Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Buried within an eternal storm in the middle of the Pacific ocean, Skull Island has remained hidden for centuries – until emerging satellite technology uncovers this ‘lost’ island. Desperate to discover any precious resources before the Russians cotton on, a scientific team (led by John Goodman) enlists a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a military escort (with Samuel L Jackson in charge), attract a prize-winning photo journalist (Brie Larson) – and are soon neck-deep in all the horrors of the land that time forgot.

I think my only previous experience with King Kong was the 2005 Peter Jackson version, which disappointed me bitterly. My main issue with that one was the lack of fun – it was so reverential, so po-faced – and so dull. Seriously: this is a movie about a giant monkey, how can you be boring!??

Skull Island, however, seems to have learned from this – and goes in entirely the other direction. This is a monster movie, pure and simple: lots of things trying to kill all the interlopers, in various spectacular and/or gory ways. No one is safe on an island ruled by a building-sized gorilla – and really, you have to ask yourself how big the other fauna is… o_O

Much to my surprise, I ended up really enjoying this. It is so daft that it’s quite easy to just enjoy the spectacle, and try not to think too hard about the whole hollow earth theory, or man’s arrogant stupidity, or pretty much anything, really.

The cast are a mixed bunch, as are the performances. SLJ is always great value, and he goes for a more silent, eyeball-terrorising rage than often shown, which works well. Tom Hiddleston seems rather miscast to me, he just didn’t fit well. And I was more amused by seeing Toby Kebbell in human form given his previous turn as a (Planet of the) ape(s) than his role really merited.

The special effects go the same way: mixed. Largely good, but I’m sure there were a few moments that I would generously suggest were homages to Harryhausen’s classic claymation versions. Ahem.

Overall: manages to be my favourite version of Kong. The bar, however, was pretty dang low 😉

Released: 9th March 2017
Viewed: 10th March 2017
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Batman might be a dab hand at rounding up the bad guys, but he’s still battling that crippling loneliness. It doesn’t help that he’s too afraid of (more) loss to let anyone close – or, quite frankly, that he’s a mega-arrogant douche 😉 Thankfully, the Lego Movie series is here to help us poke fun at a rich, weird loner who likes to dress in black, and a whole pile of superhero memes along the way.

Plot-wise, the Joker is upset when Batman refuses to acknowledge him as his ‘main adversary’ (“I like to fight around”), and sets out to be, urm, more appreciated. This might involve a group of cross-movie super villains being rather superbly spoofed, but I’m not giving anything away 😉 Meanwhile, the unfortunately named orphan Dick Grayson is out to get himself adopted, while Bruce Wayne is a little distracted by the new police commissioner…

There’s not a great deal of substance to this movie, really, but it serves to be ridiculous and does so pretty well. The bulk of the humour actually comes from a host of rather throw-away moments and lines, such as referring to Daleks as “British robots – ask your nerd friends”, or the characters all saying “Pew! Pew!” as they fire their guns (that slayed me. Don’t ask!). There’s also some great lampooning of Batman’s history-on-screen, as well as the character in general.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the ‘real’ meaning of the movie, which is all about family and working with others and *yawn*. Not awful, but y’know – pew! pew!! 😉

Released: 10th February 2017
Viewed: 8th March 2017
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: U (UK)

My rating: 6/10

Trolls (2016)

I had zero interest in seeing this movie when it came out. The troll doll things that I remember from my childhood (and indeed, several generations seem to remember from their childhoods! o_O) had no appeal for me then or now, so a movie about them wasn’t even on my radar.

Until, that is, one of my friends adopted this as her go-to happy movie: by the wonders of a cinema pass, she must have seen it about a dozen times to combat rubbish days at work. And when the next opportunity arose, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is everything you’d expect a troll to be – urm, that is to say, one of the happy ‘good luck’ trolls, not in the sense of under-the-bridge… oh, you know what I mean! Poppy is all about singing, dancing, parties, and hugs. She’s so resolutely upbeat that it’s a wonder she doesn’t squeee herself to death.

