Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

solo poster

Han Solo: cool, suave, cheeky grin. Shoots first, knows you love him. Almost certainly the best character in Star Wars. And once did the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, don’t ya know?

I had mixed feelings about this film – going in, and coming out. I like the Star Wars universe, it’s got a lot going for it that we maybe haven’t seen the best of via the main movies. So sure, let’s have another story set here, where aliens and humans and droids and all sorts of things mingle on planets of every type not just deserts, honest. I’m not entirely sure it needed to be this story, though: did we really need that cool-guy mythos broken down and laid out quite so much?

That aside, Solo is a fun watch. There’s a teenie little bit of the social commentary stuff that led to such a slow chunk of The Force Awakens, but mostly it’s just action, some laughs, more action, and plenty of nods to events and knowledge that viewers of the original movies will ‘get’.

I think the cast did very well here, especially Alden Ehrenreich with his near-impossible task of being Harrison Ford – he’s not as cool, but I suppose will grow into it 😉 Stand out for me was probably Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid L3, done with such swagger and a chip on her shoulder the size of (“that’s not”) a moon (!). I wasn’t quite so taken with Paul Bettany’s baddie, but that might have been finding his menace less disturbing than why he had a face full of stretch marks o_O

Plot-wise it’s got few surprises, but it does try to cram quite a lot into the 2 and a quarter hours to stop you thinking too much. And that’s rather what I like from a trip to the cinema!

Released: 24th May 2018
Viewed: 25th May 2018
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10 –  I think this would have been better as a complete stand-alone rather than a prequel, tbh

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Ready Player One (2018)

ready player one poster

In the not-too-distant future, a virtual reality environment known as the Oasis has captured the minds of most of the human race. Why deal with your unhappy reality, when you can be anything you want, go anywhere you want, and do anything you want, in an environment that feels as real as real.

Five years before we start the movie, the Oasis’s creator, James Halliday, dies. But he’s left a final game for the players of the world: if they can find three keys hidden in challenges throughout the virtual worlds, one winner will inherit all of Halliday’s wealth – and control of the Oasis itself.

Everyone is after the prize, from ‘clans’ of players to corporations, and individuals like Wade aka Parzival, a massive geek and Halliday fanboy. Five years have passed and no one has found any clue – is that about to change?

I read the book this is based on a few years back, and while I quite enjoyed it I didn’t buy into the massive hype that surrounded it at the time. Conversely, I actually really enjoyed the movie and think a lot of the criticisms thrown at it are rather weak. If anything, I think the movie has smoothed over a few of the bits that didn’t work quite so well, such as Wade’s apartment life, making for a slightly tighter story. Some changes don’t work quite so well, like having the characters meet much sooner in real life, but are needed for the more visual medium, I reckon.

And talking of visuals: excellent! This is a virtual reality done by Spielberg, no surprise it looks pretty ace.

One complaint I heard before going that I’d like to take issue with: women do not get a raw deal in this movie, imo. The lead is male, but he’s not perfect, and the females around him get to kick butt and solve puzzles too.

Overall: I rather enjoyed this! It’s exactly what I would have wanted from the book adaptation and more, and it’s a hugely enjoyable romp through pop culture.

Released: 28th March 2018
Viewed: 2nd April 2018
Running time: 140 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

jumanji poster

This sequel to Jumanji (1995) shakes things up a bit: the game itself takes the dismissive “who plays board games anymore?” to heart and evolves into a video game. And instead of releasing its dangers into the world, this time it’s going to suck its unwitting players into the heart of the jungle itself. And, perhaps my favourite alteration, once inside the game the four teenage leads are transformed into their character avatars, meaning we get The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan playing ‘teenagers’ trapped in very different bodies.

The laughs are mainly around this body-swap idea, with the scrawny geek now a muscle-bound fighting machine, the self-absorbed selfie queen finding herself now a tubby, middle-aged man (as shown in trailers), etc etc. There’s a hefty dollop of self-discovery to be had along the way, of course, as our team face myriad dangers and amusing video game tropes, like the NPCs with limited dialogue capabilities.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this, especially as I hadn’t been a big fan of the original. Losing the younger cast helped a lot, for me, and the adult actors are all pretty spot on. Even Kevin Hart, who annoyed me greatly in his last collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, Central Intelligence (2016), fits really well.

It’s far from perfect – oh, what is?! – but I was pleasantly surprised and found this to be amusing and fun. Recommended for a Sunday afternoon, or when you need a daft pick-me-up.

Released: 20th December 2017
Viewed: 17th February 2018
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

The Last Jedi (2017)

Last Jedi poster

Phew – I can relax, no one can ‘get’ me with spoilers for the Biggest Movie Event of the Year (TM) now that I’ve seen it! I’ll provide none of my own, don’t worry.

I’ve always felt I was just the wrong age to be a huge Star Wars fan, and while I’m a huge (wannabe) geek I’ve always had that feeling that I’m just not into it enough to appreciate all the hype. I missed out on the original trilogy largely, I was less than enthused by the prequel trio, and while I rather enjoyed 2015’s The Force Awakens (aka episode 7) it felt more like a rehash of the original – yes, it was fun and I liked it but… it was missing something, some spark of originality or soul, perhaps?

