Steven Spielberg takes on the video game generation and wins in this gloriously entertaining blockbuster sci-fi adventure.
Combining stunning technique and astonishing CGI effects, it rockets along like Christopher Nolan’s brainy thriller Inception remade with the manic energy and humour of The Lego Movie.
And the worlds greatest living director uses cinema to reinvent a book about virtual reality to emphasise the importance of real face-to-face human interaction.
Packed with references to your favourite films, songs and games of the 1980’s, it’s based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling 2011 novel of the same name.
The narrative is streamlined but true to its source and maintains all the major characters.
Tye Sheridan is a hugely likeable lead as Wade Watts, a trailer trash youth who spends all his time in the Oasis.
In 2045 it’s the worlds most popular virtual reality game, where anything is possible.
It was invented by the late James Halliday, whose will stipulated whoever could solve his grand puzzle would inherit the Oasis and its mind boggling wealth.
Everyone uses an online avatar to protect their identity as they compete to win the prize, including the corporate bad guys intent on a hostile takeover.
Spielberg turns Cline’s homage to pop culture into a satirical swipe at the contemporary USA.
There are digs at the monetisation of the health and criminal justice systems, warnings about online trust and celebrity, and a critique of corporate exploitation of the young.
But none of this is allowed to weigh down the fun or the thrills and is full of optimism for the youth of tomorrow.
Mark Rylance appears as Halliday and Spielberg uses the Brit actor as his own avatar, to give us a touching reflection on his own life.
Having invented the summer blockbuster in 1975 with Jaws, Spielberg demonstrates his enduring ability to entertain, while embracing the latest technology and remaining relevant to a modern audience.
Providing an early kick off to the summer season, he proves not only does he still have the moves to compete with kids, but also has a few lives still to play.

Stars 5

PETER RABBIT Cert PG Running time 95 minutes Stars 3

Fans of Beatrix Potter’s evergreen children’s books may be disappointed by her classic work being reinvented as this madcap adventure which mixes live action with impressive CGI and some lovely traditional animation.

Only loosely based on her books and possessing none of their subtle grace and whimsy, it combines elements of a Richard Curtis style romcom with the gleefully manically violent slapstick of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

With his usual overbearing smug bravado, James Corden voices the irresponsible Peter Rabbit.

Meanwhile Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson don their most English accents as human countryside neighbours, whose vegetable garden is fought over by Peter and his furry friends.

Potter’s gentle tone has been updated with a self aware irony and jokes about healthy diets. The energy is pumped up with dance routines and pop songs.

Though not as charming, funny or exciting as the recent Paddington Bear adaptations, its cute animals and lively pace will keep younger kids entertained.




TOMB RAIDER Cert 12A Running time 118 minutes Stars 3

Swedish superstar Alicia Vikander swings into action in this big budget reboot of groundbreaking video game character, Lara Croft.

Famously made flesh by fellow Oscar winner Angelina Jolie in 2001 and 2003, Vikander offers a grittier and more punishing interpretation.

This one is based on the 2013 version of the game and explains how Lara becomes a kick-ass globe-trotting explorer.

So we see how she evolves from an aristocratic cycle courier to a cold-hearted killer, cultural vandal and unrepentant destroyer of antiquities.

The script leans heavily on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but lacks any interest in protecting or learning about historical artefacts, which apparently do not belong in a museum.

Dominic West cuts an avuncular dash as her father, Lord Croft, who went missing years ago while searching for a legendary Japanese witch queen. He left Lara a secret home video recording as a clue to his whereabouts.

Proudly pig-headed, Lara refuses to use her inherited millions in finding her father, as she’s angry with him for abandoning her as a teenager to a life of unimaginable privilege.

Walton Goggins plays the bad guy who’s a member of the shadowy Trinity organisation and her rival in the search for the queen’s tomb.

Despite being set in the here and now, the film’s smartest move is pretending the potentially plot-destroying internet doesn’t exist. Smartphones, social media and especially google maps are absent.

There’s no faulting the location work and the film’s highlight is an impressively staged extended stunt sequence involving an ancient aeroplane and a waterfall.

But there’s a lack of urgency and giddy escapism, plus the dialogue and humour fall as flat as Lara frequently does during her attempted heroics.

This is a long backstory to introduce a new franchise and if you want to see the fully formed pistol-packing version of Lara, you’ll have to wait for the sequel.




Cert 15 90mins Stars 5

A meaty Joaquin Phoenix is the muscle in this lean, mean and brutal thriller.

The three time Oscar nominee is an extraordinary blunt force of nature as a hammer wielding man on a mission, searching for the missing teenage daughter of a US senator.

The Walk The Line star is Joe, a bearded and ponytailed anti-hero offered 50K for successfully closing the case, which includes a stipulation to hurt the people responsible.

15 year old Ekaterina Samsonov is almost wordless as the victim, a pale frail presence with surprising strength of mind.

83 year old Judith Roberts plays Joe’s mischievous and free spirited but physically dependent mum. Their scenes offer the few moments of grace and humour in an otherwise dark and intense affair.

With the war veteran driving through a landscape of politicians, paedophiles and prostitution, this is a stripped down and updated riff on Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic, Taxi Driver.

Glaswegian director Lynne Ramsay never romanticises her characters, and shows us doing very bad things for a good cause is a soul stripping exercise.

Her previous films included Ratcatcher and We Need To Talk About Kevin, and this is no less harrowing or demanding to watch.

