INVASION PLANET EARTH

Cert 12 Stars 1

A passion for long defunct 1980’s sci-fi TV shows is necessary to survive this crowd-funded British alien abduction nightmare, which sees a psychiatrist and his patients kidnapped by extra-terrestrial warships.

There’s fun to be had with the opening scene where we watch a fake TV show called Kaleidoscope Man, clearly inspired by of Gil Gerard’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

It’s best to assume this film is intended as a sincere homage to such material, unfortunately accurately recreating the shoddy design, special effects, writing and acting of the era only results in a film of similar standard.

 

 

PLAYING WITH FIRE

Cert PG Stars 3

John Cena completes his journey from angry WWE wrestling star to harmless Hollywood leading man in this amiable, sentimental and knockabout family comedy.

As Jake ‘Supe’ Carson, he’s a control freak firefighter who’s determined to live up to his fathers legacy as he leads his small rural and dysfunctional team.

But his ambitions of promotion are threatened when he rescues a trio of kids who must take refuge in his remote fire station during a storm.

This isn’t a film where the plot holes are important, pop tunes jolly everything along, and the mild action scenes which top and tail the film are decently staged.

Young kids will enjoy the slapstick, poo jokes and the musical tribute to My Little Pony cartoons, the presence of comedy actor Jordan Peele will make you chuckle if nothing else will, and dog lovers will like the slobbering hound called Masher.

It’s all a bit Kindergarten Cop meets Home Alone and though Playing With Fire won’t set the world alight, it might temporarily warm your cockles.

 

STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Cert 12A Stars 4

Director JJ Abrams returns to the Star Wars universe to provide a suitably epic finale to cinemas greatest sci-fi saga which rockets along in fan-pleasing style and never skimps on the spectacle.

Having brought the series roaring back to life with 2015’s The Force Awakens and sitting out 2017’s The Last Jedi, Abrams satisfactorily wraps up this third trilogy with an emotional flourish which had people cheering in my preview screening in Leicester Square.

Killed off in in episode VI, the evil Emperor Palestine has returned and is hunting Daisy Ridley’s scavenger orphan, Rey, but we’re warned by the Emperor, ‘she’s not who you think she is’.

Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac reprise their roles as heroic members of the resistance, and set about the task of saving the universe, with their winning chemistry carrying us along as they try to set the galaxy to rights one last time.

Standing in their way is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, the diabolical Supreme Leader, and his chasing them about the cosmos is a deliberate attempt to keep us guessing who the Skywalker of the title is.

The zippy action will keep my 9 year old son entertained, and for fans such as me who have been there since my own childhood, it serves up a banquet of nostalgia, not least the scenes featuring the late Carrie Fisher, whose presence as General Leia is squeezed for every ounce of emotion in a dignified final appearance.

Robot C3PO provides a lot of the humour, there are light sabre duals and space battles, and cramming in so much plot, action and old favourites such as Billy Dee Williams’ scoundrel Lando Calrissian, means some new characters such as Kelly Marie Tran’s mechanic, Rose, are sidelined.

This isn’t the greatest Star Wars movie ever, and not even the best of this third trilogy, but it’s driven by the desire to reward the fans for their devotion and is a triumph of hope over fear.

 

JOJO RABBIT

Cert 12A Stars 3

This unique Second World War satirical black comedy is armed with the best of intentions and takes potshots at intolerance, indoctrination, hate, Hitler, and the stupidity of war, but too often fails to strike the funny bone.

Roman Griffin Davis is a wonderfully assured young presence as ten year old JoJo, who at a Hitler Youth camp learns to burn books and hate Jews, suffers an accident and is invalided home to his mother, a brilliant if briefly seen Scarlett Johansson.

Thomasin McKenzie is just as great as Elsa, a Jewish girl whom JoJo discovers hiding in his home, which causes him to question the wisdom of his imaginary friend, Adolf, played by Kiwi writer and director, Taika Waititi.

I didn’t laugh at his vampire comedy, What Do We Do In the Shadows, and his Marvel superhero adventure, Thor: Ragnarok is only the second best Thor film. Honestly, it’s not me it’s him.

However this is his best work, and if you enjoy his wacky sensibility, you’ll probably enjoy this more than I did.

CATS

Cert PG Stars 2

This big budget big screen version of Andrew Lloyd’s Webber long running musical is only saved from catastrophe by the quality of its cast, most of whom deserve so much better.

The threadbare plot sees a tribe of cats get together in a ruined theatre to see which cat will be chosen ascend to the ‘Heaviside Layer’, i.e. heaven, and come back to a new life.

Idris Elba’s evil cat, Macavity is desperate to be chosen, and is kidnapping his competition and dumping them on a barge in the Thames.

Director Tom Hooper has form with musicals, I’ve only just recovered from his 2012 adaption of Les Miserables, and now he’s returned to terrorise me again with this.

Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Idris Elba do their considerable best to make it bearable, James Corden and Rebel Wilson are a unique form of horror at the best of times, and Jason Derulo maintains his reputation as an American Olly Murs.

And you’ll have to brace yourself for the unrestrained vigour with which Jennifer Hudson belts Memory, a performance which will linger in your ear drums for a long while.

The 1980’s synth heavy production of the music is put to shame by Taylor Swift’s additional new song, Beautiful Ghosts, which is an oasis of quality, especially when heard alongside to Lloyd Webber’s turgid and interminable tunes.

