GREEN BOOK (12A, 130 mins) Four stars

Inspired by a real-life friendship, Green Book is a life-affirming comedy drama which follows the tyre prints of Driving Miss Daisy to spark mutual appreciation between a chauffeur and his back-seat employer.

In the case of Peter Farrelly's charming picture, the lead characters - an Italian-American bouncer and a black pianist - stand on opposite sides of a racial divide at a time when American motels and restaurants could segregate or exclude clientele based on the colour of their skin.

The script co-written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie fine-tunes conflict between the two men during an eight-week pre-Christmas concert tour, which screeches from the bright lights of New York City to the Mississippi Delta.

Viggo Mortensen gained 45lbs to convincingly portray his brutish family man, who happily devours a bucket of fried chicken behind the wheel of a rented Cadillac, tossing gnawed bones out of the driver's window.

Oscar-winning co-star Mahershala Ali walks a tightrope of repressed emotions as his mannered musician tentatively rewrites the soundtrack to a conflicted life.

Both actors are handsomely cast, exposing chinks in their characters' brittle armour as they confront insecurities far from home.

Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga (Mortensen) is a bouncer at the Copacabana nightclub on East 60th Street in 1962 New York City.

Charming in a rough-hewn manner when he needs to be, Tony isn't afraid to use his fists to silence fiery-tempered patrons.

Each night, Tony returns to a one-bedroom apartment, where he snuggles with adoring wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and their two children, Nick and Frankie.

During the winter, the club is closed for renovations ahead of the arrival of Sammy Davis Jr, so Frank accepts an offer from refined pianist Don Shirley (Ali) to chauffeur him on an eight-week tour that will take in Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Don will be accompanied at these concerts by cellist Oleg Malakhov (Dimiter Marinov) and double bassist George Dyer (Mike Hatton).

"You going through the Deep South ... there's gonna be problems," Tony tells his beautifully tailored employer.

Tony and Don initially clash but as the tour gathers momentum, they learn valuable life lessons from each other.

"You don't win with violence, Tony," the pianist admonishes his hulking protector. "You win when you maintain your dignity."

Green Book makes exceedingly light work of a 130-minute running time, deftly juggling heart-tugging drama and culture-clash comedy.

Mortensen and Ali are a delightful double-act and Cardellini offers compelling support as the proud spouse, who makes her embarrassed husband promise to "write me a letter every chance you get".

He obliges and Farrelly's picture pens its own love letter to the endurance of the embattled human spirit that we savour with tears of contentment in our eyes.


The third time's a bittersweet, crowd-pleasing charm for the computer-animated adventures based on the books penned by Cressida Cowell.

Directed at a brisk pace by Dean DeBlois, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World soars in the slipstream of earlier films, which tenderly sketched the friendship between a Viking boy called Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and a Night Fury dragon christened Toothless.

That unshakeable bond between man and beast is tested to (heart)breaking point in DeBlois's script, which recycles themes of selflessness and devotion to their natural conclusion without sacrificing the tenderness, raw emotion or uproarious humour which have become the series' trademarks.

Admittedly, there are scorch marks of deja vu on a plot that pits Hiccup and his Viking brethren against a sadistic villain who has hunted Night Furies - the alphas of the dragon world - to the brink of extinction.

At this point in the storytelling, DeBlois could afford to take a few chances rather than rest on the franchise's beautifully animated laurels.

The writer-director doesn't tamper with the winning formula of the two previous chapters and underscores existing alliances with rousing support from returning composer John Powell, who sounds the battle cry for sobs from traumatised parents as cherished characters make glorious self-sacrifices for the people and creatures they adore.

One year after the Viking funeral of his father Stoick The Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler), Hiccup (Baruchel) leads his tribe in daring night-time raids to rescue caged dragons.

He is accompanied by sweetheart Astrid (America Ferrera), mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) and buddies Snoutlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

The humans lead these liberated beasts back to their cliffside village of Berk.

Trusted adviser and blacksmith Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson) grows increasingly concerned about the overcrowded conditions in Berk and Hiccup's bravado.

