Developed by Vivid Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
The run and gun is a simple concept.
Fire your weapon, defeat the bad guys, avoid being killed - it's a basic formula, easy to master, and yet also easy to mess up.
Space Pioneer on the Switch, in truth, falls somewhere in the middle.
It's a basic concept - you're a kind of ranger, mercenary type, who's tasked with simply going to different worlds during various chapters, firing your weapon, killing the creatures and performing simple tasks like taking artifacts, destroying hives and defeating marauding waves before warping out.
Objectives are filtered in to secondary and primary, but all essential to get the relevant stars to open up other planets for you to explore and to try and stop the intergalactic threat that awaits in the background.
Space Pioneer is kind of disposable fun, but yet it also sometimes too shallow to play long term - it's definitely here for the bitesize audience to enjoy, and offers some chances of easy progression because of the short nature of the levels.
Yet once you begin to upgrade, the game takes on newer forms and better weapons aid you in your quests - it's all fairly by the numbers kind of stuff, but it takes on a sort of compulsion that you'd least expect once the need to level up comes in, and the required amount of stars fall short.
Graphically the game is nothing inspirational, but it is fairly passable fare, it's a port that's clearly been smoothed over and one which offers the fun it needs. Upgrades to the weapons and robots are nicely done, and the game itself gives enough of itself as it gets going.
Ultimately, Space Pioneer is a handheld pleasure. It may not reinvent the wheel, or challenge the format, but it delivers what it needs to on the tin.
The latest iteration of Gears of War series brings much to the table.
Exceptional graphics and cut scenes, a female lead in a shooter (sadly too uncommon) and a sense that the Gears series knows what it wants to do.
Putting you in the shoes of Kait,who's haunted by visions of the Locust triggered in the last game, Gears 5 sets you off on a mission that allows you to explore, rather than follow a traditional linear path.
Swarm attacks, exploration and just general mayhem with chainsaws and guns make the formula pop again this time around - but it's the sense of character that shines amid some of the chaos. The campaign's storyline is what makes the difference this time around, and gives you the reward of the sense of investment.
There are also other modes which makes Gears 5 worthy of time, and while the multiplayer isn't as good as the main storyline, it does still add an element of fun to proceedings, as well as doubling down on the need for tactics later on.
The murkier edges of the moral tones make the story more compelling ultimately and the fact characters are less of a stereotype proves a great boon for the Gears series, giving the player a reason to carry on.
All in all Gears 5 offers great promise for the franchise and for a series which has been ongoing since 2006 - it never loses its sense of what it should be, but it also has the smarts to evolve as it goes on.
Much like Tearepa Kahi's Poi E documentary did, Herbs: Songs of Freedom looks to pitch New Zealand of your youth against the socioeconomic backdrop of the reggae freedom fighters, Herbs.
Taking in the politics of the 80s in Bastion Point, against a background of a reforming Herbs, some four decades after they began, Kahi's doco has geniality written through as much as it has L&P coursing through its veins.
That is to say, initially, this is a nostalgia blast in some ways, a film that makes you remember those glorious never-ending summers and sets out an OST to your youth that hits you where it should.
However, more than just context, some flashy graphics (a neon coloured tape illustration is just one of the wonderful images that Kahi drops on to the screen) and some gorgeously shot images from Auckland's Harbour Bridge, is what's needed for Herbs: Songs of Freedom.
And for a large part, the doco fulfills that remit, capturing the intimate moments of the band then and now coming back together, seizing on moments from within the rehearsal hall and detailing how the band came to prominence when Stevie Wonder wouldn't play Western Springs in the 70s as a deluge blew in.
Yet, despite the vim and vigour of the start of the piece, the doco frustratingly fails to capture some of the more interesting narrative threads available. Hints of a bust up and some sour grapes that befell members of the band are alluded to, and not expanded upon. (Though it must be said that Kahi teases details out of various members, chiefly Dilworth Karaka, as if this is some great musical stoush the whole world already knew of.)
The final 30 minutes of the film drift into discord as well, turning the proceedings into Auckland's reunion concert and providing some incredible musical moments, but leaving you feeling like the doco's run out of things to say, but equally leaving you feeling extremely grateful for the music, and for the timelessness of the performers.
