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.

 

 

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

Cert 12A 118mins Stars 4

Join Scots actress Karen Gillan for a jungle romp in this wild action comedy adventure.

The former Dr Who star is never outshone by her Hollywood heavy-weight co-stars, and contributes a winning mix of kick-ass and comedy moves.

A barely connected sequel to Robin Williams’ 1995 smash, the magical Jumanji game has rebooted itself as a 1990’s video game.

Four high school students are transported into the game world, where their avatars are played by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Gillan. Huge fun is generated from the avatars being at odds with the kids’ real life personas.

Impressive location work is littered with CGI animals such as hippos and crocodiles, and there are a lot of very affectionate jibes at video games, which even a non-gamer such as myself found funny.

It’s more far exciting and daftly entertaining than you could for hope for, and it’s one family game this Christmas which won’t leave you feeling err, board.

THE HURRICANE HEIST

Cert 12A 103min Stars 3

This preposterous high-concept action thriller has a stormingly simple does-what-it says-on-the-tin premise.

However the promising riff on ‘Die Hard in a thunderstorm’ makes occasional heavy weather by tacking on a cumbersome sibling reconciliation subplot.

Led by Ralph Ineson’s Irishman, who fails desperately at not impersonating Alan Rickman, a criminal crew attempt to steal $600million in used notes from a secure federal facility. 

To do so they’ve kidnapped a local engineer, so his mild-mannered meteorologist brother teams up with a hard-ass Treasury agent to rescue him and prevent the heist.

Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace give their performance some welly as the storm of the century rages all about in its remarkably cheap-looking CGI glory.

And if you find your attention wandering then the belt and braces script provides frequent reminder of what’s going on.

As it’s simultaneously available in cinemas and on TV’s Sky Cinema channel today, you don’t have to get your hair wet to watch the fun.

 

READY PLAYER ONE

Cert 12A 139mins Stars 5

Steven Spielberg scores a gloriously entertaining victory against the video game generation in his latest 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.

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, which in 2045 is the worlds most popular virtual reality game.

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 Olivia Cooke’s ultra-competitive Sam, and the corporate bad guys intent on a hostile takeover.

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.

And the worlds greatest living director cleverly uses cinema to reinvent a book about virtual reality to emphasise the importance of real face-to-face human interaction.

Plus Spielberg turns Cline’s homage to pop culture into a satirical swipe at the monetisation of the health and criminal justice systems. And he includes 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 it’s full of optimism for the youth of tomorrow.

Demonstrating his enduring ability to entertain while embracing the latest technology and remaining relevant to a modern audience, Spielberg proves he’s still Hollywood’s number one player.

ATTACK ON TITAN: THE ROAR OF AWAKENING

Cert 15 120mins Stars 3

There’s a nicely nightmarish and Grimm feel to this animated fantasy sequel which sees grotesque giants threaten the human race with extinction.

The Attack On Titan franchise began life as Japanese manga comic before becoming a two full length feature films, and was followed up with two TV series, and a third is promised in July.

Despite this big screen adventure being stitched together from the 12 episode second TV series, even if you’re totally unfamiliar with it, it’s surprisingly coherent and enjoyable.

In a medieval universe, young Eren Jaeger of the Scout Regiment is ordered to the front line to find a member of the Trainig Corps called Christa. She may hold the key to victory in their ongoing war against the human-eating titans.

The streamlined plot means it’s non-stop action all the way, and there’s lots of graphic bloody violence in the exciting battles as the giants don’t spare the horses in any sense.

BLACK PANTHER

Cert 12A 134mins Stars 4

Marvel studios aren’t pussyfooting around with this big beast superhero adventure.

First seen in 2015’s Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman returns as Prince T’Challa A.K.A. Black Panther.

Back in his African homeland of Wakanda to inherit his father’s throne, T’Challa’s enhanced physical abilities and meteorite-powered suit are of little use against a political coup.

Full of trademark humour this is a typically action packed blockbuster. What separates this from its comic book stablemates is its sweeping multi-generational family saga played out on gorgeous plains of Africa.

Bright bold colours dominate the African influenced design, the soundtrack is tribal and local languages are used, all combining to create an environment unique in the Marvel universe.

Providing African American cast and crew a major Hollywood movie as a stage to strut their stuff is a huge roar for equality and demonstrates the extraordinary depth of talent available.

Among the cast are Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker, plus Brit nominated Daniel Kaluuya appears in a key role. Though it’s young Letitia Wright who steals the film.

Ryan Coogler previously directed 2015’s excellent Rocky sequel, Creed. Michael B. Jordan had the starring role there and brings his muscular swagger here as the villainous Killmonger.

Similarly to the Amazons of Wonder Woman, the women are warriors, but also scientists, and are frequently funnier than the men.

There are witty riffs on Disney’s Lion King. While an early interlude in a South Korean featuring a casino and a car chase cheekily presents T’Challa as a James Bond figure, which is sure to wind up the 007 purists.

And it politically unambiguous with Wakanda being a progressive vision of Africa, wealthy, independent, strong and united.

Unlike the recent reboot of Spider-man who had Robert Downey. Jnr’s mega popular Iron Man popping by to boost audience figures, Black Panther has to go it alone.

But this cool cat more than earns his stripes.

JUNGLE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Daniel Radcliffe leaves Harry Potter well behind him when he gets lost in this real life Bolivian survival adventure.

As the Israeli Yossi Ghinsberg he joins a group of footloose and fancy-free Western backpackers who go off-roading in search of a rural village.

As well as dodgy accent and bushy beard, he’s soon suffering separation, isolation, starvation, hallucination and attack by hungry creatures.

It’s directed by Greg McLean who made the thrillingly entertaining Wolf Creek films and last year’s insane The Belko Experiment. This isn’t his best work, but unlike Yossi, it’s not far off.

 

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

Cert 12A 111mins Stars 4

Get hot under the collar as Kate Winslet and Idris Elba turn up the heat when stranded on an icy mountain.

In an era where actors are considered of less important to a film than its franchise brand, this survival adventure is refreshingly built around the chemistry, charisma, talent and global fame of its stars.

It’s especially welcome as both are British, though only one of them sports a US accent.

This unashamedly old fashioned and enjoyable romantic melodrama begins with an exciting and well staged crash, leaving the strangers high up The Rockie mountains in the depths of winter.

Though Winslet is not the only cougar around in the epic and beautifully bleak environment, there’s less cliff hanging than you’d expect as the script chooses to focus on developing the characters.

The only disappointment is Winslet never channels her inner Mae West and asks ‘is that a mountain between us or are you just pleased to see me?’

ICEMAN

Cert 15 Stars 4

History is brought to fictitious life in this brutal and harrowing action thriller as a Neolithic man goes on a mission of revenge for the murder of his clan.

In 1991 a corpse was discovered frozen in the Alps, and the scientific evidence gleaned from the autopsy of which tells us he suffered a violent death about 5,000 years ago.

Subsequently nicknamed, ‘Otzi’, and played by a meaty Jurgen Vogel, this beautifully filmed drama offers an explanation as to how he came to have an arrowhead in his body and traces of four different blood types on his animal-hide clothes.