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.

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

Cert 12A 111mins Stars 2

Bulldozing across the screen with the tone and intelligence of a low rent kids’ Saturday morning cartoon, this belated sci-fi sequel is a monotonous series of clanking CGI battles.

I loved 2014’s original adventure which barely broke even due to it’s colossal budget. Costing less and looking as if it did, this lacks the former’s visual majesty, strong character work and narrative coherence.

Set ten years later, giant robots must again defend the Earth from dinosaur-like alien monsters which emerge from the seabed.

Sadly Idris Elba doesn’t return and fortunately nor does the dull Charlie Hunnam.

Star Wars’ John Boyega tries hard as the son of Elba’s character who must live up to his father’s legacy and save the world. All he proves is an actor is only as good as the script. Which is woeful.

Mechanical martial art moves result in mass destruction, but there’s never any sense of danger and too little excitement or fun.

MUTE

Cert 15 126mins Stars 2

This derivative sci-fi thriller is beautifully designed but an ambitious structure of two criss-crossing stories results in a disjointed and un-engaging journey.

Strong and silent Alexander Skarsgard plays a mute barman searching for his missing girlfriend, lumbering through the seedy criminal world of Berlin, forty years in the future.

Meanwhile Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux are mercenary military medics who drink and banter during surgery in a manner reminiscent of Robert Altman’s M.A.S.H. One is desperate to relocate to the US and the other is happy to stay in order to indulge his dark impulses.

So visually and tonally different are these strands, they rub against each other without much in the way of action or humour, and generating static but no thrill power.

What comedy exists is launched in broad stabs, mostly from Rudd, and I suspect the occasional minor absurdity springs from the far reaching impact of cult British comic, 2000AD.

Women are even more mute than Skarsgard, being mostly confined to the background even when the plot is nominally concerns their wellbeing.

The dark neon style is borrowed wholesale from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and lacks invention or a sense of it’s own identity.

Director Duncan Jones is honest about being influenced by Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, though frankly they’d be no denying it. He certainly isn’t the first and won’t be the last. But the more closely Mute parades its primary visual source, the more we recognise it’s lack of identity.

Mute doesn’t possess the strong authorial voice, sharp storytelling or acute mind of its heroes. The script doesn’t question what makes us human, or make a highly politicised anti-war statement. This isn’t noir, or satire or action adventure. As towards the end it drowns in sentiment, I still wasn’t sure what it is.

Described as a spiritual sequel to his intriguing 2009 debut, Moon. Sam Rockwell cameos in the same role here but his presence serves to remind us how Jones has struggled to deliver on his early promise. Neither 2011’s Source Code or 2016’s Warcraft were as interesting, rigorous or successful in their execution.

After the extraordinary Blade Runner 2049 became a big budget casualty last year, it’s easy to see why distributors where wary of putting this into cinemas. Big budget sci-fi films not based on an existing book, film or even game have suffered in recent years.

So fair play to Netflix for giving it a platform for audiences to see it. I just wish it was more involving and gave me something to shout about.