Blade Runner 2049 (15)

WHILE Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner had to wait to be hailed as the classic it undoubtedly remains, Denis Villeneuve’s belated follow-up should experience no such delay. As visually ravishing and intellectually stimulating as its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is a stunning achievement that continues science fiction’s recent resurgence – in the wake of Arrival, Westworld and Ex_Machina – in the most emphatic way possible.

Villeneuve has asked that plot details be kept to a minimum. But it’s not giving too much away to say that the story revolves around a new generation blade runner named K (played by Ryan Gosling), who is tasked with hunting down the last remaining Nexus 8 replicants that occupied the first film. After a near-lethal encounter with a protein farmer (Dave Bautista), K makes a discovery that threatens to uncover a potentially life-altering secret, and which puts him on a path to finding Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the rogue blade runner from the original.

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On the surface, Villeneuve’s film is a neo-noir missing person thriller that unfolds using an ultra slow-burn approach (it clocks in at two hours and 43 minutes). But far from feeling stretched, the story – co-scripted by original screenwriter Hampton Fancher and Alien: Covenant’s Michael Green – also tackles issues as big as the nature of existence as well as the complexities of love and social standing.

If anything, it’s also more decisive than Scott’s original, which notoriously found the director toying with multiple endings.

Villeneuve, just as he did with the similarly stunning Arrival, seamlessly blends the expected with the unexpected. He retains the signature look of Scott’s beautifully bleak future vision with a highly affecting emotional kick. It means that for all of the stylistic flourishes on show, the film resonates on a surprisingly human level. Actions have consequences that are deeply felt.

Gosling’s K, for instance, may seem cool and calculated for the most part, in keeping with his programming as a loyal yes man, but he convinces in the odd moments of anguish and compassion. His relationship with a virtual reality girlfriend named Joi (Ana De Armas) lends the film much of its soul and is beautifully played between the two of them, while his decision to follow his latest case beyond the parameters of his briefing leads to an existential crisis that forces him to question his own reality.

Ford, meanwhile, makes his somewhat limited screen-time really count by turning in one of his best performances in years, even tapping into a rarely observed vulnerability that helps to make the climax of the film so satisfying.

There are plenty of strong female characters, too, with Sylvia Hoek the pick of the bunch as a new model replicant named Luv, a clinical right-hand to Jared Leto’s eerie corporate villain Niander Wallace, and Robin Wright also notable as K’s no-nonsense, yet oddly sympathetic boss Lieutenant Joshi.

In terms of look, Villeneuve has preserved and enhanced Scott’s original vision, making the most of advances in CGI to create the kind of world that absolutely has to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

There’s the obligatory rain, with LA often awash in it, as well as neon-lit city-scapes that are alive with seductive holographs of women. But they are offset by red dusty desert landscapes and even the odd moment of snow. The film’s visual palette is immense.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins ensures that no frame is wasted, delivering one eye-popping spectacle after another, while Villeneuve himself also creates some memorable set pieces, including a crash into a rubbish dump and a climactic chase and brawl, which is as exciting as it is bone-crunching. Even more impressive is the way in which the director finds room for ingenuity – a three-way love scene, for instance, emerging as a surreal highlight that is both playful and romantic without feeling voyeuristic.

And the score, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, cleverly combines the futuristic electronic elements of the Vangelis original with the wall of sound thump of a lot of Zimmer’s recent work. Blade Runner 2049 is that rare cinematic triumph: a big film that isn’t afraid to be intimate or intelligent. It’s the complete package.

GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (PG)

The dark age of celebrity parents monetising their cherubic children dawned many years before the scourge of selfies, social media and smart phones. In the handsomely crafted drama Goodbye Christopher Robin, battle-scarred author A A Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) treat their young son (Will Tilston) as a sales tool in the mid-1920s to promote the literary adventures of a hunny-loving bear called Winnie-The-Pooh. The sacrifice of one little boy's childhood innocence for the happiness and healing of a shell-shocked Britain, which has been devastated by the Great War, is at the wounded heart of Simon Curtis' picture.

The script, co-written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, gradually exposes the anguish and resentment that festered beneath the Hundred Acre Wood. It's an emotionally chilly film, reflected in Gleeson's restrained performance, which internalises Milne's post-traumatic stress and shuts out his family as well as us.

