LIFE OF PI

Stars 5

Treat yourself to the voyage of a lifetime with this breathtaking high seas adventure.

It begins when Rafe Spall’s nameless Writer interviewing Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel, who as an adult is played with knowing charm by Irrfan Khan, and by Suraj Sharma as a teen, who carries the bulk of the film on his young shoulders with desperate, windswept and sunburnt charm.

In flashback we discover Pi was a thoughtful innocent who was forced to become brave and resourceful when sailing from India to Canada. 

A storm cast him adrift in a lifeboat with a hungry Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. He’s the star of the show, a magnificent and menacing bloodthirsty pirate with an all too human desire to survive.

The unlikely companions have to survive storms, sharks, hunger, insanity and each other in order to reach dry land.

Adapted from the best selling book by Yann Martel, this is a film of staggering beauty, great intelligence, and no little humour. Director Ang Lee credits the audience with intelligence, dismissing the need for a huge Hollywood reveal and opts instead to protect the poetic rhythms of the movie.

At times the lifeboat seems to be cruising through the heavens as Pi undergoes a spiritual journey, with wondrous waves of fabulous images crashing across the screen in a tumultuous cascade of colour and energy.

A cinematic experience of the highest order and a towering technical achievement, this fabulous family fantasy is suitable for all but the very young who may find Richard Parker a little too wet and wild.

BREAKING DAWN PART 2

Stars 3

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return as vampires Bella and Edward for one last bite of the cherry in the final chapter of the Twilight saga which doesn’t hold back on the tooth and claw.

Until now the franchise has been an anaemic exercise that was all teeth and no trousers but this time the gothic horror runs red with passion, anger and blood.

Bella and Edward’s daughter has been wrongly accused of being an immortal child by the Volturi, the royal family of vampires, and so as a threat to them they have decided she must die.

To protect her child, the now rampant Bella must gather help from a motley crew of vampires and werewolves in order to face down the Volturi in a final confrontation.

Stewart is full of furious, motherly anger and rips into her role with gusto, putting Pattinson firmly in her shadow.

Taylor Lautner as Jacob the love-sick werewolf is more petulant than ever and still afraid to put his shirt on, despite the heavy snow on the ground.

Michael Sheen is a great actor and as Aro, the leader of the Volturi, he is a prowling, preening, power hungry vampire who has the best fun delivering the film’s lines.

The film is beautiful to look at, not just for the actors but the stunning Canadian landscape is majestic in its wild, snow-covered glory.

There is again lots of running through forests and jumping from treetops but when the film kicks off in the second half there is some excellent fight choreography and the final confrontation is terrifically and excitingly staged.

I haven’t read the books and I’ve no idea if this is a faithful adaptation or not but I do know this is a handsome and exciting finale to a consistent and successful franchise.

If you’re not a fan of the film series this probably won’t make you change your mind, but if you are then you won’t be disappointed.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Cert 12A 129mins Stars 4

You won’t believe what you’re seeing in this comic book action adventure as Spider-man hits the high spots in a deliciously deceptive head-spinning romp.

A direct sequel to blockbuster smash, Avengers: Endgame, this is a mischievous mix of sweet high school romcom, fun teenage spy caper and exciting superhero CGI spectacular.

Peter Parker is in romantic pursuit of classmate MJ, on their school’s European vacation, when his costumed alter-ego Spider-man learns heroes don’t get holidays. 

Grumpy secret agent Nick Fury teams Spider-man with superhero Mysterio, which will be a surprise to long-time Spidey fans as Mysterio is one of the web-swinger’s best known arch-villains.

But re-inventing Mysterio as a dimension-hopping hero with a tragic past makes him a more interesting character while also tying this version of Spider-man into last year’s animated Multi-verse adventure.

Parker identifies Mysterio as the man to replace Iron Man as his mentor, and they set about battling the Elementals, extra-dimensional giants with power over air, earth, wind and fire.

Returning with a winning chemistry as Peter Parker and MJ, Brit actor Tom Holland and pop star Zendaya are the beating heart of the film, with her self-contained charisma making MJ the best superhero squeeze since Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, in 1978’s Superman.

And they’re reunited with the key young cast members of Spider-man: Homecoming, and Marvel fan favourites such as Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei reprise their roles as the adult guardians.

Indie movie star Jake Gyllenhaal brings his unique brand of loopy intensity to Mysterio, and while he often gives the impression of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s a useful quality to have when playing a guy trying to save the planet.

Having Parker unveil various old and new Spider-suits is part of a stream of call-backs to previous films, which will have fans cooing in delight.

Plus a pair of fat-rimmed hi-tech spectacles are a knowing wink to Michael Caine’s 1960’s spy, Harry Palmer, and neatly magnify the script’s central concerns.

While the film wears the frothy air of an espionage caper, the tone disguises some very serious thoughts about fake news and multi-media manipulation, while reminding us Parker was employed in other incarnations as a photojournalist.

From dealing with the fallout of Endgame to deciphering what Marvel has in store for Spider-man, there’s a lot to uncover in this, and one of the best secrets is kept until after the credits, so make sure you stay until the absolute end.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

Cert 12A 147mins Stars 5

Tom Cruise crashes back into cinemas with the sixth outrageous, death defying and exhilarating episode of his all-action espionage franchise.

IMF agent Ethan Hunt is the US answer to James bond, and Cruise chose to accept his first mission in the role back in 1996, and this is by a running jump the best one yet.

The preposterous plotting involves some missing plutonium and a terror organisation trying to establish a new world order. Plus of course the familiar latex masks, a series of betrayals and the famous signature tune.

