Deepwater Horizon
2016
***½
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Trace Adkins, Brad Leland

Peter Berg’s tense drama depicts the events of April 20th, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico when an explosion and fire on Deepwater Horizon, a semi-submersible oil rig, caused the largest oil spill in history. Mike Williams is an electronics technician, husband, and father who starts his three-week shift on the platform just when things come to a head. This captivating disaster movie is based mostly on fact, although the script cannot resist setting up a traditional clash between the moneygrubbing corporate thugs and the honest hardworking bluecollar workers. Based on Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours by David Barstow, David Rohde, and Stephanie Saul.


Split
2016

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Neal Huff, M. Night Shyamalan

Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has 23 different personalities, kidnaps three teenage girls as offerings to the Beast, the emerging 24th personality who is a psychopathic monster. After his breakthrough with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan has made a number of incredibly stupid and predictably twisty horror films. The good news is that this one reveals its secrets early on and gets silly only when the Beast arrives. The bad news is that the film is mind-numbingly boring from start to finish. It starts like any low budget exploitation flick, with the three girls imprisoned in an underground hideout and taking turns in shedding their clothes, but the story drags from one boring conversation to the next. As impressive as James McAvoy is in his multiple roles, the repetitive personality switches eventually wore me down. The very last scene links the whole thing to Shyamalan’s back catalogue. Followed by Glass (2019).


X-Men: Days of Future Past
2014
***
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart

In 2023, robots knows as Sentinels are wiping out the entire mutant population. Using her powers, Kitty Pryde sends Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to halt the development of the Sentinels. The follow-up to X-Men: First Class brings together the casts of the original X-Men series and the prequels. Before I could figure out how Professor X is alive in the future and how Magneto has restored his powers, my head went spinning from the alternate timeline which wipes out most of what I have seen in the original trilogy and The Wolverine. Taken as a standalone movie, this is an entertaining time travel adventure, even if the plot rips off Terminator. However, as part of the X-Men franchise, this is a confusing bundle of contradictions. Followed by X-Men: Apocalypse.


How to Train Your Dragon 2
2014
***
Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plassem, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Honsou, Kit Harington

In Berk, humans and dragons now live happily side by side. In the outside world, however, Hiccup and Toothless discover a mysterious dragon sanctuary, which they must attempt to protect from Drago Bludvist who is about to build an army. How to Train Your Dragon was a fresh and inventive animation with a nice set of characters. The sequel is perfectly enjoyable but somewhat mechanical. Hiccup enjoys deeply personal high and lows, but the story delivers very few surprises otherwise. Almost everyone rides a dragon now and the last third introduces us to another big one, very much like the first movie. Followed by How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019).


Avengers: Endgame
2019
****½
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Gwyneth Paltrow

After the tragic climax of Avengers: Infinity War, the Avengers have split up and moved on with their lives. When Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm, there is suddenly hope that this magical dimension could hold the key to reverting the past events. Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2008. Now 11 years and 22 releases later, the Infinity Saga concludes with an epic finale. There is the inevitable final showdown with Thanos, but also a clever and unsentimental trip through some of the past movies in the saga. The three hours feature some of the most moving and funniest scenes in the studio’s output. The movie is not perfect, but with this much to wrap up, it is probably as great as it can be.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2017
****
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Željko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Samara Weaving, Kerry Condon

Mildred Hayes is an embittered mother who rents three billboards outside the town of Ebbing to bring attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her 17-year-old daughter. This brings her at loggerheads with Jason Dixon, a heavy-drinking and short-tempered redneck cop. Martin McDonagh’s entertaining and foul-mouthed dark comedy offers a lovely slice of small town americana. The film features a terrific collection of characters, most of whom are capable of both good and evil. Although many of these characters are based on stereotypes, they are wonderfully drawn and played, apart from Abbie Cornish, who is just miscast (the script doesn’t explain how a small town sheriff ended up marrying a beautiful foreign woman 20 years his junior). Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell both won Academy Awards for their stellar performances.