"One day, you're going to pick a fight you can't win," Gobber counsels the young tribal chief, who feels invincible with Toothless by his side.

Soon after, Hiccup locks horns with notorious dragon hunter Grimmel (F Murray Abraham), who issues a chilling ultimatum: surrender every fire-breathing beast in Berk or perish.

"Have my dragons ready when I return," snarls Grimmel, "or I will destroy everything you love."

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World oscillates between parallel romances - Hiccup and Astrid, Toothless and a Light Fury - to emphasise the importance of partnerships in building a brighter future.

Energetic vocal performances complement the colourful and detailed visuals, which crank up a gear when the film descends into the titular secret realm, where beasts large and small flourish in safety from the prying, predatory eyes of humanity.

If this is the final time Hiccup and co take flight, it is a sweetly satisfying and soaring swansong.

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (15, 106 mins) Four stars

What's in a name?

A tidy profit if you're a professional autograph hunter who waits patiently at stage doors or along film premiere red carpets, gathering celebrity signatures which can be sold to collectors with a certificate of authenticity.

Based on the book by Lee Israel, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a comedy drama set in early 1990s New York City about one enterprising forger who dug herself out of a deep financial hole by inventing signed correspondence from the likes of Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and Tennessee Williams.

Collectors were willing to pay top dollar for letters containing personal titbits and Israel exploited this market in collectable literary artefacts for personal gain.

Director Marielle Heller's picture dramatises the criminal enterprise with warmth and wit, based on a script co-written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty which provides the Oscar-nominated leads with a feast of glittering one-liners.

Melissa McCarthy milks sympathy for her self-absorbed misanthrope, who boasts "I can't get caught. Fools get caught," thereby ensuring her downfall when the FBI rumbles her scam.

Richard E Grant harks back to his glory days in Withnail And I to portray a foul-mouthed gay lush who lives from day to day on charm and street smarts, and acts as a fence for the letters.

When we meet Lee (McCarthy), she is about to be fired from her latest dead-end job for unruly conduct.

Lee is three months behind on the rent for the apartment she shares with her beloved cat Jersey, and her most recent biography, Estee Lauder: Behind The Magic, is being heavily discounted to shift unsold copies.

Unable to pay for groceries, Lee sells one of her prized possessions - a framed letter from actress Katharine Hepburn - to local bookseller Anna for 175 dollars.

The voracious appetite for literary memorabilia sows the seed of an outrageous idea: Lee can use her knowledge of famous writers to forge typewritten and signed correspondence from various literary wags.

She foolishly enlists the help of a boozy accomplice, Jack Hock (Grant), a self-confessed renegade and rebel who has been banned from several local bookshops.

"I have a little shoplifting problem," he confides with a twinkle in his eye.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? pivots deliciously on the fractious relationship between Lee and Jack.

In scenes of verbal sparring, Grant and McCarthy light up the screen, the latter delivering the most compelling and layered dramatic performance of her career.

There is also an eye-catching supporting role for Jane Curtin as Lee's glamorous literary agent, who drily informs her client: "Nobody needs a new biography on Fanny Brice, Lee."

We certainly needed this darkly humorous account of Lee's unlikely rise and fall, and director Heller delivers her final draft with a flourish.

ESCAPE ROOM (15, 100 mins) Two stars

Inspired by TV shows including The Adventure Game and The Crystal Maze, escape rooms are immersive tests of skill and nerve, which challenge participants to uncover hidden objects, crack codes and solve puzzles within a strict time limit.

There are hundreds of fiendish rooms across the UK and Ireland, which reward teamwork, verbal communication skills, ingenuity and pluck in a claustrophobic setting with the pulse-quickening tension of a ticking clock.

Director Adam Robitel and scriptwriters Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik tap into this craze for interactive entertainment for the warped premise of a predictable horror thriller.

Escape Room is engineered with many of the same parts as the Saw franchise, albeit without the relentless gore and entrails.

Set in Chicago, the film throws together six hastily sketched strangers and compels them to play for their lives in a series of diabolically designed rooms where one wrong move could prove fatal.

Only three protagonists are blessed with flimsy back stories, which tips the wink about who is likely to perish first and neutralises any half-hearted attempts to generate dramatic tension.

