Damon Smith reviews the latest releases.


IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (15, 119 mins) Four stars

On February 26, 2017, writer-director Barry Jenkins unexpectedly found himself at the epicentre of one of the most memorable moments in Oscars history when Moonlight was crowned Best Picture shortly after La La Land was mistakenly awarded the top prize.

Both films were worthy recipients of the golden statuette but the brouhaha of Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and a wrong envelope overshadowed Jenkins' moment of glory.

The Florida-born filmmaker proves Moonlight was no fluke with his sublime adaptation of the novel penned by James Baldwin, which charts a love story against the turbulent backdrop of racial injustice in 1970s Harlem.

Masterfully constructed in fluid and visually arresting takes that make the heart swell, If Beale Street Could Talk conceals its devastating narrative blows behind impeccable production design and Nicholas Britell's swooning orchestral score.

Jenkins engineers one of the year's most unforgettable scenes in the living room of a cramped apartment, where two mothers trade withering verbal blows about an unplanned pregnancy.

"Who is going to be responsible for this baby?" snarls one matriarch.

"The father and the mother," retorts her fellow lioness, played with formidable intensity by Regina King, who should clear a space on her mantelpiece for an Academy Award.

The punctuation mark is a shocking act of violence that floors us with one of the characters.

Best friends Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) fall in love and attempt to set up home together, only to find that most landlords won't rent an apartment to a black couple.

On their way home, Tish endures unwelcome advances from another man and Fonny angrily intervenes.

A passing police officer, Bell (Ed Skrein), threatens to arrest Fonny but the owner of a nearby grocery store intervenes and vouches for the couple.

Soon after, a woman (Emily Rios) accuses Fonny of rape and officer Bell's damning testimony seals his fate.

As Fonny awaits trial in prison, Tish confirms she is pregnant to her parents (King, Colman Domingo) and vows to prove her man's innocence.

However, her deepest joy is reserved for Fonny.

"You alright?" worries Tish, cradling her stomach.

"Me?" tenderly replies Fonny. "I'm not the one just got punched by a midget inside their belly."

If Beale Street Could Talk speaks clearly and eloquently about the resilience of the human spirit and the strength mothers derive from protecting their broods.

Layne and James are a handsome pairing and they catalyse molten screen chemistry in an artfully staged sex scene that culminates in him whispering "Just remember that I belong to you" as their naked bodies shudder together.

It's achingly tender but when Jenkins needs to floor us with raw emotion, he doesn't hold back. Nor would we want him to.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (12A, 122 mins) Two stars

Adapted from Yukito Kishiro's acclaimed manga series, Alita: Battle Angel is a futuristic action adventure directed by Robert Rodriguez, which sacrifices emotional storytelling at the altar of dizzying special effects.

The title character - a female cyborg with fractured memories of her shadowy past - is realised in haphazard strokes by state-of-the-art performance capture and digital effects.

The fingerprints of producer James Cameron are on every Avatar-lite frame of this otherworldly origin story.

His script, co-written by Laeta Kalogridis, is half-baked to familiar recipes, which tasted far sweeter when Ridley Scott was in the Blade Runner kitchen and Gary Ross was cooking up the original Hunger Games.

The tug of war between spectacle and substance threatens to tear apart Rodriguez's uneven picture, which punctuates Alita's personal odyssey with turbo-charged sequences of a futuristic contact sport called Motorball, which combines a roller derby with the slam bang destruction of Robot Wars.

Alita: Battle Angel is set in the mid-26th century, 300 years after a cataclysmic event known as The Fall which has rendered the surface of the Earth largely uninhabitable.

The floating metropolis of Zalem is the sole human stronghold to survive the devastation.

Engineered by an omnipresent despot named Nova (Ed Norton), Zalem hovers menacingly over the scrapheap of Iron City, where the poor and meek scavenge detritus that tumbles from the sky.