Shazam!
2019
***
Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Adam Brody

Billy Batson is a troubled 14-year-old orphan who is desperate to find his mother. Just as he is moving into another foster home, Billy is swooped to the Rock of Eternity where an ancient wizard gives him powers that allow Billy to turn into a grown-up superhero every time he speaks out the name Shazam. So far, DC Extended Universe has failed to win me over. Apart from the OK Wonder World, the output has been drab. With this origin story, DC takes a leaf out of Marvel’s book and attempts to create something that is actually entertaining. The early parts with the newly discovered superpowers are enjoyable, even if we’ve seen these types of scenes several times in the recent years. The latter parts are not equally successful. The climactic battle is long and forgettable, and the villain never amounts to much.


Phantom Thread
2017
****
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, George Glasgow, Brian Gleeson, Harriet Sansom Harris

Reynolds Woodcock is an esteemed fashion designer with a highly controlling personality. He meets young Alma Elson, a young woman who becomes his assistant, muse, and lover. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest period film is set in London in the 1950s. It is a beautifully staged and subtly acted Hitchcockian drama about an unusual and intense relationship between two obsessive people. Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful in (possibly) his last screen performance. Mark Bridges won an Academy Award winner for his costume design.


The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
2019
**½
Director: Mike Mitchell
Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph

The Lego Movie took the world by surprise. This sequel must not only try and match or top the fresh and inventive original, but make amends for the mediocre The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, which badly diluted the franchise. Five years have passed and Bricksburg has become a post-apocalyptic ghost town. When Lucy, Batman, and his other friends are kidnapped and taken to the Systar System in the Duplo universe, Emmet must find the hero inside him. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who co-wrote and co-directed the first movie, are back with a script which offers a natural if somewhat predictable extension to the story. The good news is that the characters maintain their likeability and the soundtrack features another guaranteed earworm (titled Catchy Song). The bad news is that the franchise hasn’t come up with anything new, and the old shtick has become way too familiar by now.


La La Land
2016
*****
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Jessica Rothe, Snoya Mizuno, Callie Hernandez, J.K. Simmons, Tom Everett Scott

Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is an idealistic jazz pianist. The two fall in love while they pursue their dreams in Los Angeles. Like New York, New York (thankfully without the verbal and mental abuse Martin Scorsese made us sit through), this is a story about two ambitious creative people who have trouble finding time for each other and about the city in which they live. Damien Chazelle kicks off his romantic musical with an in-your-face music and dance number set in a freeway traffic jam. However, after this bold and somewhat alienating opening, I was totally swept along by the central characters, the beautifully woven story, and the catchy tunes. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are excellent in the leading roles, and Chazelle stages a few unforgettable set pieces, such as the what if? scene towards the end. The film won Academy awards for directing, acting (Stone), cinematography, production design, score, and best original song (City of Stars).


Rampage
2018
**½
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton

A primatologist and geneticist attempt to avert disaster when a wolf, crocodile, and albino gorilla are exposed to a secretly developed pathogen which turns the animals into massive aggressive beasts. This silly and formulaic but surprisingly enjoyable action movie is loosely based on a video game series. Apart from great casting and the bombastic actions scenes, there’s not much to write home about. The clunky dialogue is mostly used to provide exposition, the villain is laughably one-dimensional, and some of the visual effects are not top quality.


Captain Marvel
2019
***½
Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law

After a botched mission, an amnesiac Kree soldier named Vers crashlands on Earth in 1995. While she attempts to restore her suppressed memories and steer clear of the shapeshifting Skrulls on her tail, she teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury. Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces another superhero, possibly the most powerful one in its roster. Captain Marvel gets an entertaining origin story, even if the movie is not quite as memorable as some of Marvel’s other recent output (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther, to mention a few). What seems like a straightforward plot, offers a lovely surprise, and there is plenty of wonderful banter between Larson and Jackson, whose computer-aided deaging is incredibly believable. The heroine returns in Avengers: Endgame.


