‘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%

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‘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%

‘Triple Frontier’

A superior genre film from Netflix as five former special forces operatives reunite to steal a drug lord’s fortune in the jungles of deepest South America.

Putting their lives at risk for country is placed on the back burner as millions of dollars are at stake: Oscar Isaacs (Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year) is on a personal mission and pulls together a team that includes Ben Affleck (Argo, Gone Girl) and Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur, The Lost City of Z).

Character and plot development are dealt with on a fairly equal basis until we hit action stations, and whilst there are some howlers in plot line, it’s all entertaining enough until the guys make their planned escape. It then hits the ‘pretty dumb’ button hard. With J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, A Most Violent Year) at the helm and written by Chandor and Mark Boal (Detroit, The Hurt Locker), Triple Frontier could, and should, have been a lot better. But it’s still entertaining for what it is.

A Netflix original.

Rating: 59%

‘Hotel Mumbai’

The harrowing events of the coordinated terrorist attack on multiple targets across Mumbai in 2008 form the basis of Anthony Maras’ feature film debut.

The luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel, where terrorists controlled the corridors for four days killing more than 30 people, was the highest profile target. And it is here that Maras focuses his occasionally gripping, predominantly bland, factional telling. Like many disaster films of old with large casts, it’s the lack of characterisation that’s the problem. Dev Patel (Lion, Slumdog Millionaire) as staff member Arjun is the film’s mainstay but with Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs, Nazanin Boniadi and Carmen Duncan as guests, their stories need to be told – along with time spent with the (admittedly gripping) rampaging terrorists stalking the hotel.

Hotel Mumbai certainly has its moments, but in terms of a tribute to victims and survivors, it falls somewhat short as excess of killings and violence outweigh any attempt at a message.

Rating: 53%

‘On the Basis of Sex’

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is trending, an icon of our time. Last year came the acclaimed documentary, RBG, which introduced the fiery advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights to a wider audience.

Mimi Leder (Pay It Forward, Deep Impact) and her film introduces her to far more – although, inevitably, the biopic of only the second woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, is sadly diluted for mass consumption. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Inferno) plays Ginsburg with steely aplomb, but in covering 30 years, the narrative skims across too much detail.

Rating: 56%

‘The Mule’

Clint Eastwood’s latest annual directorial feature is inspired by the true story of a 90 year-old Korean War veteran turning into a drug mule for the Mexican cartel, driving from Texas to Illinois on a monthly basis.

A chance meeting leads a strapped-for-cash Eastwood (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby) to drive millions of dollars of drugs across state lines as DEA special agent Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, American Sniper) closes in.

It’s a repetitive storyline as we follow Eastwood through several road trips, with the back story of his broken family life occasionally taking centre stage. But it’s all a little hollow, lacking in any real substance or emotional resonance.

But there’s a great jazz soundtrack from Arturo Sandoval!

Rating: 58%