However, when things go a little wrong at the 20th anniversary party of the trolls’ escape from the evil, joyless Bergen – who think their only chance for happiness lies in eating trolls – Poppy finds that her talent for scrapbooking may not be the best skill for a rescue mission o_O

While the story line is pretty average – rescue mission, learning to find the happiness inside yourself, etc etc – I ended up really liking some of the animation style here. There are scenes made to look like they’ve been crafted out of felt, or knitted, and just look gorgeous. Even the spiders – urgh! – are done to look super-cute.

As an adult (yes, despite some of my viewing choices!) it’s the little moments that are going to make or break a movie like this for me, and indeed they are done well. Little touches of humour and cynicism for the grown ups cut through the saccharine just about enough.

The music is also a major factor here, and it’s resolutely upbeat and bouncy – I can see why this was my buddy’s go-to happy film. And yes, I came out with a smile on my face – can’t say fairer than that, really!

Released: 21st October 2016
Viewed: 11th February 2017
Running time: 92 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 6.5/10

Moana (2016)

Many many years ago, the demi-god Maui stole the heart of the Mother Island, Ti Fiti, starting a plague of death and decay. Legends say that one day a hero will travel beyond the lagoon, find Maui, and force him to return the heart, thus breaking the curse and saving mankind.

Moana grows up hearing such stories from her grandmother (the self-proclaimed “village crazy lady” :)) and it leaves her with an urge to explore the giant, unknowable blue beyond their paradise island lagoon’s safe barrier. Unfortunately, not crossing that barrier is the one rule of the island – and given that Moana is being primed to take over from her father as the island’s chief, breaking the rules isn’t really an option.

Faced with a choice between her head and her heart, what can Moana choose?

I always go into animated movies with slight trepidation: even if the reviews are good, are they kid-movie good, or movie-movie good? I’m pleased to report that Moana was the latter, and I got exactly what I was looking for: some light-hearted fun, lots of giggles, and minimal saccharine.

First off, I really loved that we’re getting a legend from a different culture rather than yet another European Grimm rehash. Moana is very much in the ‘new’ Disney princess mold: strong, opinionated, and not the size of a twig. And Polynesian.

I also really liked the humour. Maui is voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who does a wonderful job of sending himself up by making the character ridiculously full of himself. And then there’s the chicken. Seriously. Loved that chicken! 🙂

The story doesn’t stray too far from what you’d expected, with themes of finding your inner strength, self-belief, etc, but all done nicely with next to no saccharine. I’d very happily watch this again – and there is no higher praise for an animated movie, I think!

Released: 2nd December 2016
Viewed: 17th January 2017
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Rogue One (2016)

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens, in a popcorn-tastic kind of a way, it was easy to see why the die-hard fans were rather disappointed: there was nothing really ‘new’ for those who’d followed the story and wanted to see a different part of the sprawling universe of Star Wars.

Rogue One, I suspect, is the film they were looking for. Rather than the stand-alone piece I was expecting, this is instead a direct prequel to the original movie (A New Hope, or episode 4, or however we refer to it!) filling in events that happen just before 1977, as mentioned in that famous text scrolling up the screen. And boy, what events! This is what people hoped for from a Star Wars prequel – not the politics of Naboo, but the running and shooting and bleeding of a rebellion making a come back.

We follow Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who, after a bit of a traumatic childhood, wants nothing to do with either side of the rebellion. But with a new ‘star killer’ weapon being spoken about in hushed tones, it seems that the rebellion might not be done with her – not when she’s the daughter of the Empire’s most noted weapons developer…

While I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue One, I would suggest that it is primarily a film for the fans – not in a bad way, but to be honest I was a tad disappointed with how much reference there was to the original film, given I remember so little of it. Enough to see that there was a lot of ‘clever’ tying in, but with that level of frustration that I just wasn’t appreciating enough of it all. I’d really like a clear ‘this is the story of it all, in one place, go read it’ kind of a thing – otherwise this is a universe that really pays to have that fanaticism about, or risk being left just a little in the cold. ymmv, of course.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy anyway. The movie is just gorgeous to look at, the action is fantastic, and the characters are all very non-annoying (a lesson that apparently took some learning through the six seven previous instalments ;)). I particularly loved new robot, K2, who has just all the best lines – the whole audience was laughing at/with him. On the other side, there are a few familiar faces, and a few ‘hmm’ uses of technology to make some of those tie-ins to the original. Plus, the whole tone is – rather unavoidably – rather dark.

