavy combination of face ingredients on Doc that he couldn't read," explains the rambling voiceover that accompanies this drug-fuelled lunacy.

Shasta claims Wolfman has been kidnapped and consigned to a mental institution by his money-grabbing wife (Serena Scott Thomas). Doc takes on the case and also agrees two further assignments: to help Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) track down her missing saxophonist husband (Owen Wilson), and reunite Black Guerrilla Family member Tariq Kahlil (Michael K Williams) with a wayward bodyguard (Christopher Allen Nelson), who owes him money.

The trails lead to a massage parlour where Jade (Hong Chau) tells Doc to "beware of the Golden Fang". Intrigue piles upon deception and Doc seeks guidance from sexy Deputy District Attorney Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) and bullying local cop, Lieutenant Detective Christian F "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin).

Inherent Vice is the first film adaptation of Pynchon's kaleidoscopic oeuvre and it's easy to see why filmmakers have steered well clear. Anderson does an admirable job conveying the freewheeling attitudes and paranoia of the era without tying himself completely in narrative knots.

Phoenix seems to be having a blast throughout and colourful supporting turns, including Martin Short as a drug-snorting dentist with wandering hands, churns the underlying black comedy.

That menagerie of dopers, musicians, hustlers, white supremacists and surfers is bewildering and Anderson regularly introduces new characters to keep our brains as scrambled as his bewildered hero. Inherent Vice is a trip - whether the multiplex masses will want to embark on this journey into the criminal underbelly of neon-lit 1970s L.A. is open to debate.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Sunday 1st February 2015
Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015

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

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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

Directed at full pelt by Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an outrageous James Bond-esque caper with an unpleasant and sadistic streak. This hare-brained tale about a secret organisation of impeccably tailored British agents dedicated to world peace lampoons the conventions of the spy genre with an arched eyebrow.

"Nowadays, they're all a little serious for my taste," opines Colin Firth's lead operative about modern-day spy films, one of several self-referential winks in Vaughn and Jane Goldman's script. "Give me a far-fetched plot any day," he quips, and that's just what Kingsman delivers in spades.

Unfortunately, the film also serves up a blitzkrieg of gratuitous on-screen barbarity. The violence doesn't support the plot, the plot is constructed to support as much wanton carnage as Vaughn can cram into each frame.

This stomach-churning slaughter reaches a nauseating crescendo in a Southern church where Firth's good guy squares off against a congregation of brain-washed bigots, racists and homophobes, who apparently deserve to die in lurid close-up while Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird strums on the soundtrack. The film was cut by UK censors to secure a 15 certificate but I wouldn't want my nephews, if they were 15 or 16, anywhere near Vaughn's giddy bloodbath.

Gary Unwin (Taron Egerton), who is known to friends as Eggsy, is on a downward spiral despite an impressive IQ. He is powerless to stop his mother Michelle (Samantha Womack) suffering abuse from her boyfriend (Geoff Bell), and a spot of joy-riding leads to a brief stay in a police cell.

Eggsy is dismissed as a hopeless cause by everyone except dapper secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who believes the young man has untapped potential as a crime-fighter. So Hart enrols Eggsy in a gruelling training programme against sneering posh lads Charlie (Edward Holcroft), Barnaby (Matthew William Jones) and Hugo (Tom Prior), and friendlier rivals Grace (Sophie Cookson) and Roxy (Alisha Heng).

The recruits test their strength and guile in a series of challenges devised by gadget geek Merlin (Mark Strong). Against the odds, Eggsy shines brighter than some of the supposed creme de la creme and when technological wizard Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) and his blade runner henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) threaten mankind with a radical solution to climate change, Eggsy puts his training to good use alongside his stiff upper-lipped mentor.

Kingsman: The Secret Service leaves an exceedingly nasty taste in the mouth that is difficult to shake, garnished with crude sexism in the closing frames. Firth is a debonair action hero, contrasting sharply with Egerton's bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks.

Jackson has fun with his lisping megalomaniac, who gags at the sight of blood. If we did the same watching Vaughn's undeniably stylish film, we'd all need urgent medical assistance inside the first 20 minutes.