Kindly cybersurgeon Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a discarded cyborg torso and reanimates his prize find with the assistance of Nurse Gerhad (Idara Victor).

"Your very human brain was miraculously intact," Dyson informs his childlike creation, Alita (Rose Salazar), who has no memory of her former life.

With guidance from her Geppetto-like protector, Alita masters control of her mechanical skeleton and falls in love with a scoundrel called Hugo (Keean Johnson).

He teaches her to play Motorball, which is controlled by Nova's slippery henchman, Vector (Mahershala Ali).

Alita's formidable strength and speed threaten Vector's vice-like grip on Motorball and he enlists cyborg bounty hunter Zapan (Ed Skrein) to kill the girl so her parts can be harvested by Dyson's duplicitous ex-wife, Chiren (Jennifer Connelly).

She does Vector's bidding in order to gain readmission to Zalem.

"I will claw my way there with my bare hands if I have to!" snarls Chiren.

Alita: Battle Angel is a feast for easily pleased senses, including myriad eye-popping set pieces that ravish retinas in 3D, but it's a miserly meal for the heart and soul.

With its clunky exposition and clearly signposted deaths, Rodriguez's film seldom encourages us to engage our brains during a frenetic two hours of betrayal.

Future sequels are robustly teased without compelling reasons to care about the metal and mortal protagonists.

Unlike Chiren, we are in no hurry to breathe the rarefied air of Zalem.

THE LEGO MOVIE 2 (U, 107 mins) Three stars

A lightning bolt fashioned from coloured plastic construction bricks almost strikes twice in The LEGO Movie 2.

Set five years after the award-winning first film, Mike Mitchell's briskly paced, uproarious and imaginative sequel is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that Mad Max might begrudgingly call home, where plastic characters from the LEGO and Duplo universes live in perpetual conflict.

Scriptwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, masterminds of the award-winning 2014 original, show a delightful disregard for convention as they lampoon the Marvel and DC Comics universes and swathes of pop culture.

The Twilight saga, velociraptors from Jurassic Park, show-stopping film musicals and John McClane from the Die Hard series (voiced by Bruce Willis with tongue wedged firmly in cheek) provide hearty laughs amidst expertly-staged action sequences.

When the Justice League takes flight to repel alien invaders in a breezy prologue and one of the superheroes demands, "Where's Batman?", a cohort testily responds, "He's off having a standalone adventure."

Digitally-rendered visuals, which mimic the imperfect movements of stop-motion animation, are laden with in-jokes that demand a second viewing.

Everything Is Awesome, the infectious song which temporarily supplanted Let It Go from Frozen as the soundtrack earworm of despairing parents, gets another airing alongside a new ditty, Catchy Song, which features the chorus, "This song is gonna get stuck inside your head".

I can confirm, resistance is futile.

It has been five years since Finn (Jadon Sand) allowed his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) to play with his LEGO sets.

Consequently, Bricksburg has degenerated into the den of despair known as Apocalypseburg.

The relentless good cheer of mini-figure Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is out of step with the prevailing gloom and Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) wishes he could be more manly and heroic.

"We have to be hardened and battle ready at all times!" she growls.

Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who presides over the rival Systar galaxy, dispatches her masked envoy General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) to Apocalypseburg to facilitate nuptials with Batman (Will Arnett).

The caped crusader refuses to relinquish his bat-chelor status so General Mayhem kidnaps Batman plus Lucy, Unikitty (Alison Brie), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman) and Benny (Charlie Day), and spirits her hostages to her shape-shifting leader.

A distraught Emmet gives chase and encounters a swaggering and stubbled ally in the manly form of archaeologist adventurer Rex Dangervest (Pratt again).

The Lego Movie 2 comes close to replicating the boundless glee of its predecessor.

Pratt has a blast in dual roles, poking merciless fun at his Guardians Of The Galaxy and Jurassic World screen personae.

Romance with an amusingly snarky Banks comes to the boil with precision timing.

