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.

NATIVE

Cert 12A 85mins Stars 1

Crossing the galaxy seems to take eons in this suffocatingly soporific sci-fi, which is indulgent, portentous and stage bound.

Rupert Graves and Ellie Kendrick play humanoid alien scientists who leave their home world to colonise a world light years away.

Their biblical names point to where the story is headed and there should be a ban on films naming the lead female character any variation of Eve.

They perform slow space-yoga, and stare moodily into middle distance waiting for anything to happen.

Plus the script flies in the face of convention by bravely having the pair express their every thought. Communicating telepathically is no excuse for the banality of their conversations or their stilted delivery.

The budget seems to be on a pair with an episode of Dr Who, but without the quality of design, writing or performance.

There may be life out there but you won’t find much here.

FLATLINERS (2017)

Cert 15 Stars 1

Way back in the summer of 1990 and flush from the mega success of Pretty Woman which made her a global name, Julia Roberts starred in a horror about medical students who experiment in life after death.

This laughably poor and lifeless remake sees Ellen Page struggling to inject some vitality into a brain dead script while everyone tries to keep a straight face.

McMafia star James Norton fronts out his embarrassment at being involved, and Keifer Sutherland has the dubious distinction of appearing in both versions.

This is dead on arrival.

ATTRACTION

Cert 12A 117mins Stars 3

There’s a breathless lack of subtlety in this teen sci-fi romance which sees a high school girl have a close encounter in down town Moscow.

Riffing on Romeo and Juliet, star crossed lovers see their worlds collide when a giant alien spaceship is shot down.

Russian TV star Irina Starshenbaum makes her big screen debut as our heroine Yulia, and Rinal Mukhametov plays the alien object of her affections.

Yulia is sweet, sarcastic and sparky, almost singlehandedly giving life to a startlingly unoriginal script. She’s also considerably sharper than her father, the much put upon colonel in charge of protecting civilians from aliens, and vice versa.

The poor bloke is on much surer ground dealing with the potential destruction of planet Earth than teenage hormones. 

An innovative production method maximises the minimal budget, providing decent CGI for a fraction of the usual Hollywood cost. Along Yulia’s fresh faced energy, they’re the biggest selling point of this big screen attraction.

 

REVOLT

Stars 2 Cert 15

There’s not much personality on show in this functional sci-fi thriller, which despite being only 83 minutes long is very keen on using slow motion. 

Lee Pace and Berenice Marlohe are the actors who have been parachuted in to save the weak script. He plays a soldier with no memory and she a doctor who can handle a gun.

They team up to save survivors from an alien invasion which has devastated humanity, and discover Jason Flymyng’s war photographer lying around.

Shot on location in South Africa, our sympathies lie mostly with the elephants.

MARJORIE PRIME

Cert 12A 99mins Stars 3

Pay close attention to this ghostly sci-fi drama which will test your memory as well as your patience.

Lois Smith plays an 85 year old widow of failing health who has a computer programme possessed of artificial intelligent to keep her company.

Marjorie has directed it to learn to adopt the personality of her husband as she remembers him.

And having not yet lost her marbles she insists it projects itself in hologram form as the handsome young version of her man, when he looked like Jon Hamm from TV’s Madmen.

With a cast including Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, the performances are as tasteful and highly polished as the decor in Marjorie’s elegant and expensive Los Angeles beach front home.

Moving at a hypnotic pace, the stage bound script toys with time and questions the relationship between thought and identity, often making us feel as if we’re eavesdropping on someones deeply personal and very expensive therapy.

 

 

 

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Cert 15 163mins Stars 5

Prepare to see things you’ve never seen before in this astonishing sci-fi sequel.

In Brit 1982 Brit director Ridley Scott and star Harrison Ford created the most influential sci-fi film of the last 35 years.

I love the original Blade Runner so much I was consumed with gut wrenching nerves immediately before seeing this new trip to Los Angeles of the near future.

Attempting to compete with a visionary masterpiece seemed an act of absolute folly by new director Denis Villeneuve. And so it proved, the Canadian will just have to settle for making the best sci-fi film of the decade.

It’s a visually majestic, brilliantly acted, emotionally arresting and deeply humane epic which wrestles with questions of memory, identity, and the meaning of love and life.

Ford reprises the part of Deckard. As a Blade Runner he was employed to hunt and kill powerful slave androids, called replicants.

However the lead role is occupied by broodingly charismatic Ryan Gosling.

Villeneuve has asked for the plot not to be revealed, but it’s safe to tell you Gosling plays a Blade Runner called K who is employed by the LAPD.

While on an assignment, the hired killer makes a discovery which challenges the world order and makes him question his own beliefs.

There’s a strong spiritual core plus environmental concerns and social commentary are stitched into the rich fabric its incredible design. British cinematographer Roger Deakins will surely receive his 14th Oscar nomination, and hopefully an overdue first win for his mesmerising work.

There are impressive flying cars, fist fights, gun battles and people being punched through walls.

But this is an intense and serious minded odyssey for grown ups, one without the easy pleasures of a light hearted romp such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I haven’t stopped thinking about this masterpiece since I saw it, and I probably still will be in 2049.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

Cert 12A 136mins Stars 3

Take a holiday trip to a city in space with this spectacular looking sci-fi adventure.

War is threatened when aliens kidnap a space police commander, so a pair of glamorous intergalactic agents blast off to save the universe.

It’s based on a 1970’s French comic which was one of the key influences of the original Star Wars, and everything feels very familiar.

However we’re never bored because there is always something glorious to look at. It’s a non-stop parade of dazzlingly beautiful aliens, spaceships and planets.

But even mad French director Luc Besson is so busy gawping like a tourist at the amazing sights, the story is lost in the rush to see what’s around the next corner.

After her astonishingly poor performances in last year’s superhero fiasco, Suicide Squad, model turned actress Cara Delevingne rescues her fledgling career with a terrifically smart, sexy and kick ass performance.

As Sergeant Laureline she has to carry the story due to her co-star being horrifically miscast.

This big budget blockbuster needs leading man swagger, such as Chris Pratt provides in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Instead we have Dane DeHaan, an intense actor well suited to small indie movies but is skill set is utterly wrong for the role of Major Valerian, and who lacks the authority required for the role.

Nor does DeHaan have a shred of romantic chemistry with Delevingne. Plus Valerian is noticeably more dim and less effective than his subordinate Laureline, but the script never sees this as a problem.

Popstar Rihanna makes a brief appearance as an adult entertainer, she has multiple costume changes and her stunt double does good work.

Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer appear game for a laugh and for some reason jazz composer Herbie Hancock beams by as the Defence Minister.

The city of a thousand planets is a lovely looking place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to go back.