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Saturday 31st January 2015
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Mortdecai 1 stars

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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

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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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Sunday 1st February 2015

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Nightcrawler 4 stars

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Ghoulish loner Louis Bloom monitors a police scanner, races to crime scenes and captures gruesome footage of critically injured victims on a handheld camera to sell to TV news stations, who are hungry for raw footage of real-life crime. As his business takes off, Louis hires an inexperienced protege called Rick to capture gangland shootings, murder and misfortune in grisly close-up.

  • GenreAction, Drama, Thriller
  • CastRene Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton.
  • DirectorDan Gilroy.
  • WriterDan Gilroy.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration117 mins
  • Official sitewww.nightcrawlerfilm.com
  • Release31/10/2014

Set on the mean streets of modern day Los Angeles, Dan Gilroy's directorial debut is a delicious and twisted media satire starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a ghoulish loner called Louis Bloom, who exploits human misery for personal gain.

It's a tour-de-force and genuinely creepy performance from the handsome Oscar-nominated star of Brokeback Mountain, who has shed a significant amount of weight to portray an emaciated social limpet, who lives by the mantra that good things come to those who work hard.

In the case of Nightcrawler, this 'work' involves monitoring a police scanner, racing to crime scenes and capturing gruesome footage of critically injured victims on a handheld camera to sell to TV news stations, who are hungry for raw footage of real-life crime.

Gilroy's lean script doesn't shy away from the despicable and morally repugnant actions of the bloodthirsty anti-hero, nor does it forget to remind us that we are culpable for devouring this graphic news footage. If only we turned off, or could drive past a motorway accident without glancing at the carnage when we should be concentrating on the road ahead...

Louis is a product of base human desires and, like a vampire, he feeds off them with ghoulish glee. When we first meet Louis, he's struggling to find direction in life, until he pulls over on a highway close to a fatal accident and meets cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton).

"If it bleeds, it leads," cackles Joe, who sells his footage to the highest bidder. Louis purchases a small camera and tries his luck then approaches Nina Romina (Rene Russo), ratings-hungry editor of the graveyard shift at one news station, with amateurish footage of a victim fighting for life.

She pays up and explains that her perfect newscast is "a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut". Taking these words to his blackened heart, Louis hires an inexperienced protege called Rick (Riz Ahmed) to capture gangland shootings, murder and misfortune in grisly close-up. At first, Rick recoils in disgust but inexorably, Louis moulds his employee in his own warped image.

Nightcrawler is a bravura and audacious debut from Gilroy that captures Los Angeles at its most grimy. Every crackle of Louis' police scanner heralds potential doom and the director impresses in a pivotal action sequence, which sees Louis and Rick join a police chase in pursuit of valuable footage, regardless of the risks to pedestrians or other drivers.

Gyllenhaal distorts his screen image as a charming, buff leading man beyond recognition, slithering through each frame like a predator in search of the next kill. Russo is luminous in a meaty supporting role and London-born actor Ahmed captures the right mix of naivete and nervousness as a fellow passenger on this sickening descent into the abyss.

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Saturday 31st January 2015
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Paddington 4 stars

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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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Penguins Of Madagascar 3 stars

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Skipper leads a crack squad of penguins comprising Kowalski, Rico and Private. A grey wolf called Classified, who works for the elite inter-species task force North Wind, recruits the plucky birds to thwart nefarious octopus Dr Octavius Brine. The penguins collaborate with some of the best agents in North Wind including harp seal demolitions expert Short Fuse, snowy owl intelligence analyst Eva and plucky polar bear Corporal to defeat their tentacled adversary.

  • GenreAdventure, Animation/Cartoon, Comedy, Family, Family
  • CastChristopher Knights, Chris Miller, Tom McGrath, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Stormare, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Conrad Vernon.
  • DirectorEric Darnell, Simon J Smith.
  • WriterMichael Colton, John Aboud, Brandon Sawyer.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration92 mins
  • Official sitewww.madagascar.dreamworks.com
  • Release05/12/2014

Birds of a feather somersault, karate kick and bicker together in Eric Darnell and Simon J Smith's misfiring computer-animated spin-off from the Madagascar films. Frenetic and fast-paced, Penguins Of Madagascar initially sketches the back story of the four plucky Antarctic critters with a beak for adventure through the lens of a documentary film crew, who are keen to observe the flightless birds in their treacherous natural habitat.