The script's core message about overcoming differences and playing together in harmony is a tad heavy-handed but in this brightly coloured, intergalactic war, subtlety is the casualty.

ALL IS TRUE (12A, 101 mins) Three stars

On stage and screen, Sir Kenneth Branagh has devoted a considerable amount of blood, sweat and iambic pentameter to ensuring Shakespeare's plays are widely accessible.

His celebrated film adaptations of Henry V and Hamlet garnered Oscar nominations and a year-long season of plays at the Garrick Theatre in London in 2015 and 2016 included acclaimed productions of The Winter's Tale and Romeo And Juliet.

It should come as no surprise that Branagh juggles duties behind and in front of the camera for this intimate drama set in 1613, the year that the Globe Theatre in London burnt down during a performance of Henry VIII.

Scripted by Ben Elton, All Is True dramatises a twilight year in the Bard's life, when ghosts of the past literally and figuratively haunt the playwright in Stratford-upon-Avon as he contends with rivalry between his daughters and his shortcomings as a husband.

Historical rigour is tossed out of the window with a hey nonny nonny when it comes to casting.

Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway was eight years older than her husband but here, she is portrayed with warmth by Dame Judi Dench.

Similarly, Henry Wriothesley, supposedly the "beautiful boy" in Shakespeare's gushing sonnets, is embodied with lip-smacking glee by a wigged Sir Ian McKellen.

In reality, the third Earl of Southampton was nine years Shakespeare's junior.

A fireside conversation between the two men in the final 20 minutes is the film's standout sequence.

"It is not your place to love me," admonishes Wriothesley.

As flames lick the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare (Branagh) gallops back to the heaving bosom of Warwickshire, where he is a stranger to his wife Anne (Dench) and daughters Judith (Kathryn Wilder) and Susanna (Lydia Wilson).

Unable to write, Shakespeare turns his hand to creating a memorial garden to his deceased son Hamnet (Sam Ellis).

"You mourn him now," laments Anne. "At the time, you wrote The Merry Wives Of Windsor!"

Meanwhile, Susanna clashes with her husband, puritanical physician John Hall (Hadley Fraser), and Judith rebuffs the advances of incorrigible ladies' man Tom Quiney (Jack Colgrave Hirst).

Adopting the alternative title of Henry VIII, All Is True doesn't let facts get in the way of spinning a melancholic yarn.

Branagh sports facial prosthetics and make-up to achieve the distinctive profile of his scribe, who is weighed down with grief.

Dench purses her lips as the illiterate spouse, who bears the deep wounds of her husband's infatuation with Wriothesley.

"All this time you've worried about your reputation," she scolds. "Have you once worried about mine?"

Pacing is sluggish and the mystery of Hamnet's death feels unnecessarily protracted but there is a satisfying pay-off to the intrigue.

All's well that ends sombrely.

BOY ERASED (15, 115 mins) Three stars

In 2004, 19-year-old Baptist preacher's son Garrard Conley willingly entered a Love In Action facility in Tennessee to purge the homosexuality, which put him at odds with his family's religious zeal.

These camps are legal in the vast majority of American states and condition residents to believe that a person's sexuality is tightly handcuffed to their happiness.

Conley's nightmarish experiences of conversion therapy informed a bestselling memoir, Boy Erased, and writer-director Joel Edgerton sensitively plunders this heartfelt text for a deeply moving and unsentimental dramatisation.

The filmmaker casts himself as the pious counsellor in charge of malleable minds, who are encouraged to chant, "I am using sexual sin and homosexuality to fill a God-shaped void in my life."

Words cut to the bone and Lucas Hedges is heartbreaking as the teenage witness to controversial practices, which some might call mental and physical torture, including one harrowing scene of a family striking their terrified son with a Bible to drive out Satan from his body.