Justice League
2017
**
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons

Following the death of Superman, Bruce Wayne assembles a team of superheroes which includes Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. They take on Steppenwolf, who plans to unite the powers of the three Mother Boxes which were once divided between the Amazons, Atlantaen, and humans. After the entertaining anomaly of Wonder Woman, the DC Extended Universe is back to its underwhelming self. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were artistic and commercial flops, but for some reason Zack Snyder is still at the helm. To his credit, this boring mess was partly reshot by Joss Whedon, the man behind The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, possibly two of the clunkiest spectacles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The superhero team and their respective abilities are poorly defined, the villain lacks any personality, the dialogue is mostly a collection of big rousing speeches, and Ben Affleck’s performance is distractingly wooden (Batman is so permanently depressed that even his mask has frown lines). Wonder Woman and Flash provide the few enjoyable moments during the two hours. Like he has demonstrated before, Snyder’s idea of an action set piece is to create a murky and artificial CG world, and then smash things up for what seems an eternity. It’s more than ten years since he made his name with 300, but he still overuses the speed up and and slow down trick as though it was invented yesterday.


Johnny English Reborn
2011
**½
Director: Oliver Parker
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike, Daniel Kaluuya, Richard Schiff

Since his massive cock-up in Mozambique (D’ohzambique!), Johnny English has been hiding and training in Tibet. Now MI7 brings him back to prevent the assassination of the Chinese premier. Johnny English was a modestly funny James Bond parody, and the sequel provides decent entertainment for 90 minutes. One moment the hero is a bumbling idiot, the next he’s a bona fide action hero. Some comedy and action set pieces work, while others feel a bit laboured. Followed by Johnny English Strikes Again (2018).


Tully
2018
****
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston

After giving birth to her third child, Marlo is overwhelmed by exhaustion. Her brother offers to pay for a night nanny so she can get some sleep, and she quickly forms a close bond with this young care-free woman. Diablo Cody, who wrote Juno (and Young Adult) reunites with Jason Reitman to tell another smart and insightful story about motherhood. There are laughs and tears, and a twist that worked for me. Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis give excellent performances.


Borg (Borg vs McEnroe)
2017
**½
Director: Janus Metz Pedersen
Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Robert Emms, Jason Forbes, Björn Granath, Scott Arthur, Tom Datnow

In the summer of 1980, ice-cool Swedish tennis ace Björn Borg is looking to win his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, but first he must defeat his abrasive American rival John McEnroe. Like the original title says, this Scandinavian sports biopic focuses mainly on Borg, but McEnroe gets his share of the screen time as well. Although the men seem very different, the film attempts to show that deep down they are very similar. The story about the rivalry is interesting, but compared to something like Rush, it creates very little drama or excitement.


Kingsman: The Secret Service
2014
***
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Samantha Womack, Mark Hamill, Jack Davenport

Just as Internet billionaire Richmond Valentine is getting ready to carry out his diabolical plan, a smart but troubled young man named Eggsy is offered a chance to follow in his father’s footsteps and join Kingsman, a privately financed organisation of gentleman spies. Like Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn’s latest subversive action romp is based on a comic book by Mark Millar (and Dave Gibbons). The set-up with the Kingsman organisation reminded me of the Fraternity in the awful Wanted, which was incidentally also based on Millar’s work, but thankfully not too much. Vaughn’s movie is a perfectly entertaining way to spend two hours, but apart from a memorably gruesome action set piece inside a church, it doesn’t offer anything I haven’t seen before. Followed by Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017).


Roma
2018
****
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina, Carlos Peralta, Nancy García, Verónica García

Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical black and white drama is set in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in 1970-1971. Cleo is a live-in maid who works for a middle-class family with four children. While the country is going through great upheaval, Cleo finds herself pregnant and the mistress of the household must break the news to her children that their father is not coming back home. This beautifully shot film takes a while to get going, but it eventually amounts to a very moving depiction of two strong women. The male protagonists (or the men in entire Mexico), however, don’t come off looking that good. Alfonso Cuarón won Oscars for directing, cinematography, and for best foreign language film.