The script soon fast-forwards to the conclusion of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and literally blasts the penguins into an outlandish spy caper replete with a menagerie of animal co-stars that should be a merchandiser's dream this Christmas.

The colour-saturated animation is a feast for the eyes and there are a few neat visual gags such as the penguins' novel approach to navigating a zebra crossing undetected. However, the four lead characters, who are boundlessly charming in small doses as sidekicks, grate slightly as heroes of their own half-baked story.

Hopefully the adorable Minions from the Despicable Me series will dodge a similar fate when they graduate to the limelight in a self-titled feature next summer.

Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath) leads a crack squad comprising Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) on a daring mission to break into Fort Knox in search of treasure: a luminous orange snack called Cheezy Dibbles.

From the offset, goofball Private is identified as the black penguin of the operation. "He's sort of our secretary-slash-mascot," observes Skipper. The hunt for Cheezy Dibbles leads the penguins into the clutches of nefarious octopus Dr Octavius Brine (John Malkovich), who intends to take over the world using his mutation serum.

Thankfully, Skipper and co escape and a subsequent chase with hench-octopi along the canals of Venice leads the penguins into the company of a grey wolf called Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), who works for an elite inter-species task force known as North Wind.

Fellow agents include harp seal demolitions expert Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), snowy owl intelligence analyst Eva (Annet Mahendru) and plucky polar bear Corporal (Peter Stormare). The unlikely heroes join forces to defeat their tentacled arch-nemesis, but this collaboration will amount to nothing unless Skipper allows Private to discover the hero within.

Penguins Of Madagascar exhibits a similar lack of invention as the films which gave birth to Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private. Brine's master plan for global domination bears an uncanny resemblance to events in Despicable Me 2 and the underlying message of tolerance and acceptance has been preached countless times before.

"If we've learnt anything on this delightful adventure, it's that looks don't matter. It's what you do that counts," declares Skipper.

A running joke involving celebrity names in one character's dialogue is a cute flourish but certainly not enough for these penguins to defy evolution and effortlessly take flight.

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Royal Opera Live Encore Screening: Andrea Chenier 3 stars

David McVicar directs Umberto Giordano's passionate drama of liberty and love during the French Revolution, based loosely on the life of the eponymous French poet. Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role opposite Eva-Maria Westbroek as the Countess' daughter Maddalena de Coigny and Zeljko Lucic as servant Carlo Gerard under the baton of conductor Antonio Pappano.

  • GenreDrama, Musical, Romance, Special
  • CastZeljko Lucic, Jonas Kaufmann, Denyce Graves, Eva-Maria Westbroek.
  • DirectorDavid McVicar.
  • WriterUmberto Giordano.
  • CountryUK
  • Official sitewww.roh.org.uk/cinemas

David McVicar directs Umberto Giordano's passionate drama of liberty and love during the French Revolution, based loosely on the life of the eponymous French poet. Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role opposite Eva-Maria Westbroek as the Countess' daughter Maddalena de Coigny and Zeljko Lucic as servant Carlo Gerard under the baton of conductor Antonio Pappano.

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Sunday 1st February 2015

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Son Of A Gun 3 stars

movie title

JR is sentenced to a spell behind bars for petty crime and the new arrival quickly realises that if he is to avoid a beating or something far worse in his temporary home, he will need to ingratiate himself to hulking and hirsute top dog, Brendan. The old timer eventually takes JR under his wing and the newbie returns the favour by helping the old timer and his gang to escape from incarceration. On the outside, the ragtag gang plots a daring gold heist.

  • GenreAction, Drama, Thriller
  • CastEwan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites, Alicia Vikander, Damon Herriman.
  • DirectorJulius Avery.
  • WriterJohn Collee, Julius Avery.
  • CountryAustralia
  • Duration109 mins
  • Official site
  • Release30/01/2015 (selected cinemas)

A young prison inmate shows his mettle in writer-director Julius Avery's gritty Australian crime thriller. JR (Brenton Thwaites) is sentenced to a spell behind bars for petty crime and the new arrival quickly realises that if he is to avoid a beating or something far worse in his temporary home, he will need to ingratiate himself to hulking and hirsute top dog, Brendan (Ewan McGregor). The old timer eventually takes JR under his wing and the newbie returns the favour by helping the old timer and his gang to escape from incarceration courtesy of a stolen helicopter. On the outside, the ragtag gang plots a daring gold heist and JR finds himself at the centre of the action.

