ORDINARY LOVE (12A) Four stars

Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson deliver compelling performances as a married couple in turmoil in Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's intimate drama based on a script by Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty.

Tracing a familiar narrative arc, Ordinary Love elegantly captures the minutiae of daily life for a husband and wife who fondly accept each other's foibles and find comfort in the easy silences that punctuate their domestic routine.

Lasting affection resonates in moments of the mundane - her saucy addition to a soup recipe, a blushing apology when a weak bladder delays an important meeting, or a seemingly benign conversation about his fruit and vegetable intake during a weekly visit to the supermarket.

"Are we having an argument about the frequency I use a juicer we don't own?" Neeson playfully scolds his spouse.

The opening 15 minutes of McCafferty's gently paced script encourage us to cosy up to the lead characters in their suburban bubble before giant ripples from a cancer diagnosis test the strength of marital bonds.

The lead actors are handsomely matched and share a delightful on-screen chemistry that compels us to stand hopefully beside their long-time lovebirds through chemotherapy and the inevitable squabbles borne of crippling fear and frustration.

When Manville mournfully observes "We're all just really on our own", rows of hearts will surely break.

Middle-aged Joan (Manville) and Tom (Neeson) have slowly come to terms with their death of their daughter Debbie and have settled back into a routine under their cloud of grief.

They make regular pilgrimages to the grave and keep fit by walking side by side along a busy road, using one particular tree as a marker to decide when to turn for home.

In the shower after one stroll, Joan feels a lump in her left breast and the couple make an urgent appointment at the local hospital, where she is diagnosed with cancer.

She begins treatment in earnest, relying on Tom to drive her to and from appointments as clumps of hair fall out and her body weathers crashing waves of nausea and exhaustion.

Their marriage feels the strain and Tom, who is used to being master of his destiny, struggles to articulate his feelings of impotency.

Meanwhile, Joan finds a cheerleader in fellow cancer patient Peter (David Wilmot), whose partner Steve (Amit Shah) is dumbstruck by the harsh reality of their situation.

Ordinary Love unfolds without directorial fanfare, coolly observing Joan and Tom as they contend with mortality.

D'Sa and Leyburn's picture draws its power from the actors, whose fearlessness is touchingly evident in a tender love scene.

Earthy humour cuts through the sombre self-reflection - "Are you going to miss these?" quips Joan shortly before a double mastectomy - but doesn't dull the impact of well-spaced emotional blows.

Damon Smith


"Power is knowing that you can do whatever you want, and not one person can stop you."

That's a line uttered by ambitious developer Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), who plans to reshape New York City in the timely crime thriller Motherless Brooklyn.

Identity, corruption and politics are themes at the heart of this slow-burning film written, directed, produced by and starring Edward Norton.

It has taken the Fight Club star 20 years to bring his passion project, based on Jonathan Lethem's landmark 1999 novel of the same name, to our screens.

Interestingly, he's made the decision to scrap the original late 1990s setting in favour of the 1950s.

Norton plays the protagonist, Lionel Essrog, an orphaned kid growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn who is taken under the wing of private detective Frank Minna (Bruce Willis).

Norton's striking, meticulous performance is the film's greatest strength.

The lonely figure has Tourette's syndrome, as he describes in an early voiceover: "I twitch and shout a lot. It makes me look like a damn freak show. But inside my head is an even bigger mess. I can't stop twisting things around, words and sounds especially. I have to keep playing with them until they come out right."

Lionel doesn't let his condition stand in the way of his job.

In fact, his obsessive personality, meticulous photographic memory and powers of pattern recognition make him a force to be reckoned with, especially after Minna dies on a job.

Lionel takes it upon himself to find out why - resulting in a deep dive into troubling political issues across the city.

It's impossible not to root for Lionel as his mission to honour Minna - the only person who has ever cared about him - takes us from Harlem's jazz clubs and Brooklyn's slums to the gilded halls of New York's power brokers.

Along the way, he meets alluring community activist Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Norton depicts Lionel's vulnerability with her just beautifully.

However, when Lionel unravels closely guarded secrets about Randolph - the most powerful man in the city - Laura is left in serious danger.

There's no denying that Motherless Brooklyn is starkly different from anything else I've seen lately but, tellingly, it isn't particularly memorable.

Perhaps that's because the plot becomes a little confusing so I wasn't as gripped as I'd hoped I would be.

Or maybe it's the length. At two hours, 24 minutes, it's quite a slog.

After the simple, yet hugely moving, final scene - suggesting that, sometimes, the Lionels of this world, the underdogs, the misfits, can find their way on their own - I left the cinema with a sense of hope.

In these times, surely that means Norton's film is worth a watch.

Georgia Humphreys

LUCY IN THE SKY (15) Two stars

John Lennon claimed that he was inspired by his three-year-old son Julian's drawing to take a psychedelic boat trip beneath marmalade skies with Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

"Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes," implores Lennon on lead vocals.