Desperately shy college student Zoey Davis (Taylor Russell) is a genius with numbers and theorems but she is afraid to step out of her comfort zone.

"Try doing something over break that scares you," a tutor encourages her.

Soon after, Zoey receives an invitation to the Minos Escape Room, which boasts a 10,000 US dollar prize for anyone who can complete the perplexing challenges and unlock a final door.

Mustering her courage, Zoey arrives at a hulking concrete building and enters a waiting room where she meets the other players: Iraq War veteran Amanda Harper (Deborah Ann Woll), grocery store worker Ben Miller (Logan Miller), nerdy escape room enthusiast Danny Khan (Nick Dodani), smooth-talking stockbroker Jason Walker (Jay Ellis) and former miner Mike Nolan (Tyler Labine).

The participants trade awkward pleasantries until Ben attempts to leave for a cigarette break.

The waiting room's metal door handle breaks and the strangers deduce the game has begun.

Amanda, Ben, Danny, Jason, Mike and Zoey excitedly scavenge their surroundings for clues.

They are blissfully unaware that their temporary prison is laden with booby traps fashioned by a Machiavellian games master called Dr Yu (Yorick van Wageningen).

Escape Room is bolted together with sequels in mind and it doesn't take a genius to identify which character is most likely to survive until the end credits.

Designs of some of the rooms show flashes of imagination but a breathless penultimate challenge is a hallucinogenic trip too far into the realms of the absurd.

Playing an escape room in person is far more thrilling and intellectually stimulating than anything Robitel conjures on screen but he elicits solid performances from an ensemble cast, who are meat for the cinematic grinder.

Also released...

BURNING (15, 148 mins)

South Korean director Lee Chang-dong has won numerous awards for this tantalising thriller expanded from Haruki Murakami's short story Barn Burning.

Aspiring writer Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) meets former classmate Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) and they reminisce about the past over dinner before she leaves for a trip to Africa.

Jong-su kindly agrees to take care of her cat in her absence and when Hae-mi returns, Jong-su is disappointed to discover that she has acquired a wealthy and self-confident companion called Ben (Steven Yeun).

This potential suitor is an enigma.

Jong-su snoops around Ben's apartment and discovers trinkets belonging to other women in a bathroom cabinet.

When Hae-mi subsequently vanishes, jealous Jong-su becomes convinced that Ben is responsible.


Iain Ross-McNamee directs a homegrown ensemble cast in a horror thriller co-written with Darren Lake and John Wolskel.

University researcher Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) heads to the Scott-Morton household in Shropshire to examine an ancient, cursed artefact.

She is welcomed by the master of the house Karl (Larry Rew), his wife Evelyn (Babette Barat) and their daughter Scarlet (Florence Cady).

Isabelle is blissfully unaware that one of her hosts conceals a pair of fangs and harbours an unnatural interest in her personal belongings.

The researcher ignores dire warnings from a local gardener (Neil Morrissey) to continue her investigation into the artefact as the malevolent force within the remote country house waits to strike.


Mezzo-soprano Clementine Margaine reprises her acclaimed role as an ill-fated gypsy temptress in Sir Richard Eyre's compelling production of Carmen, which is broadcast live from the stage of the Lincoln Centre For The Performing Arts in New York under the baton of conductor Louis Langree.

Don Jose (Roberto Alagna) is a soldier stationed with his regiment near Seville, close to the home of his mother and orphan Micaela (Aleksandra Kurzak), who he is supposed to marry.

During a patrol, Jose meets cigarette factory girl Carmen (Margaine), who teases him mercilessly and stirs long dormant passions.

The pair meet again when Jose is forced to arrest Carmen for attacking another woman.

However, the gypsy employs her feminine wiles and seduces her captor, compelling him to set her free.

Jose's superiors are understandably unhappy about his behaviour and throw Jose in jail.


1. Glass

2. Mary Queen Of Scots

3. Vice

4. Stan & Ollie

5. Mary Poppins Returns

6. The Mule

7. A Dog's Way Home

8. Aquaman

9. Second Act

10. The Favourite

(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)