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Taken 3 3 stars

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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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Saturday 31st January 2015
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Testament Of Youth 3 stars

movie title

Vera Brittain heads to Oxford University to study under waspish Miss Lorimer while her brother Edward and his good friends Roland and Victor enlist to serve their country. Against the advice of her parents, Vera decides to postpone her higher education to volunteer as a nurse and treat soldiers like her brother, who have been physically and emotionally scarred by their experiences on the front.

  • GenreAdaptation, Biography, Drama, Historical/Period, Romance, War
  • CastHayley Atwell, Kit Harington, Alicia Vikander, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan.
  • DirectorJames Kent.
  • WriterJuliette Towhidi.
  • CountryUK
  • Duration130 mins
  • Official site
  • Release16/01/2015

Published in 1933, Testament Of Youth was the first instalment of memoirs by feminist writer and pacifist Vera Mary Brittain covering the years 1900-1925. In those pages, Brittain relived her harrowing personal experiences of the First World War in the wider context of the shifting political landscape, and gave a voice to other women, who had watched loved ones head off to fight and never return.

In 1979, the BBC produced a six-part mini-series based on the book, casting a fresh-faced Cheryl Campbell as the fiercely independent heroine. It's fitting that BBC Films should be one of the creative forces behind this handsomely mounted big screen adaptation.

Testament Of Youth is almost the right film in the right place at the right time, coinciding with centenary commemorations of the First World War, which included last year's spectacular installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies at the Tower Of London.

James Kent's film is suitably respectful and sombre, and Swedish actress Alicia Vikander is a revelation in her first leading role in an English-language production, capturing the spirit, defiance and brittleness of a young woman who holds firm to her convictions at a time when women were preferably seen but not heard.

Spirited and resourceful Vera (Vikander) is poised to head to Oxford University to study under waspish Miss Lorimer (Miranda Richardson). Her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and his pals Roland (Kit Harington) and Victor (Colin Morgan) intend to enlist but Vera's parents (Dominic West, Emily Watson) are resistant.

"I know a little more about war than you young lady and it's never short and it's never fast," Mr Brittain tells his daughter sternly when Vera argues her sibling's case. They eventually relent and Vera heads to the dreaming spires of Oxford.

Romance blossoms between Vera and Roland, and Aunt Belle (Joanna Scanlan) acts as a chaperon for the young couple on their dates to ensure their conduct doesn't overstep the bounds of public decency. Against the advice of her parents, Vera postpones her higher education to volunteer as a nurse and treat soldiers, who have been physically and emotionally scarred by their experiences.

Friendships and family ties are strained as Vera and her loved ones search for glimmers of hope amid the devastation.

Testament Of Youth is a visually arresting portrait of those tumultuous years of blood-stained European history and director Kent demonstrates moments of brio. However, for all its physical splendour and Max Richter's elegiac orchestral score, the film doesn't stir the heart, even with Vikander wringing herself emotionally dry as Vera's dearest friends become casualties of the conflict.

At 130 minutes, the ambitious running time sags noticeably in the middle act, but thankfully regains momentum and composure as Vera's cosy existence is steadily reduced to rubble.

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Monday 2nd February 2015
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The Gambler 3 stars

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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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Saturday 31st January 2015
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 4 stars

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Katniss Everdeen barely survived the Third Quarter Quell and she gathers her strength in the company of her friends, architect of the rebellion Plutarch Heavensbee and the President of District 13, Alma Coin. The scent of rebellion is in the air and the people look to Katniss to lead them against President Snow and the armed forces of Panem. However, Peeta has been captured by Snow and is being manipulated to quell the uprising.

