FLASH GORDON

Cert 12A Stars 5

Gordon’s alive, remastered and re-released for the 40th anniversary of his 1980 out-of-this-world swashbuckling comic book sci-fi action adventure classic.

Sam J. Jones is charmingly wooden as the unwitting hero Flash, who with Melody Anderson’s Dale Arden has only 14 hours to save the Earth from Max von Sydow’s tyrannical intergalactic warlord Ming the Merciless.

With future 007 Timothy Dalton as the dashing Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as the larger-than-life Prince Vultan, and accompanied by an iconic soundtrack by rock legends Queen, it’s a cosmic trip which must be seen on the big screen.

BLOODSHOT

Cert 12 Stars 2

Based on a character from Valiant Comics this derivative revenge sci-fi action thriller was intended to kickstart a franchise, but the film’s disastrous box office performance underscores the it’s star Vin Diesel is only a bums on seats draw when in his Fast and Furious franchise or in his xXx films.

Diesel bullies his way through a lacklustre plot as a Marine who was killed in action and reborn with enhanced powers by a powerful organisation intending to use him as a weapon. Toby Kebbell, Talulah Riley and Guy Pearce do their best in this anaemic shoot-em-up.

THE VAST OF NIGHT

Cert 12 Stars 4

Creepy, claustrophobic and immaculately constructed, this stylish and intriguing sci-fi mystery thriller pays loving homage to TV shows such as The Twilight Zone as it builds to a haunting and transcendent finale.

Set in the 1950’s Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz have a lovely flirtatious chemistry as an earnest telephone operator and a cocky local radio DJ, who begin exploring reports of power cuts, strange electrical interference and secret military operations in the nearby desert of New Mexico.

Their enthusiasm for new technology is infectious and their rat-a-tat dialogue makes hanging out with them great fun, especially as the film treats their fears and concerns with great seriousness and respect.

It’s a remarkable directorial debut by Andrew Patterson, who demonstrates a deft confidence, steady handed ambition and an unadulterated love of cinema.

He skilfully deploys a light-handed awareness of the time’s racial, class and sexual divisions, there’s a palpable love of the period’s technology, and I really dug the cars and clothes, daddy-o.

EDGE OF EXTINCTION

Cert 18 Stars 2

Blood, mud, skulls and cannibal gangsters feature heavily in this violent and nasty low budget British dystopian sci-fi thriller, which sadly lacks the invention, scope or devious camp sensibility which made it’s spiritual grandfather Mad Max, such a full throttle success.

Set fifteen years in the future after an atomic war, a lone scavenger becomes the reluctant ally of other survivors to mount a desperate rescue mission.

A welcome absence of CGI sees the blood-spurting action use medieval weapons and a lot of fake blood, and though the relentlessly grim tone is almost provocative, it’s grounded in the gritty realism of its desolate locations.

An overgrown comprehensive school has ‘welcome to hell’ sprayed above the front door, but I’m not sure if the graffiti is pre-apocalypse or not.

Originally titled ‘The Brink’ and a labour of love for director Andrew Gilbert who’s not short of ambition and stages a tasty finale where the remnants of civilisation make a final stand against the forces of chaos, but it’s a slog to get there.

UNDERWATER

Cert 15 Stars 3

Kristen Stewart is in deep water and under enormous pressure in this claustrophobic survival sci-fi horror which left me gasping for air.

The Twilight star is typically terrific as an engineer seven miles down in an ocean bed oil drilling station, which suffers mysterious tremors leading to a catastrophic collapse and leaving most of the crew dead.

Vincent Cassel’s noble captain attempts to lead his five remaining crew on a desperate bid for safety across the sea floor to a sister platform and its precious escape pods, but as morale and oxygen run low, they face even more monstrous terrors.

Refreshingly the script is angled more towards a conspiracy theory than an eco-message, and the faint residue of philosophical musings are washed away by a welter of crowd-pleasing blockbuster thrills.

Uncharitably described by a co-star as a ‘flat-chested elfin creature’, Stewart anchors the action with a gutsy physical performance, the latest left turn in a career marked by its impressive range and constant evolution.

OCCUPATION

Cert 15 Stars 3

An alien attack threatens the human race with extinction in this hard working low budget action sci-fi.

Former Neighbours and Home and Away star, Rhiannon Fish, joins a disparate group of survivors of a small country town who rally around as resistance fighters, while veteran actor Bruce Spence appears as the alien leader.

With some decent character work and no little flair or shortage of ambition, writer and director Luke Sparke squeezes in as much explosive action as his can into his agreeably no-nonsense old school end of the world affair.

A QUIET PLACE

Cert 15 Stars 5

Writer and director John Krasinski co-stars alongside real-life wife, Emily Blunt, in this magnificently terrifying apocalyptic horror.

They play a married couple whose family are struggling to survive in a near future world where civilisation has been destroyed and humans are preyed on by creatures who hunt by sound.

Produced by Transformers supremo, Michael Bay, it scared up a thunderous £250m at the global box office on a tiny £13m budget. Smart, sharp and shocking, it’s a stunning example of how to use the simplest techniques to create nerve-snapping tension and will leave you silent with fear.

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.

 

 

ANON

Cert 15 Stars 2

This beautifully crafted but inert sci-fi thriller is more interested in its high concept ideas than offering a compelling narrative, likeable characters or sense of mystery, fun or spectacle.

It’s set in a bleak future world, online wireless technology allows total surveillance by the government.

Clive Owen is at his monotone worst as a cop investigating a super-hacker whose skills are used to disguise a serial killer. Identified only is Anon, she’s played by Amanda Seyfried on similarly low key form.

Andrew Niccol writes and directs with concrete self importance, leaving 1997’s Gattaca the high watermark of his career.

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.