I was a little surprised, then, when The Last Jedi side-swiped me into being the film that is finally making me geek out a LOT over this whole franchise! 🙂

Without mentioning specifics, this has a lot going for it: a more original storyline, lots of character development all ’round, cute critters in the form of porgs, some familiar faces, some new blood adding positively to the film. I laughed more than I expected – there are some genuinely funny moments, and it’s a huge boost to see a juggernaut like this not taking itself too seriously. And of course it looks spectacular, and is just chock-full of adventure and action and everything that makes Star Wars Star Wars!

It’s not perfect. I was a little puzzled by some of the plot threads, which were perhaps a little bit… pointless, dare I say? There were a few moments of “Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?!?!” and other slight logic flaws. The things that were maybe waiting for an explanation that either didn’t happen, or just were a bit underwhelming.

And then there are the visuals that make all of that just melt away. The eye candy is everywhere, from background details to fantastic wildlife: crystal foxes and the soon-to-be-ubiquitous porgs. The use of the colour red is particularly ‘wow’, from Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room to the planet where the very ground seems to bleed.

I had thought going in that 2.5 hours was going to feel like a long movie, but it really didn’t. I was genuinely swept up in the fun of the adventure, and the sense that there is a lot more story still to come. Finally, I think, I might be starting to understand a bit about the huge appeal of this universe!

Released: 14th December 2017
Viewed: 16th December 2017
Running time: 152 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian poster

Based on a French comic book, Valerian and Laureline, this movie sees these two Special Agents trying to save the titular City of a Thousand Planets – that is, a space station peacefully hosting hundreds of different alien species – from a mysterious threat.

Reviews have been pretty scathing about Valerian, and I would have to agree with most of them: the plot is both weak and convoluted, the acting is barely adequate, and even the title is insulting, leaving out the other main character who turns out to be probably more kick-ass than her male counterpart. Pfft. And as someone said: removing the painful attempts at ‘romance’ would have made for a far superior movie – it’s borderline creepy at points, tbh.

And yet, it’s still worth the watch. In fact, despite saying all of the above, I’d still go back to see it tomorrow – because it looks gorgeous. So yes, I can put up with a so-so plot and meh characters, and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Knowing this comes from Fifth Element director, Luc Besson, perhaps explains some of the visual marvel. I don’t think this is anywhere near as good – mind, I do love FE – but it’s definitely going to be one I leave on when it’s on the telly, purely to look at.

The one part of the movie I did think they nailed absolutely is the opening montage. Perfectly accompanied by the wondrous Space Oddity (David Bowie), we see the next 800 years of human space exploration encapsulated in a series of meet’n’greets aboard the growing ISS. It’s a hugely touching reminder than humanity can be non-jerks, at times.

The rest drifts off a little into a series of semi-random adventures for Valerian (a wooden Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne and her power eyebrows), including a subplot about a dream that feels like it’s from a different draft of the movie. Still, there are some fun alien species along the way, some well-realised (virtual) sets including a marketplace in another dimension (the future of Amazon, perhaps?), and a pretty good score to keep the feet tapping.

Go in – as I did – with low expectations, and have a little fun!

Released: 2nd August 2017
Viewed: 9th August 2017
Running time: 137 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Take one washed-up pirate, two young people who can bicker at each other until the inevitable get together, and a host of CGI nasties chasing our ‘heroes’ as they go questing for a mythical object. I’m not entirely sure which of the Pirates franchise I’m talking about, to be honest – but let’s be generous, and say this one is a nice, ‘soft reboot’ of the first movie o_O

The fifth instalment, known as either Salazar’s Revenge or Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending where you live, is getting very mixed reviews. To be honest, I’m not sure where the out-and-out hatred is coming from, because if you liked any of the previous movies then there’s very little of difference here to find so disappointing. That of course could be the disappointment, but hey – you know what you’re getting in to!

I actually quite liked Johnny Depp here. It’s a damn shame that Captain Jack is the only thing he’s been watchable as in ages, but it’s a nice return to the character – I didn’t quite think it slipped into parody of earlier performances, although some have argued this.

The new would-be couple, replacing (well…!) Orlando and Keira, are fine – nothing extraordinary (although the whole “I’m a horologist!” scene might have been a highlight of mine!), but equally not irritating (hey, I have low asks in these situations!). Predictable? Well, of course, but then so is the whole movie!

The main difference is the baddie, this time played by Javier Bardem, who is a pirate-killer tricked into a living death and now out for revenge. Some people are hailing him as the one good part of this movie, but to be honest I’ve always found the villains a little pantomime, and I’m not 100% swayed from that here. YMMV, of course. Either way, the CGI is a spectacle to behold.

Overall, this does have to lose points for being entirely unoriginal, completely predictable, and borderline hamming itself up. On the other hand, it was 2 hours of big screen nonsense done pretty well, and entirely fun for it.

I managed to miss the post-credit scene (d’oh!), but to be honest I rather do have mixed feelings about its supposed setting-up for an instalment 6. Hmm!

Released: 26th May 2017
Viewed: 30th May 2017
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

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