  • GenreAction, Adaptation, Adventure, Drama, Family, Romance, Science Fiction
  • CastJennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci.
  • DirectorFrancis Lawrence.
  • WriterDanny Strong, Peter Craig.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration123 mins
  • Official sitewww.thehungergames.co.uk
  • Release20/11/2014

The spectre of war casts a long shadow over the penultimate chapter of the blockbusting dystopian thrillers based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling trilogy. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 follows the lead of the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas by cleaving the final book in two.

This decision - driven as much by greed as artistic necessity - results in a dark, brooding two hours of self-sacrifice almost completely devoid of the propulsive action sequences that distinguished the earlier films. Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen, a pawn in the battle of wits between the money-rich Capitol and the impoverished Districts, remains a mesmerising constant.

She delivers another emotionally bruising performance, especially in early scenes when her battle-scarred teenager stares over the smouldering ruins of her beloved District 12, littered with charred skeletons of friends and neighbours who were incinerated as they fled.

This hellish vision brings Lawrence to her knees, unable to hold back racked sobs of pain. The floodgates open and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong take their time channelling her aching sense of loss into an all-consuming rage that will set the Capitol ablaze this time next year. "If we burn, you burn with us!" she bellows down a camera lens at President Snow (Donald Sutherland). We don't doubt it.

Katniss barely survived the Third Quarter Quell. Separated from fellow tributes Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Johanna (Jena Malone), who are being held in the Capitol, Katniss gathers her strength in a secret underground complex. Her allies include childhood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), architect of the rebellion Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).

The people of the Districts look to Katniss to lead them against President Snow and the armed forces of Panem. "We're going to stoke the fire of this revolution that this Mockingjay started," growls Plutarch, commissioning a series of propaganda videos directed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) with Katniss as the reluctant star. Meanwhile, Snow initiates his own forceful media campaign fronted by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and a clearly disoriented Peeta.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 is the calm before the storm of full-blown conflict. It's a slower burn than previous films and lacks some of the on-screen electricity since Katniss and Peeta are separated but Lawrence burns bright as the eponymous "girl on fire".

Effie's role is expanded from the book to bring some comic relief to the subterranean gloom. "Everything old can be made new again - like democracy!" she chirrups. Maybe so, but as Part 1 makes abundantly and agonisingly clear, you have to sacrifice innocent lives to sweep away the past.

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Saturday 31st January 2015
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The Imitation Game 4 stars

movie title

Socially awkward mathematician Alan Turing arrives at Bletchley Park where Commander Denniston presides over a group of the country's keenest minds in the hope that one of them can break the Enigma code. Turing ploughs his own furrow and raises eyebrows by recruiting Joan Clarke to the team. She is a beautiful mind like Turing, inspiring him to greatness by observing, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things people never imagine."

  • GenreAdaptation, Biography, Drama, Gay, Thriller, War
  • CastKeira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard.
  • DirectorMorten Tyldum.
  • WriterGraham Moore.
  • CountryUK/US
  • Duration114 mins
  • Official sitewww.theimitationgamemovie.com
  • Release14/11/2014

In December 2013, The Queen granted a posthumous royal pardon to Alan Turing. The London-born mathematician had been prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952 - a criminal act at the time - and he undertook a treatment of chemical castration with oestrogen injections rather than serve time behind bars.

It was an undeservedly inglorious end for a brilliant man, who was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code and should have been feted by our battle-scarred nation as a hero. Based on a biography by Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game relives that race against time to decipher German communications and bring the Second World War to a swift conclusion.

Morten Tyldum's masterful drama neither shies away from Turing's homosexuality nor lingers on it, framing nail-biting events at Bletchley Park with the mathematician's 1951 arrest in Manchester. "If you're not paying attention, you'll miss things," Turing teases us in voiceover.

Indeed, you'll miss impeccable production design, an unconventional yet touching romance, subterfuge and sterling performances including an Oscar-worthy portrayal of the socially awkward genius from Benedict Cumberbatch.

Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) sits in a police interrogation room with Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), facing a charge of indecency with a 19-year-old unemployed man called Arnold Murray. "I think Turing's hiding something," Nick informs his Superintendent (Steven Waddington), who is keen to wrap up the conviction.

In flashback, we witness Alan's arrival at Bletchley Park where Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and Major General Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) preside over a group of the country's keenest minds in the hope that one of them can break Enigma.

Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) work alongside Turing, but he ploughs his own furrow and raises eyebrows by recruiting Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to the team.

She is a beautiful mind like Turing, inspiring him to greatness by observing, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things people never imagine."

Punctuated by school day scenes of the young Turing (Alex Lawther) and his first love, an older boy called Christopher (Jack Bannon), The Imitation Game is a beautifully crafted tribute to a prodigy, whose invaluable contribution to the war effort was unjustly besmirched by bigotry.

Cumberbatch is mesmerising, trampling over the egos of fellow code breakers without any concern for their feelings as he vows to solve "the most difficult problem in the world". It's a tour-de-force portrayal, complemented by strong supporting performances from Knightley, Goode et al as the close-knit team who note, "God didn't win the war. We did."

The pivotal Eureka moment sets our pulses racing, heightened by Alexandre Desplat's exquisite orchestral score. Director Tyldum navigates the fractured chronology with clarity and flair, ensuring that his heart-rending film doesn't itself become a perplexing puzzle.

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The Snow Queen: Magic Of The Ice Mirror 3 stars

The wicked Snow Queen is dead and the kingdom has been saved. The Queen's troll Arm exaggerates his part in her destruction, spinning a web of lies, which strongly suggest he is destined to marry the princess and inherit great riches. In fact, his tall tales lead him on a perilous quest with plucky Gerda to vanquish a new evil that threatens to plunge the realm into an eternal winter.

  • GenreAdaptation, Animation/Cartoon, Drama, Family, Fantasy
  • CastIvan Okhlobystin, Anna Shurochkina, Anna Khilkevich, Aleksandr Uman.
  • DirectorAleksey Tsitsilin.
  • WriterAleksey Tsitsilin, Aleksey Zamyslov, Roman Nepomnyashchiy, Vladimir Nikolaev.
  • CountryRus
  • Duration79 mins
  • Official sitewww.snowqueenfilm.com; www.facebook.com/snowqueenfilm
  • Release12/12/2014 (selected cinemas)

Aleksey Tsitsilin directs this computer-animated sequel to the 2012 feature based on the beloved Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. The wicked Snow Queen is dead and the kingdom has been saved. The Queen's troll Arm (voiced by Ivan Okhlobystin) exaggerates his part in her destruction, spinning a web of lies, which strongly suggest he is destined to marry the princess and inherit great riches. In fact, his tall tales lead him on a perilous quest with plucky Gerda (Anna Shurochkina) to vanquish a new evil that threatens to plunge the realm into an eternal winter.

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Sunday 1st February 2015

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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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Sunday 1st February 2015
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The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death 3 stars

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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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Sunday 1st February 2015
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Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy 3 stars

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Inquisitive fairy Zarina experiments with Blue Pixie Dust with disastrous consequences and flees Pixie Hollow in shame. She aligns herself with the pirates of Skull Island led by the handsome and charming Captain James Hook. Zarina helps them to steal the Blue Pixie Dust in order to make their pirate ship fly. In the absence of the dust, Pixie Hollow is plunged into darkness so Tinker Bell and her fairy chums give chase.

  • GenreAdventure, Animation/Cartoon, Children, Children's, Drama
  • CastTom Hiddleston, Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, Anjelica Huston, Raven-Symone.
  • DirectorPeggy Holmes.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration78 mins
  • Official sitewww.disney.co.uk/disney-fairies/homepage
  • Release14/02/2014

Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned in Peggy Holmes's feature-length animated fantasy based on characters created by JM Barrie. Like previous instalments, Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy is set before the Darling children fly towards the "second star to the right, and straight on till morning", chronicling the adventures of the eponymous fairy and her chums in the idyllic realm of Pixie Hollow.

Earlier films were themed around the four seasons but director Peggy Holmes's chapter sketches the origins of one of Neverland's most iconic characters, Captain Hook, and explains how the scurvy scoundrel comes to fear the sound of a ticking clock inside a crocodile's belly.

It's exceedingly sweet and colourful, not to mention achingly predictable, but is perhaps a bit too scary for really young children during the film's louder interludes.

Contrary to the expectations of title, the chief protagonist is a fairy called Zarina (voiced by Christina Hendricks), who has always harboured a fascination with the iridescent Blue Pixie Dust that is essential to life in Pixie Hollow.