HOME AGAIN (12A)

Beautiful, rich people with adorable offspring try to convince us that being single is the end of their privileged worlds - boo hoo! - in first-time director Hallie Meyers-Shyer's romantic comedy.

Home Again is cut from the same luxurious fabric as The Holiday and It's Complicated, films penned by Nancy Meyers, the director's proud mother. Emotional syrup evidently runs in the family because Meyers-Shyer drizzles gooey sentiment over every frame of her contrived wish-fulfilment fantasy about a recently separated wife (Reese Witherspoon), who stirs the loins of three potential suitors.

This perky homemaker harks from Hollywood royalty, cheerfully chauffeurs the kids to school, cooks nutritious meals, runs a fledgling interior design business, cleans her sprawling Los Angeles residence without breaking a sweat, and still finds time to look expertly coiffed and styled from the moment she wakes.

It must be miserable to totter in her designer heels without a care in the world, savouring the endless good fortune that falls in her lap.

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (15)

Director Matthew Vaughn's high-octane spy caper sequel opens with a digitally enhanced bang: an outlandish fight sequence inside a London taxi, aptly choreographed to Prince's foot-stomping anthem Let's Go Crazy.

For the next two hours, Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman oblige.

They sacrifice logic at the altar of cartoonish calamity as Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and technical support guru Merlin (Mark Strong) joins forces with Kingsman's swaggering Transatlantic counterparts, Statesman, in order to defeat drugs cartel kingpin Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore).

Kingsman: The Golden Circle quickly accelerates into the same preposterous groove as its 2015 predecessor, unleashing an exhausting blitzkrieg of hyper-stylised mayhem. Laddish laughs but not exactly sophisticated.

BORG VS McENROE (15)

On Saturday 5 1980, reigning Wimbledon men's champion Bjorn Borg faced hot-headed challenger John McEnroe on the Centre Court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The Swede was aiming to win a fifth consecutive title on grass in front of a partisan crowd while the American wanted to silence doubters after his ill-tempered semi-final win over Jimmy Connors. Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen immortalises this battle of fortitude and sweat-drenched resilience in Borg Vs McEnroe.

His assured dramatisation weights affection and sympathy heavily in favour of the champion. Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf serve and volley solid performances as the tennis greats, with a focus on the former's dreamy good looks and gentlemanly demeanour. Game, set, unevenly matched. Would have been better as a sport documentary.

VICTORIA & ABDUL (PG)

Twenty years after Dame Judi Dench captured the aching loneliness of Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, the diminutive actor slips back into regal garb for Stephen Frears' heart-warming comedy drama torn from a long-lost page in history. Set during the final five years of Victoria's turbulent reign, the picture touches upon some of the same themes as Dame Judi's earlier portrayal, albeit with more humour.

The year is 1887 and Queen Victoria (Dame Judi) is comfortably installed as Empress of India, although she has never visited the domain. In Agra, two lowly men – Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) – are chosen by British authorities to present the monarch with a ceremonial gold coin called a mohur. They travel to Windsor Castle, where Abdul catches Victoria's eye and is rapidly promoted to the monarch's spiritual adviser.

MOTHER! (18)

The exclamation point of Darren Aronofsky's twisted psychological thriller reflects the Oscar-nominated writer-director's nightmarish vision: intriguing, pretentious, confusing and ultimately pointless.

Mother! could be many things: a densely layered biblical allegory replete with plagues, a Messiah and cannibalistic communion; a coruscating study of the egotistical male psyche; a hallucinogenic portrait of the impact of the creative process on artist and muse; a home invasion thriller; a homage to author Ira Levin's works including Rosemary's Baby and A Kiss Before Dying. Yes, the two hours of escalating mayhem could be many things: coherent is not one of them. If there is method in the filmmaker's madness, it is frustratingly elusive, concealed behind layer upon layer of directorial brio, atmospheric sound design and an emotionally wrought lead performance from Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence as a young wife whose poet husband (Javier Bardem) is crippled by writer's block. She shines even when Aronofsky's picture plunges into the gloom.

AMERICAN ASSASSIN (18)

The time for diplomacy is dead – and so are the terrorists who threaten western ideals – in Michael Cuesta's testosterone-fuelled action thriller. Opening with a shooting at a Spanish resort, which is chillingly reminiscent of the 2015 Tunisian beach attack, American Assassin rampages across the globe, gleefully pulling the trigger on anyone who dares to desecrate a fluttering Stars And Stripes.