Director Noah Hawley respectfully follows orders and opens his earthbound drama loosely based on the true story of Nasa astronaut Lisa Nowak with the arresting image of Oscar winner Natalie Portman staring into the star at the centre of our solar system from the dreamy tranquillity of space.

Untroubled by gravity, she hovers like a spacesuit-clad angel, that blazing golden orb reflected in her constricted pupils.

Regrettably, when Portman returns to the third rock from the Sun, Hawley's picture crash-lands with her and staunchly refuses to regain altitude.

Lucy In The Sky is unable or unwilling to clearly communicate the inner turmoil of a cheating wife, who concocts a hare-brained kidnapping scheme when her lover dares to spurn her for another woman.

Burstyn scene-steals like a veteran as a straight-shooting grandmother but she cannot distract from bizarre directorial choices including a redundant scene of Jon Hamm's astronaut watching clips of the ill-fated 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Portman plays Lucy Cola, who glimpses the twinkling lights of Earth from deep space and is forever changed.

"You go up there, see the universe, then come back home and it all looks so small," she rues, experiencing a crushing sense of disappointment back on terra firma with her mild-mannered husband Drew (Dan Stevens) and teenage daughter Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson).

Determined to earn her spot on the next space mission, Lucy throws herself into training under programme director Frank Paxton (Colman Domingo) and risks lasting damage to outperform younger rival Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz).

Failure is not an option for Lucy, who has been inured to pain and self-doubt by her fragrant and potty-mouthed grandmother (Burstyn).

Alas, Lucy's mental state fractures and, impulsively, she seeks comfort in the arms of fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Hamm), who has a reputation as a ladies' man.

"He's a divorced action figure who likes to go fast," jokes unsuspecting cuckold Drew.

Lucy falls for Mark, jeopardising her marriage and her place on the next Nasa rocket.

When she learns that Mark has also taken a fancy to Erin, jealousy takes a vice-like grip of Lucy, propelling the enraged wife down a dangerous and violent path.

Lucy In The Sky appropriates The Beatles' song for one of its listless interludes as director Hawley forlornly attempts to dock with his heroine's emotions.

Portman doesn't connect the dots between starbursts of her adventurer's erratic behaviour, robbing us of the opportunity to feel a discomfiting sympathy for her she-devil.

Damon Smith


Computer-generated critters put their best paws forward to re-educate beastly, uncaring humans in a misfiring adventure that fails to dig up genuine animal magic.

Written and directed by Ben Smith with a laissez-faire attitude to dramatic momentum, StarDog And TurboCat cross-breeds elements of Superman, Batman and The Secret Life Of Pets to contrive a barking-mad battle for survival in a cosy American town where residents have been convinced that strays are dangerous and should be consigned to the pound.

The catalyst for this mass paranoia is the town's only cop, who verbally references an incident involving his young daughter and a clawed creature but refuses to divulge specific details to rationalise the protracted stand-off between characters on two and four legs.

The eponymous canine and feline, only one of whom is genuinely super-powered, bridge the species divide to overcome their predictable flaws (one slavishly chases balls, the other naps at the mere flicker of a sunbeam) and prove it is possible to live in harmony.

Vocal performances are short-changed by an episodic script that almost fudges its convoluted emotional payoff.

In 1969, Nasa scientist David (voiced by director Smith) chooses his own dog Buddy (Nick Frost) as the tail-wagging test subject for an experimental capsule powered by crystalline hyperlithium.

Shortly after the capsule leaves Earth's orbit, there is a technical malfunction and Buddy drifts into the void, frozen by the effects of the glowing purple power source.

Fifty years later, Buddy thaws out in the town of Glenfield, where homeless creatures are ruthlessly hunted by police officer Peck (Cory English).

"He locks them up in the pound and they are never seen again," explains sardonic cat Felix (Luke Evans), who leads a double life as a caped crusader from a secret lair in the town's derelict museum.

Buddy pleads with Felix to help him locate the missing capsule so he can be reunited with David.

"TurboCat works alone, dog breath!" hisses Felix, conveniently ignoring his omnipresent robot companion Sinclair (Bill Nighy).

Buddy's hunt for clues leads to the headquarters of the Glenville Underground Animal Rights Division (GUARD) run by liberated magician's bunny, Cassidy (Gemma Arterton).

She suspects the hyperlithium could power a device to protect the town's animals and rallies her troops including scientist cat Todd (Robert G Slade), tactical operations goldfish Bullion (Ben Bailey Smith) and public relations mouse Tinker (Rachel Louise Miller).

StarDog And TurboCat is a hit-and-miss caper aimed at a very young audience.

Animation quality pales next to the polished output of Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks and pacing careens from sluggish to breathless.

"I learnt the hard way, there's no such thing as magic," laments Cassidy during one heart-to-heart.

Spend 90 minutes in the company of Smith's film and you might think the rabbit has a point.

Damon Smith


1. Frozen II

2. Knives Out

3. Last Christmas

4. Blue Story

5. Charlie's Angels

6. Le Mans '66

7. 21 Bridges

8. Joker

9. Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

10. CBeebies Christmas Show: Hansel & Gretel

(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)