Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Released in October last year, The Maze Runner – the first film based on James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic trilogy for young adults – was unfairly dismissed as a testosterone-fuelled clone of The Hunger Games.
Wes Ball’s propulsive and refreshingly unsentimental chase through a diabolical labyrinth killed off main characters in a clinical fashion and cleverly negated the need for back stories by burdening the teenage runners with amnesia.
Fragmented memories of the past gradually resurface in this equally entertaining sequel, which veers into grisly territory inhabited by The Walking Dead and World War Z, albeit within the boundaries of a 12A certificate.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials fills in some of the narrative blanks but always has one eye on the next thrilling action set piece, including a sprint through a topsy-turvy collapsed skyscraper that proves what goes up must come down... at stomach-lurching speed.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials unfolds at a brisk pace and fleshes out Scodelario’s battle-scarred heroine, who was woefully short-changed in the first film.
Dylan O’Brien remains a likeable hero, who is blissfully unaware of the sins of his past, and new characters are introduced and – in some cases – swiftly dispatched as the hard fought war with W.C.K.D. intensifies.
Intriguing questions about sacrifice in a world where death is the only freedom provide the cast with plentiful opportunities to wring out tears.
Director Ball borrows from The Lost World: Jurassic Park for one of his film’s nerve-racking crescendos and orchestrates frenetic encounters with the ravenous zombie-like Cranks.
“I think hope is a dangerous thing,” counsels one character.
Maybe so, but on this evidence, we have every reason to hope for a humdinger finale, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, scheduled for release in January 2017.
Star Rating: 7/10
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 58%
Tom Hardy portrays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in Brian Helgeland’s brutal portrait of the notorious gangsters.
One helping of the London-born leading man, with his imposing physical presence and willingness to delve into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, is usually an emotionally bruising treat. A double dose of Hardy should be an overflowing feast for the senses.
Surprisingly, the neat gimmick of casting the same actor in dual roles proves an almighty distraction.
Using the visual shorthand of a pair of spectacles to distinguish between the two Krays, Hardy plays Ronnie as a blackly humorous psychopath, who seems to be one giggle shy of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
Reggie, as a dutiful son, always puts family ties ahead of personal desires. “My loyalty to my brother is how I measure myself,” he confides.
Helgeland’s period drama is torn between these two very different faces of the same blood-spattered coin.
Ultimately, the film comes apart at the seams as it lurches between tenderness and lurid violence to lay bare the unshakeable bond between the brothers.
Based on the book The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, Legend captures the fashions and sounds of Fifties and Sixties London with aplomb, but the abrupt shifts in pace and tone are deeply discomfiting.
Individually, Hardy’s portrayals of Ronnie and Reggie are fascinating but placed side by side, they induce a cinematic headache.
Supporting cast are similarly torn between understated (Emily Browning) and exaggerated (Taron Egerton), including a colourful turn from John Sessions as a slippery conservative peer, who enjoys the company of young men.
The running time drags in places but it’s hard to tear your eyes from the screen, even when Helgeland’s film seems to be careening wildly out of control.
Star Rating: 6/10
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 79%
The phenomenal success of The Sixth Sense, the third feature of Indian-born film-maker M Night Shyamalan, was a blessing and a curse.
Subsequent forays into the weird and wonderful have fallen short, with the exception of the unfairly maligned mystery, Unbreakable.
In The Visit, the writer-director embraces the current fad of found footage thrillers to recount an awkward reunion through the lens of a teenage girl, who is making a documentary about her dysfunctional family.
This flimsy conceit allows Shyamalan to alternate between static wide shots and juddering handheld footage, as characters flee for their lives with cameras supposedly in their sweaty palms.
The Visit is devoid of jump-out-of-your-skin scares. Creeping tension is restricted to one scene in the kitchen that teasingly suggests Shyamalan is remaking a Brothers Grimm fairytale.
In the midst of the escalating madness, the teenage protagonist and her younger brother always manage to capture pivotal conversations and detail, which strains credibility.
Stylistic suspensions of disbelief would be tolerable if Shyamalan’s script wasn’t pocked with gaping plot holes and preposterous lapses in logic.
In particular, he asks us to accept that one character would be negligent and fail to share a basic yet essential piece of information, in order to engineer the film’s ridiculous final act.
There is no big twist here like The Sixth Sense, just a big shameless cheat that we spot straightaway.
Star Rating: 5/10
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 65%
In front of and behind the camera, writer, director and actor Woody Allen has lovingly cultivated the persona of a neurotic, insecure, anxious and self-absorbed voyeur of the frail human condition.
His pithy one-liners are quoted endlessly, and the controversies which have stained Allen’s personal relationships do not seem to have markedly tempered affection for his dialogue-heavy work.
In Irrational Man, the film-maker returns to dramatic canon after the froth and frippery of yesteryear’s Magic in the Moonlight, reuniting with leading lady Emma Stone for a spry tale of trial, retribution and murder most torrid.
It’s a rematch made in mediocrity because for all its crisp verbal acrobatics and occasional flourishes, this modern day mystery lacks a killer instinct.
Lead characters are sketched lightly and we struggle to tether a strong emotional bond to any of the players as they pontificate on the morality of doling out justice to the wicked and corrupt.
Irrational Man explores Allen’s lifelong fascination with philosophy. Characters wrestle tirelessly with questions of free will, destiny and humanity, which might get the writer-director’s juices flowing, but hardly sets our pulses racing.
Sporting an impressive belly for the role, Joaquin Phoenix wallows in his character’s ennui and struggles to generate enough sparks of on-screen chemistry with Emma Stone to convince us that she would fall for his morose academic.
Plotting is linear and Allen makes clear his feelings on personal vengeance in the film’s disappointing and telegraphed final reckoning.
Star Rating: 5/10
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 50%
In Selected Cinemas…
Eric Clapton Live at the Royal Albert Hall
In 2015, Eric Clapton celebrated his 70th birthday by performing a run of seven shows at the Royal Albert Hall. This brought his total to 205 appearances at the iconic London venue, including 178 headline shows.
This concert film captures one momentous night for the rock guitarist, as he performs classic songs and fan favourites from the Mississippi blues of Robert Johnson that originally inspired him, through to Cream, Derek & The Dominos and his illustrious solo career.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A
The Rocky Horror Show Live
Christopher Luscombe directs Richard O’Brien’s musical comedy in which an uptight couple, Brad and Jet, encounter mad, cross-dressing scientist Dr Frank N Furter, his butler Riff Raff and other oddballs intent on doing the timewarp.
Broadcast live to cinemas for one night only from the stage of the Playhouse Theatre in London, this gala performance in aid of Amnesty International welcomes special guests Stephen Fry, Mel Giedroyc and Emma Bunton. They join O’Brien in the role of the narrator, who returns to the cast of his cult creation for the first time in more than 20 years.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A