‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’

It’s loud, bombastic, funny, gruesome and enormously entertaining. In other words, a true Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained) feature.

An excellent Brad Pitt (Twelve Years a Slave, Moneyball) as an out-of-work stunt double to best mate, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant, Titanic), himself a washed-up TV star from 15 years earlier looking to make a career in the movies, meanders through 1969 Tinseltown in the lead up to the Manson Family murder of fledgling star, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie – I Tonya, Suicide Squad). Only Tarantino being Tarantino, he subverts that particular storyline.

It may not be his best, but an arguably overlong Once Upon a Time is Tarantino’s wistful love-letter to the 60s, Hollywood and American pop culture. And, in spite of that underlying storyline and gruesome violence, it’s remarkably tender.

Rating 83%

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‘Under the Silver Lake’

An odd, overlong, meandering thriller as Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spiderman, Hackshaw Ridge) searches LA for the woman living in the same apartment building who suddenly disappears.

It’s all a little too contrived and self-conscious to hit the neo noir bizarre button writer/director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover, It Follows) is searching for as the ordinary but likeable Garfield finds himself way out of his depth. It always looks good but even the occasional inspirational moment fails to lift Under the Silver Lake above boring.

Rating: 40%

‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’

A confusingly claimed final instalment of the two-decade franchise, Dark Phoenix is something of a boring, anticlimactic mess.

The end of the prequels (set in the 1990s where the original X-Men first stepped in) sees a few changes to the storylines of future and past as Jean Grey (Sophie Turner – X-Men: Apocalypse, TV’s Game of Thrones) comes to terms with her mutation and a corrupting power that turns her into a Dark Phoenix. The rest of the team need to reach her before the alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) taps into that power and brings destruction to mankind.

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult et al are all ever present as our favourite mutants – but in writer/director Simon Kinberg’s directorial debut, all have little input as Jean goes on the rampage, angered as she is by McAvoy and his blocking of her truth of the car-accident that killed her parents.

Rating: 40%

‘Rocketman’

The rise of Elton John into pop superstardom is a magical, visual fantasy of a musical biopic – with a stand out performance by Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie the Eagle).

Addiction (alcohol, cocaine, sex) battles are writ large in director Dexter Fletcher’s (Sunshine on Leith, Eddie the Eagle) telling of the early days of success as a shy and withdrawn Reggie Dwight evolves into the flamboyant Elton John. And whilst there’s no claim for Rocketman to be a true telling, the solid foundation to the tale is provided by the long-term friendship with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool).

Inevitable comparisons with last year’s Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody aside, a slow, family-life start in the outer London suburb of Pinner kicks into life with the screen arrival of Egerton. His look and mannerisms are uncanny, his singing excellent – and whilst Rocketman generally avoids providing any real depth to the man himself, it is entertainment with a capital E.

Rating: 65%

‘Billionaire Boys Club’

Weak scripting, a derivative telling of a ‘true’ story and a cast seemingly going through the motions results in Billionaire Boys Club (directed by James Cox – Wonderland, Straight As) missing the mark on essentially all fronts.

Privileged wealth gets behind brilliant financial analyst boy-from-the-valley schoolfriend, Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver, The Fault In Our Stars) to hustle enormous returns on investment. But the get-rich-quick Ponzi scheme scam goes pear-shaped as the boys lock horns with the more experienced financial hustler, Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, The Usual Suspects).

Rating: 36%

‘Avengers: Endgame’

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), it’s a welcome sombre note to the Marvel proceedings, particularly after the wall-to-wall battles of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

After the defeat by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and destruction of half the world’s population, the surviving Avengers are (mostly) unsurprisingly resigned and introspective – even Iron Man himself (Robert Downey Junior) has settled into an idyllic familial rural lifestyle. But the sudden ‘spitting out’ of Ant Man (a very funny Paul Rudd) from the quantum realm changes everything.

It’s a fittingly gargantuan and fabulously grandiose conclusion of 22 Marvel films – but with its humour, pathos and not too much reliance on excessive battles, the result is Avengers: Endgame is suitably one of the best.

Rating: 69%

‘Bird Box’

A psychological horror film continuing the trend of unexplained monster/alien invasion (A Quiet Place, The Silence), Bird Box is taut and claustrophobic. Yet, in spite of a strong central performance by Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, Miss Congeniality), it falls short of its promise.

Directed by Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, In a Better World), Bird Box follows the reluctant mother find some kind of redemption as she leads two young children to safety from a decimated Los Angeles. Journeying on a treacherous river, the trip is made more arduous by the fact it must be made blindfolded.

A Netflix original.

Rating: 61%

‘Us’

Unlike Jordan Peele’s first feature, the immensely enjoyable Get Out, Us is an overthought, overwrought home invasion horror thriller.

The Wilson family’s beach vacation turns into a nightmare as doppelgängers appear with vacant stares, guttural grunts and wielding sharpened golden scissors. But this home invasion is not restricted to the Wilsons’ holiday home – and it’s soon apparent Santa Cruz and beyond are impacted by these murderous zombie-like creatures.

Lupita Nyong’o (Twelve Years a Slave, Black Panther) takes control to protect her family (the man of the family, Winston Duke – Avengers Infinity War, Black Panther – is something of a fool) as it appears her doppelgänger is the one in charge. Lots of frantic night-time activity, blood and gore (and occasional foray into humour) fail to hide the film’s shortcomings and predictability.

Rating: 42%

‘Destroyer’

A stellar performance by an almost unrecognisable Nicole Kidman (Lion, The Hours) takes director Karyn Kusama’s (Aeon Flux, Girlfight) crime thriller of redemption and justice to a different level.

As a police detective emotionally traumatised by a series of wrong decisions made 17 years earlier as an undercover rookie, Kidman is a train-wreck. An alcoholic, prone to violence and off-the-rails behaviour, she struggles with colleagues and her estranged daughter. But a chance of redemption rears its head as gang leader Silas (Toby Kebbell – RocknRolla, Kong: Skull Island) reappears on the LA crime scene.

Pensive and cerebral, Destroyer is something of a slow build as the narrative of the present unfurls through the unfolding of the past. It’s not an easy ride, with little instant gratification. But Kidman’s intractability and so out-of-character unpleasantness makes for a mesmerising two hours.

Rating: 69%

‘Captain Marvel’

Generic and somewhat flat, the latest in the Marvel universe is an uninspiring genesis film.

A generally unconvincing Oscar-winning Brie Larson (Room, Kong: Skull Island) finds herself on the wrong side of good in a galactic war that, slowly, reveals her human roots. Mentor Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Cold Mountain) encourages the latest superhero to overcome her emotions in the fight against the Skrulls – but contact with former (human) friends and SHIELD agents, including (a digitally enhanced) Samuel L Jackson, undermine her training.

The underlying humour (Jackson and the cat in particular) make Captain Marvel passable, but directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Billions, Half Nelson) are sadly out of their indie film/TV comfort zone.

Rating: 38%