THE JUNGLE BUNCH (U)

A maniacal koala bear with delusions of grandeur threatens the safety of creatures great and small in The Jungle Bunch. Director David Alaux's jaunty computer-animated adventure follows in the paw prints of a menagerie of brightly coloured tales populated by anthropomorphised critters including Zootropolis, Sing, The Secret Life Of Pets and Kung Fu Panda. Could this be animal magic too? Sadly not.

A simplistic screenplay is light on uproarious comedy and pulse-quickening set pieces, repeatedly opting for wide-eyed cuteness over narrative sophistication and invention. Parents who are dragged into the jungle by excitable tykes will be enjoying big cat naps in the dark rather than purring with delight.

IT (15)

Director Andres Muschietti's nerve-jangling adaptation of Stephen King's hefty tome portrays the fictional town of Derry, Maine as a hotbed of exploitation, abuse and degradation committed by adults on the young.

Menace leaches from every frame and the three screenwriters make our skin crawl by exposing the festering underbelly of a community that has stopped listening or caring. In June 1989, seven tormented pre-teens bond as the Losers' Club, drawn together by mutual beatings at the hands of sadistic 15-year-old Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). The stuttering leader of the Losers' Club, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), is haunted by the loss of his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), who was dragged into the subterranean lair of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) the previous autumn. Bill vows revenge in the company of his fellow misfits but Pennywise intends to feast upon children's fears. Roll up for all the fun of the fair from hell.

WIND RIVER (15)

Justice is blind and frost-bitten in Wind River, an impeccably crafted thriller set in snow-laden Wyoming, where the murder of a teenager sends a chill through a community riven by bigotry and fear. Taylor Sheridan, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Hell Or High Water and Sicario, returns to the director's chair for a high-stakes game of cat and mouse in unforgiving terrain. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) works as a tracker for the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Wind River Indian Reservation. During one sortie into the wilderness, Cory stumbles upon the frozen body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow). She has been sexually assaulted and rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives soon after from the Las Vegas office to take charge of the investigation.

PATTI CAKE$ (15)

Inspired by writer-director Geremy Jasper’s efforts to break into the New York music scene, Patti Cake$ is a crowd-pleasing underdog story, which wears its heart on its sleeve. This modern day fable about shooting for the moon, when everyone is telling you to dream smaller, centres on an unlikely heroine, an overweight New Jersey twenty-something (Danielle Macdonald) with a talent for immortalising her day-to-day existence in rap. Every time life beats her down (and in one scene, head butts her and draws blood), she gets back to her feet and retaliates with a spontaneously crafted barrage of weaponised wordplay. Hopefulness bumps and grinds with emotional hard knocks, reminding us that darkness courses beneath the surface of the best fairytales.

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (15)

Juan Carlos Medina’s macabre murder mystery set on the fog-choked streets of Victorian London almost a decade before Jack The Ripper ran amok. Bill Nighy brings solemnity and gravitas to the complex role of a righteous police officer, whose career has been dogged by rumours that “he’s not the marrying kind”. A series of slayings in the back alleys of 1880s east London, attributed to an elusive figure nicknamed The Golem, baffles Scotland Yard.

Inspector John Kildare (Nighy) is hurriedly promoted to lead investigator, primarily to take the fall when police fail to apprehend a suspect. Period detail is lovingly shrouded in shadows and fog to provide the killer with the perfect cover to commit their unspeakable acts of barbarity. Something wickedly entertaining this way comes.

STRATTON (15)

Based on a series of novels by former Special Boat Service commando Duncan Falconer, Stratton is a globe-trotting spy caper that ricochets between Iran, Ukraine, Rome, Uzbekistan and London. Long on ambition and short on thrills or invention, Simon West’s pedestrian picture is James Bond on a budget. The script, co-written by Falconer and Warren Davis II, resembles a checklist of 007 motifs: an emotionally scarred hero (Dominic Cooper), a megalomaniacal nemesis (Thomas Kretschmann) with a loopy plan to kill millions, car chases, gadgets, gratuitous destruction and groansome one-liners. Stunt sequences unfold almost entirely in isolation from the hustle and bustle of the real world, including a night time pursuit through cobbled Italian streets, so there is nary a possibility of innocent bystanders being caught in crossfire. West’s film is licensed to kill time, and little else.