She is particularly interested in the colour of Pixie Dust and asks Fairy Gary (Jeff Bennett), the Scottish foreman of the dust-keepers, if there could be other hues. "The day someone finds pink pixie dust is the day I trade in my kilt for trousers!" he quips.

Zarina experiments with the dust with disastrous consequences and flees the kingdom in shame. She leaves behind benevolent ruler Queen Clarion (Anjelica Huston) and fellow fairies Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman), Fawn (Angela Bartys), Iridessa (Raven-Symone), Rosetta (Megan Hilty), Silvermist (Lucy Liu) and Vidia (Pamela Adlon).

At her lowest ebb, Zarina aligns herself with the pirates of Skull Island led by handsome and charming cabin boy, James (Tom Hiddleston).

One year after her inglorious exodus, Zarina covertly returns to Pixie Hollow and helps the salty seadogs steal the Blue Pixie Dust in order to make their pirate ship fly. "Once we're past the second star, the world will be my oyster... and I don't even like oysters!" guffaws James.

In the absence of the dust, Pixie Hollow is plunged into darkness so Tinker Bell and her plucky pals give chase, determined to restore balance to their stricken realm.

Compared to the recent Disney feature Frozen, Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy is incredibly simplistic and the plot is disappointingly linear. However, the scriptwriters are constrained by literary mythology that cannot be subjected to any tinkering.

The film affirms the importance of friendship with every flutter of the fairies' wings and encourages inquisitive young minds to think out of the box. It's a little ironic then, that Holmes's picture allows its own imagination and invention to hibernate for the entire 78 minutes.

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Sunday 1st February 2015

Trash 3 stars

movie title

Shortly before he is arrested and tortured, Jose Angelo flings a wallet into a passing garbage truck, which is destined for the local tip. Among the throng of children scavenging the tip for plastics is Raphael, who finds the wallet and secretly shares the contents with best friend Gardo. When cops led by police inspector Frederico descend on the site, promising a handsome reward for the wallet, the boys realise the precariousness of their situation.

  • GenreAction, Adaptation, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
  • CastWagner Moura, Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Selton Mello, Rickson Tevez, Gabriel Weinstein, Eduardo Luiz.
  • DirectorStephen Daldry.
  • WriterRichard Curtis.
  • CountryUK/Bra
  • Duration114 mins
  • Official site
  • Release30/01/2015

It's a matter of conjecture whether revered comedian WC Fields told his peers to never work with animals or children. Regardless of the provenance, British director Stephen Daldry has ignored the sage advice and taken on projects that demand powerhouse performances from inexperienced performers.

In 2000, he worked closely with newcomer Jamie Bell on Billy Elliot, guiding his young star to a BAFTA as Best Actor. A decade later, he performed similar miracles in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, wringing tears from 12-year-old Thomas Horn as a socially awkward boy haunted by the death of his father in the September 11 attacks.

Daldry's talent for identifying and skilfully nurturing raw talent is in evidence again in Trash. Based on Andy Mulligan's novel, which has been adapted for the screen by Richard Curtis, this rousing tale of courage in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro is blessed with luminous performances from non-professionals Rickson Tevez, Eduardo Luiz and Gabriel Weinstein.

Combining the gritty setting of City Of God with the life-affirming cheer of Slumdog Millionaire, Daldry's film is an undeniable crowd-pleaser. While the plot ultimately falls apart in the final act, the teenage protagonists light up every frame.

Shortly before he is arrested and tortured, Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura) flings a wallet into a passing garbage truck, which is destined for the local tip. Among the throng of children scavenging the tip for plastics is Raphael (Rickson Tevez), who finds the wallet and secretly shares the contents with best friend Gardo (Eduardo Luiz).

When cops led by police inspector Frederico (Selton Mello) descend on the site, promising a handsome reward for the wallet, the boys realise the precariousness of their situation. They seek out pint-sized outcast Rato (Gabriel Weinstein), who lives in the sewers, and he leads a merry dance to a locker in the city centre, which is the first clue to a conspiracy involving mayoral hopeful Antonio Santos (Stepan Nercessian).

