‘The Realm’

A thoroughly engaging Spanish political thriller as the lid is blown on the nefarious corruption of ‘The Party’ with a focus on the arrogant, regional president-in waiting, Antonio de la Tour (The Last Circus, A Twelve-Year Night).

As financial scandal after financial scandal hits the regional office, so Madrid HQ (and his local colleagues) looks to scapegoat de la Tour. But he’s not taking the rap alone, being only too aware that the corruption is far more widespread. Evidence is what he needs – and he’ll go to any lengths to undercover it.

With its driving soundtrack, fast-paced incisive dialogue, strong performances and taut direction (Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Que Dios nos perdone, Stockholm), The Realm is a superior, tension-filled feature.

Rating: 73%

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‘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%

‘All Is True’

After his Globe Theatre burns to the ground (1613), William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh – Dunkirk, Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit) returns to his Stratford home and to a family he has barely seen in 20 years.

A strained relationship with his wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench – Skyfall, Shakespeare In Love), and two daughters eventually eases as the three women come to terms with Shakespeare’s return and a few home truths bubble to the surface.

Solid direction by Branagh himself (Hamlet, Murder on the Orient Express) All Is True is a somewhat syrupy telling of the playwright’s last act, lensed through (symbolic) autumnal hues and littered with quotes from the Baird’s own writings (but then if you have Branagh, Dench and Ian McKellen at hand, hardly surprising!). It’s engaging in a small way – a period-piece family drama with some much needed zing provided by the sharp-tongued elder daughter, Judith (Kathryn Wilder – Murder on the Orient Express, Ready Player One).

Rating: 53%

‘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%

‘Everybody Knows’

Beautifully shot, perfectly capturing the Spanish countryside and village life, auteur Asghar Fahardi’s (The Salesman, A Separation) latest is ultimately a deeply unpleasant narrative of revenge.

Laura (Penelope Cruz – Volver, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) travels from Buenos Aires with her two children to attend her sister’s wedding. But the kidnapping of teenage daughter Irene results in long-buried secrets, family feuds and village animosities rising to the surface with devastating results.

Former lover Paco (a solid and likeable Javier Bardem – No Country For Old Men, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is there for a distraught Laura. But, over the course of 150 minutes, Everybody Knows, whilst eminently watchable, gradually slips into melodrama and (for Fahardi) unsubtle angst.

Rating: 54%

‘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%