Russell Crowe offers robust support as the holy man, who demands heterosexuality as a condition of living under his roof, and Nicole Kidman is mesmerising as the dutiful wife and mother, who allows her beautiful boy to be subjected to treatment because as she notes, "They say sometimes, you've got to hurt a child in order to help them."

Jared Eamons (Hedges) is determined to live by the words of his preacher father Marshall (Crowe), who towers over the congregation and his wife Nancy (Kidman).

The shy and unassuming college freshman has a cheerleader girlfriend Chloe (Madelyn Cline) but he cannot deny his sexuality forever.

He is cruelly outed by a spiteful classmate.

"I think about men. I don't know why. I'm so sorry," Jared tells his broken parents, who enrol him in a Love In Action programme that promises to 'fix' their son.

Victor Sykes (Edgerton) runs the two-week course, where Jared meets Sarah (Jesse LaTourette), Gary (Troye Sivan), Jon (Xavier Dolan) and Cameron (Britton Sear).

"Tell them everything they need to hear and play the part," pithily advises Gary, who is faking his rehabilitation.

As Jared rages against Sykes' system, he recalls pivotal encounters with handsome athlete Henry (Joe Alwyn) and sensitive artist Xavier (Theodore Pellerin) that shepherd him towards a blinding self-realisation.

Boy Erased touches upon the same themes as The Miseducation Of Cameron Post and is emboldened by haunting performances from the three leads, particularly Hedges, who is beautifully understated.

The script comes down firmly on one side of the conversion therapy argument and preaches quietly yet powerfully to the outraged.

"I wish to God that this had never happened but sometimes I thank God that it did," confides Jared.

We give thanks for Edgerton's haunting picture.

Also released

INTEGRITY (12A, 114 mins)

Justice is deaf and blind in the Hong Kong anti-corruption thriller Integrity, written and directed by Alan Mak.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) invests years of time and energy investigating bribery linked to the upper echelons of the powerful Lida Conglomerate.

The case is poised to go to trial when whistleblower Hui Chik-yiu (Nick Cheung) flees to England.

The case is delayed for one week and ICAC agent Chan King-chi (Sean Lau) teams with his estranged wife Kong suet-Lee (Karena Lam) to convince their sole witness to return to court and deliver his damning testimony.

The Clock is ticking and Chik-yiu is determined to stay alive by hiding from the law.

PEGASUS (Certificate TBC, 98 mins)

A six times racing champion returns to the track and hopes to rev the engines of a new generation of fans in a turbo-charged Chinese comedy, fine-tuned by director Han Han.

Zhang Chi (Shen Teng) used to be one of the stars of the racing circuit until he fell spectacularly from grace.

He is suspended from motorsport for five years and elects to support his young son by managing a fried rice stall.

However, Chi cannot shake the need for speed and once his suspension has lapsed, he aches to return to the sport he loves.

However, he has no financing, no team to support him and - most importantly - no car to propel him to victory.

After a test to gauge his driving skills, Chi prepares for the race of his life to launch an attack on the championship against younger, fitter rivals.

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (15, 100 mins)

Released in 2017, Happy Death Day was a surprisingly entertaining and waggish slasher, which spliced Groundhog Day with self-referential teen horror Scream to follow a murdered college student, who was forced to relive the gruesome day of her demise.

Writer-director Christopher Landon returns for the tantalising sequel, which is set two years after events of the original.

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) thought she had escaped the deadly time loop when she learnt the identity of her attacker.

Unexpectedly, Tree becomes trapped in another loop and faces a similarly masked attacker, who strikes a fatal blow to her sorority sister Lori (Ruby Modine).

As before, Tree joins forces with handsome beau Carter (Israel Broussard) to unravel the mystery but this time, she also enlists the services of science geeks Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) to take a rigorous academic approach to her predicament.


1. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

2. Glass

3. Green Book

4. Mary Queen Of Scots

5. Escape Room

6. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

7. Mary Poppins Returns

8. Stan & Ollie

9. Vice

10. The Mule

(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)