VICE (15)

Written and directed by Adam McKay, whose previous film The Big Short brilliantly dramatised the 2008 global financial crisis, Vice nervously prowls the corridors of power in Washington DC to satirise another true story of malicious meddling and unabashed self-interest.

"Or as true as it can be given that Dick Cheney is one of the most secretive leaders in history," quips an opening title card, which establishes the irreverent tone of a breakneck tour through chapters of recent history including the Gulf War and the September 11 attacks.

For the opening hour, Vice is a briskly paced and engrossing portrait of ambition, electrified by an Oscar-worthy performance from Christian Bale, who gained 40 pounds to portray Cheney.

The Haverfordwest-born actor completes his startling transformation with more than 100 pieces of prosthetic make-up to replicate the jowls, jaw line and distinctive nose of his subject, who served as vice president to George W Bush between 2001 and 2009.

Once Cheney achieves his goals, McKay's film leaches dramatic tension.

Rating: Three stars


Clint Eastwood refuses to follow Robert Redford's lead and glide serenely into self-imposed retirement as he directs and stars in a gently paced thriller inspired by an outlandish true story of opportunistic criminal enterprise.

Adapted for the screen with an exceedingly heavy hand by Nick Schenk, who penned Eastwood's 2008 drama Gran Torino, The Mule relies on its leading man to inject life into a plodding tale of fractured families and economic strife.

The 88-year-old Oscar winner duly obliges, investing his politically incorrect old coot with rascally charm and old-fashioned grit, which allows a fallen family man to ferry hundreds of kilos of cocaine across Illinois without arousing the suspicions of law enforcement.

Schenk's linear script hammers home the lead character's failings as a husband and father with the subtlety of a battering ram to a rickety wooden door, engineering pointed and frosty conversations between family members.

The trickle of bad blood is neatly and conveniently staunched before the end credits roll, suggesting that crime pays to salve deep emotional wounds.

Rating: Three stars


A tragically flawed Los Angeles police detective seeks redemption on the mean streets where she fell from grace in director Karyn Kusama's gritty crime thriller.

Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, Destroyer opens on the face of a woman, bathed in morning sunlight, regaining consciousness in the front seat of her car.

Heavy circles of tiredness hang under her blinking eyes, her teeth are stained, the skin of her dry lips slightly cracked in the scorching heat and tumbles of greying hair frame her haggard features.

Buried beneath all that despair is chameleonic Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, whose delivers a fearless and uncompromising performance that elevates and illuminates Kusama's uneven character study.

Rating: Three stars


A father's unswerving love for his drug-addicted 18-year-old pride and joy is tested to the limit of endurance in Belgian director Felix van Groeningen's sensitively handled drama.

Based on two emotionally raw memoirs - Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweak by his son Nic - the handsomely crafted film is a sobering account of one family's battle of attrition with a demon that sinks its jaws into a prodigal child and refuses to let go.

There are no huge emotional crescendos in a chronologically fragmented narrative assembled by van Groeningen and co-writer Luke Davies.

Instead, we are silent and tearful witnesses to moment of compassion, aching regret and anguished surrender that leave us in no doubt of the devastation wrought by drugs on the user and everyone in his chaotic orbit.

Beautiful Boy is anchored by commanding performances from Steve Carell as the patriarch, who staunchly refuses to admit defeat, and Timothee Chalamet as the teenager with a trembling finger on the self-destruct button.

Rating: Three stars


Based on a script by director Wash Westmoreland and his late husband Richard Glatzer, Colette lovingly details the true story of the French novelist, who challenged the supposed limitations of her gender in early 20th-century Paris.

During the film, one male writer argues that irrefutable facts should never get in the way of a good yarn.

"It is the hand that holds the pen that writes history," the author suggests.

Westmoreland crafts his pages of feminist history and creative endeavour into a handsomely appointed battle of words between Keira Knightley's dutiful wife turned trailblazer and Dominic West's egotistical and domineering husband.

British composer Thomas Ades' orchestrations underscore the hard-fought battle for parity and respect.

Rating: Four stars


Director Jon S Baird calls lights, camera, action on a golden era of studio system Hollywood in his affectionate and heart-warming biopic of the English and American comedy duo, who shared the screen for almost 30 years.

Penned by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie is a handsomely crafted valentine to a double act, who earned legions of adoring fans with pratfalls and slapstick.

The film focuses predominantly on the UK leg of a 1953 theatre tour, which was dominated by Hardy's failing health.

A lean script replays some of the couple's greatest hits including the 1932 short film County Hospital, which finds Oliver in bed with a broken leg and Stan wreaking havoc with a jug of water, a bed pan and a bag of hard-boiled eggs.

These moments of nostalgic recreation are joyful and Baird revels in the connection between the two performers, convincingly played by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, concealed beneath layers of latex prosthetics.

Rating: Three stars


Hollywood has a long and inglorious history of remaking hit foreign films for English-speaking audiences and losing the subtleties of the original in translation.

A similar fate befalls The Upside.

This glossy reworking of the award-winning 2011 French buddy comedy The Intouchables is clogged with cloying sentiment despite the best efforts of Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart to energise a pair of emotional misfits.

Key scenes from the original are replayed such as the opening car chase that catalyses a flashback to events that unite the central duo.

Oscar winner Nicole Kidman is only permitted to let her character's heart beat openly in the closing frames.