Ant-Man and the Wasp
2018
****
Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas

Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang is under house arrest. However, Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne need Scott’s help to rescue Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, who they believe is still alive in the quantum realm. Ant-Man was a clever but slightly formulaic origin story. The sequel can cut straight to the chase, and the result is fast-paced, playful, and very funny. Instead of a traditional villain, the story provides an array of well-defined characters, and the movie is all the better for it. The ending brings the franchise in the same timeline with Avengers: Infinity War.


Thor: The Dark World
2013
**½
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo

When Jane Foster is possessed by Aether, an ancient weapon that turns matter to dark matter, Thor brings her to Asgard, which is subsequently attacked by Malekith and his army of dark elves who need the very same Aether. The first Thor was an uneven superhero movie whose best scenes were all set on Earth. Sadly the sequel spends hardly any time there. The story picks up from The Avengers, with Loki now in custody. The events that unfold are important for the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe story arc, but as a standalone piece this is murky and unremarkable. A forgettable villain doesn’t help matters. The hero returns in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Thor: Ragnarok.


Ralph Breaks the Internet
2018
***½
Director: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill

Lately Vanellope has become bored with her mundane life, much to the dismay of her happy and content BFF Ralph. Now the two must venture out to the Internet, but is their friendship strong enough to survive the trip? Wreck-it Ralph was a clever but derivative animation about the gaming world. This smart and highly enjoyable sequel actually tops the original. The various layers of the online world (search engines, trending, online shopping, virus threats, etc.) are inventively visualised and wonderfully incorporated into a moving story which argues that friendship is a two-way street.


Star Trek Beyond
2016
***½
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Joe Taslim, Sofia Boutella

A long three year expedition has worn out the crew of USS Enterprise. No wonder that they are easily ambushed near the planet Altamid. Kirk and Spock, who both have doubts about their future in the Starfleet, must rescue part of the crew and find a way off the planet. J.J. Abrams set the bar high with Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. Justin Lin, who made his name directing (so far) four of the brainless but stupendously popular Fast & Furious blockbusters, takes the helm for the third movie. Thankfully this is another highly entertaining scifi action movie, even if the script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung doesn’t offer too many surprises. It is filled with scientific mumbo jumbo, though.


Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
2014
**
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Dan Stevens, Ben Kingsley, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson, Skyler Gisondo, Rami Malek, Patrick Callagher, Mizuo Peck

Night at the Museum was good harmless fun, but it didn’t cry out for a sequel. No surprise then that Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian turned out to be an utterly boring retread of the first movie. The third and final part of the series offers one or two enjoyable gags, but it is unable to make a case for its existence, just like the first sequel. Now the Tablet of Ahkmenra, which brings the museum exhibits to life, is starting to lose its powers. Larry the night watchman, his son, and some of the exhibits must take the tablet to the British Museum in London.


Blade Runner 2049
2017
**½
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

K is a Nexus-9 model replicant and LAPD officer who is tasked with putting down the obsoleted older android models. He learns that almost 30 years ago one of them gave birth to a child, which was not believed to be possible. While K is haunted by memories which could be either real or implanted, his next assignment is to find this child. Denis Villeneuve’s belated sequel to Ridley Scott’s influential Blade Runner is as stylish and reverent as one could hope. Every scene, shot, set, sound, and piece of costume is designed to within an inch of its life, which is just as well because the story seems so ordinary after 35 years of poor man’s Blade Runners and numerous inventive dystopia movies. The 1982 film didn’t exactly tuck at my heartstrings, but it was compelling and original throughout. The sequel is long, slow-paced, and self-important, and it feels like nothing is at stake. When the cast of characters is comprised of replicants, AI holograms, a cybernetically enhanced villain, and about 2 or 3 robotic humans, I find it very difficult to care how it all turns out. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard, but he adds nothing apart from continuity. The visual effects and Roger Deakins’ atmospheric cinematography won Academy Awards.