Humour lands with the almost same impact as the punches as we’re whisked from Paris to London and Kashmir in bikes, boats, cars and helicopters, through a series of wildly improbable stunts. 

It begins in a surprisingly low key fashion with Hunt having doubts over his chosen career, but he’s soon accepting a new mission, aided by trusted colleagues Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg.

Joining them is former Superman, Henry Cavill, who’s on career best form as a CIA agent tasked to shadow Hunt and help complete his task.

And a cocktail lounge punch-up involving Rebecca Ferguson and The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby, suggests the possibility of an all female spin-off mission should Cruise ever decide he’s too old for all this.

He was famously injured during filming and his willingness to put his body on the line for our entertainment is what makes this franchise so compelling, 

Plus each dazzling display of virtuoso stunt work exceeds the previous one in ambition and scope and is conceived and executed with clockwork ingenuity. And they’re performed on location with a minimum of CGI assistance, adding to our gobsmacked disbelief. This is best watched on an IMAX screen for maximum effect.

Fallout establishes a new high bar in slick, glossy stunt-driven action adventure, and next year’s 007 film will have to keep it in its sights if Bond wants to remain top gun.

SKYSCRAPER

Cert 12A 102mins Stars 4

Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson cements his place at the pinnacle  of the Hollywood pile with another hugely entertaining action adventure to follow this year’s Rampage, and the Jumanji sequel.

He plays a former marine injured in a hostage rescue and now wears a prosthetic leg, working as a safety assessor in Hong Kong on the world’s tallest and most hi-tec building.

When a criminal gang set the building on fire, he must swing in to action to save his wife and kids.

The international cast and setting brings maximum appeal to the Chinese cinematic market, now the globes biggest.

There’s no escaping Skyscraper is built on the foundations of 1974 disaster classic The Towering Inferno, and 1988 terrorist thriller, Die Hard, while the tone is peak Arnold Schwarzenegger at his cheesey action best.

It’s an express elevator ride of slick stunts and knowingly preposterous plotting, and as the cast kept commendably straight faces I grinned my way through 220 floors of pure popcorn fun. 

 

 

JURASSIC WORLD: THE FALLEN KINGDOM

Cert 12A 128mins Stars 4

Mammoth mayhem stampedes across the big screen in this meaty sequel to 2015’s monster smash.

This fifth dino-epic is set three years after the ending of the previous billion pound box office super-heavy weight, and the dinosaurs existence on the island home of the defunct Jurassic Park resort is threatened by a volcano.

So stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard helicopter in alongside a bunch of military mercenaries to ferry 11 species of dinosaurs to safety as the mountain erupts.

It’s a brilliant, breathless action sequence packed with dinosaurs, takes place on an enormous scale, and is exciting, scary and fun.

Once the creatures are saved, the second part of the film is framed as a haunted house horror and takes place in a huge gothic US mansion, where there is a nefarious plan to auction off the beasts to international arms dealers.

Though each half of the film is excellent in their own way, they’re very different and not entirely successfully spliced together, much like the new killer hybrid dinosaur on the loose, the Indoraptor.

Despite having more than enough of talent and empathy to anchor the series, Howard is sadly too often allowed to be elbowed out of the way so co-star Pratt demonstrate his smug wisecracking action-man prowess.

Veteran James Cromwell brings gravitas as Sir Benjamin Lockwood, and young Isabella Sermon as his vulnerable and brave granddaughter makes a strong debut. Rafe Spall plays his trusted right hand and is becoming one of my favourite actors.

Spanish director J. A. Bayona previously made tsunami drama, The Impossible and the teenage fable, A Monster Calls, and all his work is concerned importance of mothers.

Here he brings in elements of fable from his spooky horror, The Orphanage, which I suspect are closer to his heart than all his impressively staged blockbuster action.

Though at times too full on and grisly for the very little ones, the dinosaurs are back and they are roarsome!

 

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Cert 12A 135mins Stars 4
Experience a light-speed roller coaster ride in a galaxy far, far away in this rip-roaring Star Wars spin-off.

Set sometime before the original 1977 blockbuster, it follows the young Han Solo from a penniless street thief to becoming a swashbuckling space smuggler.

Having been brilliantly played by Harrison Ford in four films previously, I worried about how the new guy would measure up.

Especially as in the words of Princess Leia who famously quipped of Luke Skywalker, new star Alden Ehrenreich is probably a little short for a stormtrooper. In his defence, everyone looks short next to the enormous hairy frame of Chewbacca the Wookiee.

And Ehrenreich quickly wins us over with an endearingly cocky swagger, as Solo survives a mountainside monorail heist, meets Chewbacca for the first time, acquires his iconic spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, and falls foul of Paul Bettany’s master criminal, Dryden Vos.

Emilia Clarke from TV’s Game Of Thrones plays Solo’s childhood friend, Qi’ra, though she’s such a sweet on-screen presence she struggles to convince of the conflict within her character.

And it’s Donald Glover, as the roguish Lando Calrissian, who steals the film with his cosmic charisma.

A lot more fun than the other Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, there’s no avoiding the background hum of war.

But this is far from the rarefied world of generals and emperors of previous films, this is a blue-collar world of miners, shipbuilders, and frontline soldiers, where people wrestle in mud for their lives.

Ron Howard’s safe pair of hands were brought in to reshoot large chunks of the film after original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were jettisoned when Disney were unhappy with their loose improvisational style.

Racing against the clock to complete the film it’s remarkable he’s crafted not only a coherent film, but a hugely entertaining one, packed with humour and big screen spectacle.