DETROIT (15)

Director Kathryn Bigelow’s slow-burning thriller picks at the fresh wounds of divided race relations in America by reliving one tragic night in a fractured city that resulted in the deaths of three black teenagers. Released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the shootings at the Algiers Motel, Detroit skilfully weaves together multiple character arcs, building to a protracted sequence of gut-wrenching terror that draws uncomfortable parallels with the present day. Screenwriter Mark Boal employs his journalistic training to distil personal accounts into a rich, textured portrait of civil unrest, intimidation and injustice. Handheld camerawork stokes tension and sweat-drenched performances from a fine ensemble cast are horribly believable. We have nowhere to hide from the film’s crushing emotional blows.

AMERICAN MADE (15)

Based on a true story of outlandish lies, American Made reunites director Doug Liman and leading man Tom Cruise after their successful collaboration on the sci-fi thriller Edge Of Tomorrow. It’s an interesting choice of role for the gung-ho star of Top Gun and the Mission: Impossible franchise: an amoral drugs smuggler and money launderer. Despite Cruise’s best effort to play against type, he can’t resist adding a sheen of likeability to his portrayal of a money-driven family man, who was exposed as a pivotal figure in the Iran-Contra scandal. A different actor, who hasn’t spent his career cultivating a personal brand of wholesomeness, might have elevated the script and dug deeper, right down to the marrow of this opportunistic criminal’s warped psychology. Sadly, any emotional ripples radiate solely on the picture’s glossy surface.

LOGAN LUCKY (12A)

Crime still pays for Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, director of Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels, in a criminally entertaining caper, which sacrifices plausibility for quirky characters and generous belly laughs. The unlikely masterminds are downtrodden redneck brothers (Channing Tatum, Adam Driver), whose hare-brained scheme makes one convict (Daniel Craig) snort: “You must be as simple-minded as people say!”. The lovable siblings retort in stereo, “People say that?”. The lean script engineers unexpected twists and some slickly orchestrated set-pieces within a compact two-hour running time. Logan Lucky gambles on the charm and likeability of the principal cast, and they dutifully steal our affections.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING (12A)

Based on Nicola Yoon’s young adult novel, Everything, Everything is a relentlessly cute teen romance between two neighbours, whose path to true love is obstructed by cruel fate.

Director Stella Meghie revels in the beauty of her lead actors, who exchange lustful glances in slow motion and share a trembling first kiss while Fourth of July fireworks explode in the night sky. Amandla Stenberg is luminous as the stricken heroine with the compromised immune system, whose daydreams unfold in life-size versions of the cardboard models she constructs for an online architecture course. The film’s target audience of social media-savvy teenage girls will probably enjoy this.

A GHOST STORY (12A)

A Ghost Story is a haunting drama about life and love after death that drapes Oscar winner Casey Affleck in a flowing white sheet as the titular spectre for the majority of the 92-minute running time. Intentionally languid pacing will divide audiences, who are used to jump-out-of-seat scares from cinema’s forays into the supernatural, especially one protracted scene of actress Rooney Mara tearfully devouring a pie to vomitous excess. She plays M, who lives in a one-level house with her musician husband C (Affleck). He is killed in a car accident outside the house and M drowns in crashing waves of grief. She is oblivious to the ghost of C, who has walked from the morgue to the house, silently observing her every move.

MAUDIE (12A)

Director Aisling Walsh’s moving drama paints a dignified portrait of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, who weathered agonising rheumatoid arthritis as she shared her vision of the world in brightly coloured paintings. Filmed on location in Ireland and Newfoundland, Maudie celebrates the endurance of one indefatigable human spirit in a bitterly cold, tumbledown shack at the mercy of the elements. Sally Hawkins is extraordinary in the demanding title role. It’s a transformative performance reminiscent of Daniel Day-Lewis’ stellar work in My Left Foot, capturing Lewis’ dignity and determination as her physical state deteriorates.

THE BIG SICK (15)

Based on the real-life courtship of Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V Gordon, who co-wrote the script, The Big Sick is a gem, polished to a dazzling glister by a superb ensemble cast. Nanjiani plays himself to perfection and catalyses molten screen chemistry with co-star Zoe Kazan as the object of his awkward affections. Trickles of saltwater tears are mopped up with swathes of sincere, warm-hearted humour. If laughter is the best medicine then a spoonful of Michael Showalter’s film is a tonic that leaves the sweetest feeling.