Recommended? Yes, for fans and not-so-fantaticals alike. But be prepared to want to go watch eps. 4-6 (again), if only to ‘get’ some of the tie-ins and a sense of the darkness here only preceding that ‘new hope’.

Released: 15th December 2016
Viewed: 16th December 2016
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10 – it was good, but I slightly resent the push to go be a bigger fan! 😉

The Masked City – Genevieve Cogman

“The London air was full of smog and filth.”

I really loved the imagination in the first book of this series, The Invisible Library, even though I didn’t quite think the elements of the story quite lived up to high expectations. Still, it was more than enough to make me grab for the second installment!

Following on from the adventures of the previous novel, Irene now finds herself Librarian in Residence of that same world, and is settling well enough into her undercover role. However, when her apprentice, Kai, is kidnapped, the peculiarities of his heritage make the whole situation not just dangerous, but possible catastrophic for the whole world.

Forced to treat with both Dragons – keepers of order – and Fae – epitomes of chaos, Irene is transported by a train which may well be part of the Wild Hunt to a version of Venice forever at carnival. It’s not just the party masks on show, but the more subtle kind worn by all the players, as they try to hide their real games. Isolated in enemy territory, Irene must find and rescue Kai – but at what sacrifice?

I’m pleased to say that I think The Masked City manages to avoid most of the flaws of the first novel. That wasn’t the author’s first work, but this definitely reads like a more mature and polished effort, from a stronger plot to less cliched characters. Indeed, I really liked Irene here, after finding her a little too perfect in the first outing. Perhaps my only complaint here is the magic being a little too easily used – despite several scenes protesting otherwise – to solve every problem as they rack up at the end. Still, the adventure levels remain high throughout, and it’s lovely to have the heroine rescuing the prince, for a change 😉

Thoroughly looking forward to The Burning Page, due December 2016, and thrilled to see another 2 books planned afterwards (according to GoodReads).

Kindle: 357 pages / 27 chapters
First published: 2015
Series: The Invisible Library book 2
Read from 30th September – 8th October 2016

My rating: 8/10

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

In every world there are those born with shall we say extraordinary abilities. In some realities, they go to school to train to fight and grow up to be X-Men. In Miss Peregrine’s world, however, they are called ‘peculiar’ and hidden away in time loops, staying children forever, but hopefully safe from the monsters who quite literally want to eat their eyes.

Like the rest of us who still haven’t managed to read Ransom Rigg’s book of the same name, Jake (Asa Butterfield) knows nothing about any of this until his grandfather is attacked. Suddenly it looks as if the old man’s stories might not be so outrageous after all, and Jake convinces his extremely staid parents to let him go to Wales to visit the children’s home his grandfather grew up in. Saying it’s for closure, Jake secretly hopes to find out if the stories are true…

Of course, they are, and stranger than you’d imagine. Invisible boys, floating girls, mouths in the back of skulls – peculiar and grim. And perfect subject matter for director Tim Burton’s trademark weirdness, you’d think. And yet, this is his most restrained movie in years, almost to the point of being too understated!

There was simply something missing for me from this movie, some bigger sense of fun, which was all the stranger given the director in question. But it all seemed just a little… lacking, somehow. Plodding, in some ways. Even the wonderful cast (of adults, at least) seem to flounder a little: Chris O’Dowd is hampered with a terrible American accent, Samuel L Jackson slips into Pulp Fiction mode inappropriately, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp – all barely in it. Only Eva Green comes out well, in my opinion, her wonderful off-kilter accent adding perfectly to the bird-like quality with which she imbues her character.

Overall, then, this just rather failed to impress me. It could have been so much more fun, but just fell a bit flat, for no single reason I can put my finger on.

Released: 30th September 2016
Viewed: 1st October 2016
Running time: 127 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10