‘The Keeper’

Enjoyable if slight bio of Bert Trautmann, a German POW on English soil who, against all odds, became a legendary sporting hero in England itself.

David Kross (The Reader, War Horse) is the lead as, with the help of local grocer Jack Friar (John Henshaw – Stan & Ollie, The Angels’ Share) and his daughter, Margaret (Freya Mavor – The Sense of an Ending, Sunshine on Leith), Trautmann gets time off from the post-war internment camp and becomes the goalkeeper for the local St Helens football club. Scouts soon arrive and, just three years after the end of the war, Trautmann is controversially signed by Manchester City.

It takes time to win the fans over – and Trautmann faced a great deal of abuse from opposing fans when travelling to other cities – but the famed 1956 Wembley FA Cup Final with Manchester City playing Birmingham City ensured that the German ‘keeper entered the annals of footballing history.

No risks are taken by director Marcus H Rossenmueller (Grave Decisions, The Colour of Mother-of-Pearl) in telling this straightforward story of a man who overcame public hostility to become a local hero (with more than a little help from his wife, Margaret).

Rating: 61%

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‘Never Look Away’

A rambling, occasionally insightful and thoughtful but ultimately superficial exploration of art and life, Werk Ohne Autor (Work Without Author, a much more appropriate title) follows artist Kurt Barnert (loosely based on Gerhard Richter) from his Dresden childhood at the end of World War II, the social realism of the GDR to free expression in the west via the Dusseldorf Academy.

Haunted by the loss of his beloved young aunt under the Nazis, frustrated by the artistic restrictions of the east, confused in 1960s West Germany under the tutelage of a modernist professor (a thinly veiled fictional Joseph Beuys) and a bullying, interfering father-in-law, Barnert (Tom Schilling – Oh Boy, Crazy) plods on regardless. It’s all a bit of a slog (188 minutes!) that lacks the magic of director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s superb Oscar-winning The Lives of Others. But, having said that, Never Look Away remains readily watchable.

Rating: 54%

‘Red Joan’

An old-fashioned spy tale (based on a true story) as Judi Dench (Skyfall, Notes on a Scandal) is arrested for treason – some 50 years after the passing of nuclear secrets to the Soviets.

Set predominately in the 1940s (the young Dench is nicely played by Sophie Cookson – Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Huntsman: Winter’s War), solid performances and an intriguing insight into the oft-overlooked role women played in wartime fail to mask a somewhat dull, inert and dreary telling. Cambridge University was a hotbed for leftwing politics in the 30s and 40s, but a rare foray onto the silver screen by acclaimed stage director Trevor Nunn fails to bring one iota of spark to the intrigue.

Rating: 48%

‘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%

‘Stan & Ollie’

A flat, strangely uninvolving narrative as Laurel & Hardy, once the most successful comedy duo in the world, look to reignite their dwindling careers and strained friendship with a gruelling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Seedy bed & breakfasts in the likes of Carlisle, Swansea, Plymouth are a far cry from their golden Hollywood days as the two struggle to attract audiences. The arrival of their respective wives adds to the pressure as Ollie’s health suffers and threatens the future of the tour.

In their impersonations of the duo, Steve Coogan (Night at the Museum, Philomena) and John C Reilly (Chicago, The Sisters Brothers) are excellent but its an uphill struggle with the uninspiring material (written by Jeff Pope – Philomena, Pierrepoint) and pedantic direction (Jon S. Baird – Filth).

Rating: 51%

‘Green Book’

A predictable and conventional crowd pleaser, Green Book is the commercial, liberal side of addressing racism – more Crash than any Spike Lee film.

An out-of-work nightclub bouncer in 1960s New York, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic, Lord of the Rings) reluctantly accepts a two-month driver’s position. Based on a true story, he’s to drive renowned musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali – Moonlight, Hidden Figures) on a tour of the Deep South.

Diametric opposites clash – a physical, Bronx, racist Italian; a sophisticated, judgemental, academic Afro-American. But experiences in Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama et al slowly bring respect and friendship.

More known for comedies than issue-based dramas, director Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Hall Pass) tells a good story but falls short on that extra punch the film so desperately needed. Surprisingly, Green Book won both best film and best original screenplay Oscars. Less surprising was best supporting actor for Mahershala Ali.

Rating: 64%

‘Vice’

More engrossing and informative than entertaining, director Adam McKay (The Big Short, The Other Guys) and his latest political exploration will leave you dumbfounded by the manipulation of power by former Vice President, Dick Cheney (a transformed Christian Bale – The Dark Knight, The Big Short).

From the Nixon years through to the George W Bush presidency 40 years later, Cheney and wife Lynne (Amy Adams – Arrival, Doubt) sought power as he became intern, analyst, chief-of-staff at the White House, senator, secretary of defence, VP. Arch conservative, Cheney is regarded as the eminence gris behind Bush and the tenuous reasonings in the invasion of Iraq and the US’s extreme policies of its war on terror.

It’s a fascinating insight – biting satire and a true acting masterclass that, outside the Cheneys, includes Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Eddie Marsan, Tyler Perry – even an uncredited Naomi Watts. No surprise Bale won a Golden Globe and the film has received eight Oscar nominations.

Rating: 71%

‘Loro’

Bombastic, MTV-style telling of the life and times of scandal-plagued Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi (Toni Servillo – The Great Beauty, Consequences of Love) or at least a period in his career as his marriage to second wife Veronica fractures.

Nudity, raucous poolside parties, coke-snorting bacchanalia is the order of the day as director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, TV’s The Young Pope) controversially speculates on what may or may not have taken place behind both political and private closed doors as characters attempt to win the favour of the billionaire politician.

The Fellini-esque excess of debauchery, sex and depictions of unfettered wealth grate and ultimately bore – even if, unlike it’s two part release in Italy, the 150 minute international version switches at the halfway stage to a more in-depth, serious exploration of the corruption of power and money.

Sadly, too little too late – I’d switched off caring before then as Sorrentino delivers, once more, artifice rather than depth.

Rating: 34%