The Post
2017
***½
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Michael Stuhlbarg

In 1971, Katharine Graham, the owner of Washington Post, is about to list the newspaper on the stock exchange. When the Post acquires classified government reports that could expose a far-reaching cover-up related to the war in Vietnam, Katharine must decide if she is willing to risk the paper’s and her own future. Steven Spielberg’s no-nonsense drama celebrates the First Amendment right to free speech, which has become an extremely topical issue under the Trump administration. This true story proceeds pretty much as expected, but thanks to assured directing and wonderful acting, the film is consistently captivating. Meryl Streep as the timid heroine and Tom Hanks as the principled editor are great. This is a lovely companion piece to All the President’s men, which charted the newspaper’s further heroics in journalism.


Trolls
2016
**
Director: Mike Mitchell
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden, Gwen Stefani

The small, colourful, and jolly Trolls like to sing, dance, and hug. One moment their lives are cupcakes and rainbows, the next they are captured by the Bergens, their ancient nemeses, who believe they must eat a Troll to become happy. Poppy and her paranoid friend Branch venture out to save the others. Unlike The Lego Movie, which was also based on a toyline, this candy-coloured animation doesn’t offer inspiration, only extremely formulaic storytelling and characters who burst into song every few minutes.


Mielensäpahoittaja (The Grump)
2014
**
Director: Dome Karukoski
Cast: Antti Litja, Petra Frey, Mari Perankoski, Iikka Forss, Viktor Drevitski, Kari Ketonen, Mikko Neuvonen, Bruno Puolakainen, Janne Reinikainen, Alina Tomnikov

The elderly nameless protagonist is an old school hick who is permanently at odds with the modern world. After injuring himself in a fall, he is forced to live with his son’s family in the city. In Tuomas Kyrö’s enjoyable radio plays and books, this old grump was a lonely disgruntled voice who vented out his frustrations in several comically observed letters. The film adaptation attempts to turn this subjective observer into a believable three-dimensional character, and the end result is like a reverse Mr. Chance, an old man who is blissfully unaware how rude, annoying, and politically incorrect he is. In the process, Dome Karukoski has changed the genre from comedy to drama. However, I didn’t find myself laughing or touched. Maybe the books are simply unfilmable.


Solo: A Star Wars Story
2018
***½
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany

On the planet Corellia, young Han Solo is separated from his lover Qi’ra, but he vows to come back for her. Three years later, Han is still trying to scrape enough money together to buy his own ship. When he joins a band of criminals who are planning to steal a valuable shipment of coaxium, his path unexpectedly crosses with Qi’ra. Rogue One was a somber bore that grossed a billion dollars worldwide. The second movie in the Star Wars Anthology series is an enjoyable action romp which tanked at the box office. Go figure! Although the movie doesn’t feature any usual Star Wars tropes, such as Jedis and lightsabers, the script by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan doesn’t spring many surprises. We learn Han Solo’s backstory and see how he meets Chewbacca and acquires Millennium Falcon. Ron Howard replaced the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and he stages several terrific action set pieces; the train heist is my personal favourite. Alden Ehrenreich gives a nice performance as the roguish hero.


Avengers: Infinity War
2018
****½
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt

In the last ten years, the world has witnessed an unprecedented, meticulously coordinated release of Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero movies. It began with the origin stories of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. The indivual characters first came together in The Avengers, and now, a few more new franchises later, all the characters prepare for the final confrontation with evil. Thanos is determined to acquire all six Infinity Stones in order to complete his Infinity Gauntlet and wipe out half the universe; Dr. Strange and Vision possess one each. While Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange travel to Thanos’ homeworld, the Guardians of the Galaxy rescue Thor and the remaining Avengers prepare for the battle in Wakanda. This is by far the biggest, boldest, and grimmest movie in the series. The Russo brothers must juggle dozens of characters and stage action set pieces in several locations at once, and yet the end results is a funny, moving, thrilling, and totally coherent spectacle. This cycle of the story concludes in Avengers: Endgame.