And even being given a diva’s introduction at the beginning of the shows best original number, Macavity – The Mystery Cat, she should still be looking for a new agent for having allowed herself to be involved in this kitty litter of a flick.

I’ve no idea why they’ve squandered on much money on the ‘digital fur technology’, as it still looks as if the cast are leaping around in makeup and furry costumes. At least the set designers seemed to have fun.

Fans of musical theatre will possibly lap it up, though the kids in my preview screening were noticeably quiet throughout, and it left me feline embarrassed for all concerned.

 

THE COURIER

Cert 18 Stars 2

Violent and bloody from the off, this action thriller is a sadly predictable and pedestrian vehicle for it’s motorbike riding star, Olga Kurylenko.

Ever since her breakout role in James Bond’s 2008 adventure, Quantum of Solace, she’s struggled to find a signature role, but is always industrious and does her best in straitened circumstances here.

As a leather-clad former army special ops agent gone AWOL and working as a London courier, she finds herself on the run with a government witness she’s trying to protect from gangsters and corrupt police who want him dead.

Having played a hapless bystander caught up in events in Dave Bautista’s 2018 football thriller, Final Score, and currently on TV in BBC’s His Dark Materials, Amit Shah is the hapless witness who mostly cowers while she rolls with the punches.

Gary Oldman is the criminal mastermind trying to orchestrate murder from his New York penthouse, and sporting an eyepatch, facial scars and a smoking jacket he occasional rouses himself to shout a bit, possibly for the want of a decent script to distract him.

 

SPIES IN DISGUISE

Cert PG Stars 3

This globetrotting animated caper from the makers of the Ice Age franchise is an enjoyably glossy, slick and silly romp which bolsters its wacky premise with the voice talent of two of Hollywood’s most popular stars.

Will Smith riffs on his Men In Black persona as Agent Sterling, a tuxedo wearing super spy who likes to fly solo on missions, but forced to team up with the socially awkward scientist who turns him into a pigeon.

He’s played by Tom Holland who delivers a variation of his boyish wide-eyed enthusiasm familiar from his Marvel superhero, Spider-man.

When Sterling is framed for the theft of a prototype assassin drone, they’re pursued by former colleagues while chasing the robotic-armed real villain.

Among the gadgets, cars, and submarines, secret bases, there’s lots on fun facts about pigeons and puke and poo jokes aplenty.

It’s an inclusive celebration of everyone who’s ‘weird’, a code word here for the differently abled or transgender, plus there’s nothing festive about it, which is another good reason to watch it.

THE GENTLEMEN

Cert 18 113mins Stars 4

Director Guy Ritchie is bristling with verve and invention as he returns to his old stomping ground of the London crime caper and delivers a wickedly self-aware, funny and violent assault with hugely entertaining results.

A top drawer cast give top tier performances as Matthew McConaughey’s leonine drug dealer sees blackmail and betrayal thwart his plans to go straight, and his WAGish cockney wife is not best pleased.

Michelle Dockery is best known as Lady Mary from TV’s Downton Abbey, but cast against type shows what how terrifically versatile and entertaining she can be.

Raising his game to deliver a career best turn is TV’s Charlie Hunnam, who as McConaughey’s fixer, spends most of the film playing the straight man to the flirtatious Hugh Grant, who gives the latest his a line of genius light comic performances.

He plays a slimy private investigator and wannabe film writer who passes comment on the action while leading the audience on a merry dance as to what’s really going on.

Henry Golding, Jeremy Strong and Eddie Marsan offer strong support, and Colin Farrell demonstrates what a great comic actor he is.

Handsome visuals and great locations give this an hard-edged gloss, and the smart title sequence suggests Ritchie hasn’t given up on one day getting the James Bond directing gig.

After successfully steering Disney’s live action Aladdin to over a billion dollars at the box office, this could have been a dispiriting return to his comfort zone, instead he seems invigorated.

Rather than rein himself, Ritchie unleashes his fury on the world with this provocative, defiant, knowingly absurd and foul-mouthed romp, an uproarious exercise in unloading his personal demons which goes beyond indulgent and turns into an act of filmmaking-as-therapy.

This is Guy Ritchie on steroids, and even his plot which shows his clear hatred of the UK press didn’t stop me from enjoying The Gentlemen enormously.

ANGEL HAS FALLEN

Cert 15 Stars 3

The ever more meaty Gerard Butler heaves himself through his paces in the third of his action thriller franchise, and if it doesn’t hit the glossy heights of the first one, it’s definitely an improvement on the lacklustre second.

As loyal agent Mike Banning, he’s on the run after being framed for the murder eighteen fellow secret service men in an attack which left Morgan Freeman’s US President in a coma.

There’s plenty of grit to the explosive action, strong support from Jada Pinkett Smith, and Nick Nolte provides the humour as Banning’s barking survivalist dad.

CRAWL

Cert 15 Stars 3

This claustrophobic gory popcorn thriller with added bite sees a dutiful daughter trying to save her injured father from a congregation of hungry alligators.

Brit actress Kaya Scodelario is scared, soaked, strong and sexy as the tournament swimmer trying to rescue her injured dad during a ferocious Florida hurricane.

The actress knows something of waterlogged disasters, having been the best thing in 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge.

It’s produced by The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi who balances the fear with humour, and wittily acknowledges the debt this owes to Steven Spielberg’s watery masterpiece, Jaws.