Here are Damon Smith's latest film reviews...

Two stars

In 2015, Elizabeth Banks was in fine voice behind the camera of Pitch Perfect 2, propelling the feelgood sequel to bumper box office takings and a clutch of awards.

She is a safe pair of hands to harmonise script and direction of this outlandish globe-trotting escapade based on the popular 1970s TV series, which promoted a brand of girl power distinguished by fabulously coiffed hair and fetishistic figure-hugging couture.

Core messages of female empowerment and sisterly solidarity thrum in every lovingly glossed frame, including an opening titles sequence comprising a montage of girls and women flexing muscles and intellects.

Banks’s script gleefully punishes male characters who underestimate the titular heroines and expects her high-kicking Angels to weather as many crunching blows to the face as the nameless hulking henchmen they must disable to save the world. It’s equal opportunities bruising with a theatrical flourish, garnished with male eye candy – a handsome scientist (Noah Centineo), a spiritual and physical well-being guru (Luis Gerardo Mendez) whose lingering presence barely troubles the gossamer-thin plot.

Set pieces frequently nod to chauvinistic dinosaur James Bond (a close encounter with a rock crusher echoes Licence To Kill) including an intentionally clumsy pun borrowed wholesale from Thunderball.

After 40 years of dedicated service, John Bosley (Sir Patrick Stewart) retires as senior controller of the Los Angeles-based Townsend Agency, which operates under the aegis of the enigmatic Charlie (voiced by Robert Clotworthy).

John leaves the agency in rude health with elite female operatives, known as Angels, stationed around the globe, fulfilling orders of loyal lieutenants all codenamed Bosley.

In John’s absence, another Bosley (Djimon Hounsou) assumes control of a Hamburg rendezvous with whistleblower Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott), who has evidence that the Calisto energy conservation project pioneered by a philanthropist can be hacked for nefarious means.

“There is the possibility for the harmonic frequency to be reversed,” she warns.

The meeting descends into bullet-riddled chaos and two plucky Angels – former MI6 agent Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) and heiress jailbird Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) – intervene to save Elena from tattooed assassin Hodak. The ladies regroup with a third Bosley (Elizabeth Banks), who tasks the trio with infiltrating Brok’s offices to steal the remaining Calisto devices before they can be weaponised.

Cue various costume changes, hand-to-hand combat and a sequin-studded dance routine to a groovy remix of Donna Summer’s disco anthem Bad Girls.

Charlie’s Angels blends a familiar cocktail of explosive stunts and wry humour with minimum characterisation and narrative outlay. Stewart, Balinska and Scott are appealingly feisty and imprint distinct personalities onto their ethnically diverse saviours but their on-screen camaraderie is disappointingly undernourished. Banks shamelessly panders to nostalgia with throwaway cameos by former Angels over the end credits.

Four stars

After the creative misstep of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson returns to the detective genre, which served him well for his award-winning 2005 debut feature Brick, to pay loving tribute to Agatha Christie with a tongue-in-cheek country house whodunit.

Knives Out assembles a starry cast of prime suspects including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette and Michael Shannon and cleverly conceals the murderer’s identity until a classic final act revelation. Johnson’s script lovingly embraces the tropes of a murder mystery while fishing for red herrings, assembling the accused in a wood-panelled drawing room for a private detective’s pithy summation replete with overlapping flashbacks.

Curiously, the film’s weakest link is the brilliant mind in charge of the case: a dashingly tailored sleuth played by Daniel Craig with a hammy accent fried in the same Deep South swamp as Steven Soderbergh’s 2017 caper Lucky Logan, in which Craig played a heavily tattooed convict. It’s a self-consciously showy turn a la Hercule Poirot without the Belgian’s psychological and emotional complexity.

Supporting performances are more convincing including Collette’s droll lifestyle doyenne and Ana de Armas’s nurse, who is the only member of the household to shed tears when her master shifts his mortal coil in suspicious circumstances.

Wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) presides over a motley crew of dysfunctional relatives, who have their beady eyes on his vast fortune.

These self-serving loved ones include his daughter Linda (Curtis) and her husband Richard (Don Johnson), son Walter (Shannon) and his wife Donna (Riki Lindhome), widowed daughter-in-law Joni (Collette) and the three grandchildren.

The cantankerous old coot invites his kin to an 85th birthday party at his large mansion but festivities are cut short by arguments and recriminations. Later that same night, after doting carer Marta Cabrera (de Armas) has given Harlan his medication, the novelist apparently commits suicide by slitting his throat with a ceremonial dagger. Detective Lieutenant Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) attend the scene to deduce the chain of events leading to the homeowner’s grim demise. Quixotic private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) hovers in the background, closely observing family members.

Knives Out enjoys pulling the rug from under us as characters’ ulterior motives are exposed with flashes of directorial brio.

Pieces of an elaborate puzzle slot satisfyingly into place as the ensemble cast have fun, concealing deviousness and greed behind angelic smiles.

Three stars

A wronged woman seeks brutal revenge against her tormentor in 19th-century Australia in this deeply unsettling thriller. Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) serves a cruel and unforgiving master, Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), who refuses her request to leave to be reunited with her family. Hawkins punishes Clare’s insolence with horrific sexual violence that almost breaks her spirit.

When Hawkins leaves to visit Launceston, guided by Uncle Charlie (Charlie Jampijinpa Brown), Clare hires a Letteremairrener man called Billy to help stalk her prey.

As Clare travel across Van Diemen’s Land in Billy’s company, she confronts her prejudice head on and realises that her black guide has suffered just as badly as her at the hands of white men.


Jonathan Pryce and Sir Anthony Hopkins are both tipped for Oscar consideration for their powerhouse performances in director Fernando Meirelles's award-winning biographical drama, which charts a pivotal moment in the history of the Catholic church.

Following the death of Pope Jean Paul II in April 2005, the College of Cardinals gathers to elect a successor.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Hopkins) and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Pryce) are among the contenders and the former eventually wins after four ballots.

He takes the name Pope Benedict XVI and advocates a return to fundamental Christian values.

Unexpectedly, the Pope summons Cardinal Bergoglio to the Vatican for a private audience.

He reveals that he intends to resign the position and hopes that Bergoglio will consider standing to become his successor.

Behind closed doors, the two men debate matters of faith and the human spirit, overcoming their differences as the future of the Catholic church hangs in the balance.

Meirelles's film streams from December 20 exclusively on Netflix.


1. Frozen II

2. Last Christmas

3. Blue Story

4. Le Mans '66

5. 21 Bridges

6. Joker

7. Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

8. The Good Liar

9. Pagalpanti

10. Midway

(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)