Unable to trust the authorities, the boys turn to Father Juilliard (Martin Sheen), who runs the local ministry and his plucky assistant Olivia (Rooney Mara) but they are no match for Federico and his thuggish men.

Trash is anything but emotionally manipulative rubbish but Daldry's film does fall short of the emotional wallop promised in heart-breaking opening scenes. Tevez, Luiz and Weinstein are naturals in front of the camera, sharing palpable screen chemistry that compels us to root for the boys against Mello's sadistic cop.

Rooney is underused while Sheen lends a warm, avuncular glow to his alcohol-swilling man of the cloth, who advises Olivia to keep her nose out of the boy's affairs. "Don't waste your life fighting battles that make you bitter or make you dead," he sermonises. It would be a dull denouement if she listened.

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Whiplash 5 stars

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Nineteen-year-old Andrew Neiman is determined to be the top drummer at his music conservatory. So he practices night and day and catches the eye of the school's most revered and feared teacher, Terence Fletcher, who is well known for terrorising students that don't meet his idea of perfection. Soon after, Fletcher requests that Andrew transfers into his class and he becomes the alternate drummer. When the opportunity arises for Andrew to prove himself, he rises to the occasion.

  • GenreDrama, Film, Musical, Romance
  • CastMelissa Benoist, Miles Teller, Paul Reiser, JK Simmons, Austin Stowell.
  • DirectorDamien Chazelle.
  • WriterDamien Chazelle.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration106 mins
  • Official sitewww.sonyclassics.com/whiplash/
  • Release16/01/2015

The fresh paint of 2015 has barely dried and already we have a strong contender for the film of the year. Inspired by writer-director Damien Chazelle's experiences in a fiercely competitive high school jazz band, Whiplash is an electrifying tale of a 19-year-old drummer's bruising battle of wits with his monstrous college tutor.

As the title intimates, pain is acute in Chazelle's lean script that pulls no punches in its depiction of the pursuit of musical excellence, which propels the self-destructive student to the brink of a mental and physical breakdown.

Drumming sequences are edited at a frenetic pace, spattered with the real sweat of lead actor Miles Teller, who performs all of the energy-sapping solos as if his life depended on it. It's a bravura performance complemented by JK Simmons' jaw-dropping portrayal of the foul-mouthed, bullying conductor, who verbally abuses students that fall short of his impossible demands for metronomic and percussive perfection.

Staring at his terrified charges, Simmons' musician-turned-mentor preys upon teenage fears and insecurities, kindling intense rivalry between band members for his own sadistic pleasure. Early in the film, he picks on one nervous trombonist's weight and snarls, "I will not let you cost us a competition because your mind's on a Happy Meal and not on pitch." He's just getting warmed up.

Nineteen-year-old Andrew Neiman (Teller) is determined to excel at his Manhattan music conservatory and avoid the regrets which haunt his writer father (Paul Reiser). So he practises night and day and catches the eye of the school's most revered teacher, Terence Fletcher (Simmons).

Soon after, Andrew transfers to Fletcher's class and becomes the alternate drummer in the band behind lead player Carl (Nate Lang). When the opportunity arises for Andrew to impress, he rises to the occasion but alienates himself from the rest of the band.

A fledgling romance with Nicole (Melissa Benoist), who works at Andrew's local cinema, is sacrificed in a cold, cruel fashion that would have Fletcher smacking his lips with glee. The game of one-upmanship between teacher and pupil spirals out of control as Andrew struggles to meet the lofty expectations of his maniacal mentor and earn the right to play at a concert in the rarefied surroundings of Carnegie Hall.

Whiplash delivers one emotional wallop after another as Andrew practises until his hands bleed and Simmons belittles those herculean efforts by growling, "Is that the fastest you can go? It is no wonder Mommy ran out on you!"

We root for the beleaguered 19-year-old with every display of frenzied stick-work, urging Andrew to wipe the smug grin off Fletcher's face. Our investment in the characters is immense and Chazelle rewards us with an astounding denouement that saps every ounce of energy from our bodies. We're delirious, euphoric and physically spent.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Monday 2nd February 2015

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.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Monday 2nd February 2015
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Wednesday 4th February 2015
Thursday 5th February 2015
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