Rating: Three stars


Courtly intrigue pits two ambitious women against each other for the affections of an emotionally brittle queen in director Yorgos Lanthimos's rollicking comedy of deliciously cruel intentions.

The Favourite is a brilliantly bawdy and boisterous battle of the rouged sexes, which tosses out profanities with devastating precision.

Words cut to the bone and an expertly polished script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara draws copious blood with its volleys of rapid-fire barbs.

Performances from the predominantly British cast are an embarrassment of riches that should be recognised with multiple nominations at the Academy Awards in February.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone savour every bile-drenched syllable of their feuding harpies but it is Olivia Colman who shines brightest as a petulant and volatile ruler stalked by tragedy.

God save the querulous queen and her corrupt court of diabolical, scheming admirers.

Rating: Five stars


A spoonful of nostalgia - make that several heaped spoonfuls - helps the joy-infused medicine of Rob Marshall's 1930s-set musical fantasy go down in the most delightful way.

Based on the books by PL Travers, Mary Poppins Returns prescribes two hours of pure, sentiment-soaked escapism to banish the winter blues and jiggedy-jog our weary souls.

It's a lavishly staged carousel of whoop-inducing song and dance numbers that kicks up its polished heels in the face of cynicism and affectionately harks back to the 1964 Oscar-winning classic directed by Robert Stevenson.

Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way, making her entrance with a reverential nod to Julie Andrews - "Close your mouth, Michael. We are still not a codfish!" - as the London-born actress makes this iteration of the role her own with effortless efficiency.

This Christmas and beyond, it's an exceedingly jolly 'oliday with Mary Poppins Returns.

Rating: Four stars


Oceans rise and standards fall in Aquaman, a bloated origin story for the eponymous DC Comics superhero which capsizes in a tsunami of splashy digital effects and melodramatic storytelling.

Scriptwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall crown a new king of Atlantis via a convoluted treasure hunt above and below cresting waves, where armies of armoured crocodiles and seahorses clash in a titanic battle to the thunderclap of composer Rupert Gregson-Williams's bombastic score.

Sweeping panoramas of otherworldly marine creatures locked in bloody combat owe a debt to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy in their gargantuan scale and execution, but there is no emotional connection to two-dimensional characters in the midst of the melee.

Jason Momoa flexes his muscles and pearly whites in the title role, imbuing his reluctant heir with flashes of rough charm and humour when he isn't conversing with co-stars using his fists.

Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe, sporting a fetching man bun, buoy throwaway supporting roles and refuse to drown in the relentless onslaught of special effects trickery. We are not so fortunate.

Rating: Two stars


Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman's dazzling computer-animated adventure introduces a menagerie of gifted spider-folks, who tick myriad racial, socio-economic and anthropomorphic boxes.

There is a half-black, half-Hispanic teenage hero, a sassy Asian female heroine, a grizzled old school crusader torn from the pages of a noir thriller, two markedly different reflections of Peter Parker ... and a talking pig.

Laughs come thick and fast courtesy of a self-referential script that gleefully pokes fun at itself.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse employs a striking visual palette, which honours the comic books (the central character's internal monologue manifests as yellow caption boxes) as it confidently lives up to its billing as "a pretty hardcore origin story".

Rating: Four stars


When it comes to a sequel, go bigger or go home.

Rich Moore and Phil Johnston's imaginative and deeply satisfying follow-up to the 2013 feel-good computer animation Wreck-It Ralph achieves the former without straying far from the latter by propelling its coin-operated arcade game characters into the mind-boggling realms of the World Wide Web.

Ralph Breaks The Internet expands its bewildering array of visual targets to include social media behemoths, video-sharing portals and online shopping brands plus those irritating advertising pop-ups which multiply like a virulent fungus.

A savvy, warm-hearted script is punctuated by cautionary notes about viruses, the dark web and trolls.

Moore and Johnston's film warms the cockles of our hearts then breaks them in tiny pieces with a sob-inducing finale that cleverly nods to the 1980s arcade classic Donkey Kong.

Rating: Four stars


Who wants to live forever?

Freddie Mercury does in Bryan Singer's crowd-pleasing musical biopic, a greatest hits tribute blessed with a heartbreaking performance from Rami Malek as the charismatic frontman.

Bohemian Rhapsody covers the 15-year period between guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) welcoming Freddie as lead singer of their band Smile, and Queen's triumphant 20-minute set at Live Aid on July 13 1985.

Singer's film is bookended with an adrenaline-pumping recreation of the Wembley Stadium charity concert, where Queen stole the show with a barnstorming medley including Radio Ga Ga and We Are The Champions.

It's a thunderbolts and lightning moment, electrified with slick digital effects and Malek's gesture-perfect showboating.

Rating: Four stars


A star is reborn in the third remake of the rags-to-riches fairy tale, which originally starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.

The 21st-century twinkling doesn't emanate from pop chameleon turned award-winning actor Lady Gaga, who is undeniably luminous as a naive and vulnerable ingenue rocketing into the musical firmament.

No, the film's retina-searing ball of light is Bradley Cooper as her grizzled mentor and lover.

The Philadelphia-born leading man nestles confidently into the director's chair for his debut feature but he truly dazzles in front of the camera, drenched in the sweat and self-loathing of a booze-soaked showman who is staggering towards the precipice of oblivion.

Screen chemistry between the two leads is molten and you can almost feel the heat rippling off the screen in breathlessly choreographed bedroom scenes.

Rating: Four stars