Black Panther
2018
***½
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

To the outside world, Wakanda seems like another poor African country. In reality, however, it has been a technologically advanced nation for centuries thanks to its vast resources of vibranium. Now the country’s secret prosperity is at risk when a mysterious outsider challenges T’Challa, the newly crowned king and Black Panther, a superhero powered by the heart-shaped herb. Following the death of his father, Black Panther made a brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War, and now he gets his own moment in the sun. He is one of the more intriguing and unusual characters in the Marvel roster, and Ryan Coogler’s movie is slick and assuredly entertaining. However, Marvel should introduce some new ideas to their origin stories. We’ve seen Iron Man, Hulk, and Ant-Man fight evil versions of themselves in their first outings, and now it’s inevitably Black Panther’s turn. An Academy Award winner for costume design, production design, and score. The character returns in Avengers: Infinity War.


The Disaster Artist
2017
***½
Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver

In the late 1990s, Greg Sestero befriends the mysterious, eccentric, and oddly wealthy Tommy Wiseau. The two move to L.A., but when their acting careers deservedly fail to take off, Tommy decides to fix this by writing, directing, and producing his own movie. James Franco’s enjoyable comedy depicts the making of The Room (2003), a critical and commercial bomb which has since become a cult classic. Although the film doesn’t quite hit the same heights as Tim Burton’s brilliant Ed Wood, which offered a perfect blend of humour and pathos, this is another lovingly detailed portrayal of a talentless filmmaker who has a high opinion of himself. James Franco gives an irritating but wonderfully nuanced lead performance. Adapted from the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.


Get Smart
2008
**½
Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Terry Crews, Bill Murray, Ryan Seacrest, Patrick Warburton, Blake Clark, Cedric Yarbrough, Vinicius Machado

When the identities of its field operatives are compromised, CONTROL must promote the bumbling Maxwell Smart from a data analyst to an agent and partner him with Agent 99 in an attempt to halt the plans of KAOS. Get Smart was an enjoyably silly TV series which ran from 1965 to 1970. This modern day adaptation is quite faithful, but the emphasis is on action rather than comedy. There are certainly some laughs, but the jokes come so infrequently that they almost seem out of place when they arrive. The resulting movie is likeable throughout, but not great at any point. The performances are good, though.


Incredibles 2
2018
***½
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, Eli Fucile, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Bill Wise, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks

Although 14 years have passed, this belated second movie continues right where The Incredibles ended. Superheroes are illegal again, but a wealthy businessman and his techy sister offer to make them popular again. While Elastigirl gets to fight the mysterious villain Screenslaver, Mr. Incredible must stay home and look after the kids. Since the inventive original came out, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and to lesser extent DC Extended Universe) releases have swamped the screens and broken numerous box office records. In this context, the predictable and unnecessary sequel comes too late. However, as an animation this is still smart and highly entertaining.


It
2017
**
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Thomas, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan, Grazer. Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott

In the town of Derry, people are six times more likely to die or disappear than anywhere else. In the summer of 1989, Bill and his group of high school friends all share visions of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a scary being who could be behind the disappearings. Although Stephen King’s 1986 novel was an obvious influence on Strange Things, after two wonderful seasons of Netflix’s 1980s throwback series, this adaptation feels awfully derivative, not least because it moves the book’s events from the 1950s to the 1980s so that the sequel can take place in the present day. After more than two boring hours of doors creaking and slamming, and character venturing alone into dark basements, creepy abandoned houses, or dripping underground sewers, I must assume that director Andy Muschietti has never watched a horror film in his life. The novel was previously adapted to a miniseries in 1990.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
2017
***½
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell

The over-hyped Guardians of the Galaxy was an enigma to me. Although based on a Marvel comic book series, the entire endeavour felt as though the studio had taken a handful of character rejects from existing franchises and built a new one around them. The second time around, I could accept this universe with all its flaws, and found it rather enjoyable. The sequel features relationships that I can care about, dialogue that actually made me laugh, and action set pieces which are big and bombastic but nicely comprehensible. As the Guardians attempt to steer clear of the enraged golden High Priestess of the Sovereign, they run into Ego, a god-like being who claims to be Peter’s Quill’s long lost father. The characters return in Avengers: Infinity War.