Nor does she make allowances for her audience, she expects us to keep up to speed and refuses to hold our hand or explain events a second time. Her bold creative choices are a very pure form of cinema and make for a anxiety driven and jittery experience.

An extraordinary soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood underscores how the Radiohead guitarist was robbed at last weeks Oscars for his work on Daniel Day-Lewis’ drama, Phantom Thread.

Nasty, nihilistic and nightmarish, this is tight as piano wire and twice as deadly with the violence has a punch in the gut reality. Suffocation is a recurring image and for long periods I could barely breathe.



GRINGO Cert 15 Running time 110 minutes Stars 1

This action comedy with a great cast looks great on paper but terrible on the big screen.

Brit actor David Oweyolo plays Harold, a put-upon employee of a US pharmaceutical firm who is kidnapped while working in Mexico.

Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried and Thandie Newton appear alongside Charlize Theron who also produced the film. Edgerton’s brother directs and this cosy set up probably contributed to the general air of indulgence in the filmmaking.

Though offering a reward for Harold’s return, his duplicitous bosses would rather claim on the life insurance and a local drugs cartel become involved.

Never funny, fast or furious enough to entertain, and we’re asked to feel sympathy for too many double-crossing, violent and greedy people, none of whom we care about and all of which are stupid and/or obnoxious.

Tone deaf, sluggishly paced and laugh free, it sees countless bullets wasted on a showdown. And it’s a shame some of the characters survive.

WALK LIKE A PANTHER Cert 12A Running time 108 minutes Stars 2

Grapple as long as you want with this wrestling based British comedy, but you’ll struggle to pin down any laughs among the amiable goings on.

A Yorkshire community must rally around to save the local boozer from closure by the villainous brewery boss, a pantomime Stephen Tompkinson.

So to raise the cash and inspired by the internet, pub landlord Stephen Graham and his OAP regulars reform the Panthers, the professional wrestling team of their long ago prime.

Full of nostalgia the exploits of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, this aims to be a feelgood crowd pleaser such as the far superior The Full Monty or Brassed Off.

It’s a celebration of two inextricably linked British institutions, the local boozer and has-been sportsmen. And it feels very familiar as if it’s a feature length episode of a not great TV show such as The Last Of The Summer Wine. But on steroids, and not in a good way.

It’s always great to see actors such as Stephen Graham, Julian Sands, Jill Halfpenny and Sue Johnston on screen. And there’s no doubt they’re having a great time and the film’s heart is in the right place.

MOM AND DAD Cert 15 Running time 86 minutes Stars 4

Nicolas Cage unleashes his inner maniac to demented effect in this outrageous and funny satirical comedy horror.

Often uncomfortable to watch and daring to voice unspeakable truths about parenting, he and Selma Blair play a very ordinary middled-aged suburban couple with a couple of kids.

One day a mass psychosis grips their nondescript town, and parents start murdering children, but only their own.

It’s amazing how homes lend themselves to inflicting bodily harm, what with all the power tools, wire coat hangers and cooking implements lying around.

And this being the US, personal firearms, also.

Brutal, mercilessly acerbic and mercifully brief it shows parenting is not all love and kisses, but jealousy, resentment and a form of madness.

Watching Cage work out his aggression was curiously cathartic, and I’m not sure it’s healthy to laugh as much as I did.

My son should be grateful I didn’t see this when he was teething.

WONDER WHEEL Cert 12A Running time 101 minutes Stars 4

Kate Winslet has been grievously overlooked during awards season for her magnificent turn in Woody Allen’s dark period drama, his 48th film as director.

When even your leading lady distances herself from your movie for political reasons, one suspects #timesup for Allen’s big screen career.

His work exists within its own little bubble, and it’s the small differences which separate his films from each other. We have a familiar complex family dynamic, a central female role, and Italian gangsters threatening violence.

For the most urban of directors, it’s almost alarming to find this one is set on the beach and filled with bold saturated colour.

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro can be considered a co-author of this film the way Gordon Willis is the co-author of Allen’s Manhattan. And as Diane Keaton’s performance is key to the success of Allen’s 1979 masterpiece, so Winslet could be considered a co-author here. 

In a welcome gender inversion, Winslet plays the ‘Woody Allen’ character, a neurotic and romantically minded waitress called Ginny, having an affair with a younger lover.

Justin Timberlake is the hunky lifeguard on whom she projects a fantasy future together. As narrator, his character tells us at the beginning he enjoys big metaphor and broad characters and that’s what we get, with everything given an astonishing degree of artifice.

From the over-written dialogue, calculated performances and stagey confines, to the too shiny cars and bright nostalgic sunshine, everything is overcooked to represent how the dream world Ginny loses herself in.

A Ferris wheel dominates the landscape, as a knowingly absurdly kitsch representation of the wheel of fortune. While Winslet is often filmed in red light and at one point swathed in smoke, illustrating how she’s her trapped in a hell of her own making.

The choice between fantasy and reality is reinforced by her step-daughter who is happier having left the fake lifestyle of her wealthy husband and returned home to a more real existence. And of course characters escape the real world by hiding in the cinema.

As ever in Allen’s films, when someone chooses to pursue a fantasy existence over harsh reality, tragic events occur. This is closer in tone to 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanours than 2016’s Cafe Society, and though there are humorous moments, this is not one of Allen’s funny ones.