Now showing at Ritz Victoria Street,Burnham-on-Sea,Somerset TA8 1AN 01278 794123
- American Sniper
- Into The Woods
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
- Taken 3
- Testament Of Youth
- The Theory Of Everything
American Sniper 4 stars
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.
- Duration132 mins
- Official sitewww.americansnipermovie.com
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.
Into The Woods 4 stars
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.
- Duration125 mins
- Official sitewww.movies.disney.com/into-the-woods
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.
Kingsman: The Secret Service 3 stars
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.
- Duration129 mins
- Official sitewww.kingsmanmovie.com
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.
Taken 3 3 stars
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.
- Duration109 mins
- Official sitewww.taken3movie.com
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.
Testament Of Youth 3 stars
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.
- Duration130 mins
- Official site
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.
The Theory Of Everything 4 stars
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.
- Duration123 mins
- Official site
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.