Ultimately, Herbs: Songs of Freedom does much to capture the zeitgeist of 80s New Zealand and once again demonstrates Kahi's heartland approach is a voice much needed in the film-making community.
But frustratingly the doco's overall feeling is one of could have been, and one which lacks the full coherence demonstrated by Poi E: The Story of Our Song.
That said it is one which will leave you tapping your toes in the aisle for two thirds of its generous heart.
Dreamworks' latest dials up the cute, channels a bit of Kubo and the Two Strings, and showcases Chinese leads - so in theory, it should be a home run.
But the tale of Yi (SHIELD's Chloe Bennet) and her quest to return a furry Yeti back to Everest at times suffers from an over-familiarity of themes and ideas, rendering parts of it too much like deja vu.
However, it's in the subtleties and the beautiful evocation of some of the sum of its parts that Abominable justifies itself on the big screen.
It's the visuals which soar in Abominable, not the characters. Sure, there's comedy Peng, the basketball-yearning youngster who bonds with Everest in a kind of dude-bro relationship that brings some of the funnies the kids will love; and there's a silly snake that pops up from time to time to amuse, but much of Abominable's characters are sadly forgotten when the film's over.
The aforementioned evocations of landscapes, of giant Buddha or of the lunacy of a blueberry attack from the sky soar, lifting the King Kong chase scenes early on from a kind of mental checking out that may attack parts of the audience during the film.
But when the group surf a field of yellow daffodils towards the end, Abominable finds its visual groove, a symphony of magical mixing with the mystical proving to be the bright vibrant compelling colour touch the script desperately needed.
Izzard is serviceable as an English villain named Burnish (a sly nod to a mix of Carl from UP and Mr Burns from the Simpsons - hence Burnish perhaps?), and Bennet has earnestness aplenty as Yi the strong and yet vulnerable heroine throughout. Animation on the Yeti is stunning, mixing Toothless visuals with white furry edges and blurring the line between pet pooch and cutesy Yeti with aplomb.
(Though little with the Yeti is better than the opening POV escape which hints at the menace within.)
Ultimately, heading into safe territory does much to harm Abominable's chances of standing the test of time, but it's perfectly enjoyable-in-the-moment animated fare that's more interested in evocative visuals than deep meaningful storylines.
The sex comedy has gone about as far as it can do in modern gross out terms.
Yet, never once has it wandered into tweens' territory, something which producer Seth Rogen and his team acknowledge but dare to go there anyway.
In the latest comedy to burst out of the ranks, Good Boys follows a close knit trio of young sixth graders, the self-named Beanbag Boys, led by Jacob Tremblay's Max. Friends since their younger years, the trio find themselves invited to a kissing party where Max's crush will be.
But when their plan to learn about the opposite sex goes awry , they're sent on an adventure that pushes them out of their comfort zone. It may send the idea of naivety to the edges, and a lot of the gags may centre around the sixth graders' misunderstanding of sexual posturing, but Good Boys offers some solid laughs in among the gross out behaviour.
Once you get past the whole "should tweens be talking / doing this," there's a vein of something in Good Boys which transgresses the cute and crass with some ease. There's also something to be said for the way the film mines the inevitable peer pressure of tweens these days to understand sex and their misplaced braggadacio of understanding between friends - certainly while the laughs come from here, they also come from a place of sweetness and an inherent understanding of the pressure constantly imposed on children's lives.
The trio are sweetly matched; from Tremblay's conflict over friends and girls, via loudmouth Thor's preoccupation with musical theatre to Lucas' compulsive need to tell the truth (breakout star Williams), this group feels real, and the push and pull of friendship is cleverly explored during the no-longer-than-it-needs-to-be 90 minute run time.
It will be easily dismissed as a Superbad: The Early Years, but Good Boys, while nothing superlative, deserves to stand on its own two feet, mixing drugs, sex and comedy with a nice touch of sweet observations, the film offers a solid night out with solid laughs at a universal experience.
The Dora the Explorer film, with Muppets director James Bobin behind the helm, is a family friendly slice of Indiana Jones, coming of age, Tomb Raider-esque oddity.
Moner is Dora, prone to asking questions of nobody (something her father, the excellently cast Michael Pena, hopes she'll grow out of) and who has been brought up in the jungle.
When her parents decide to go on a quest to find the ancient city of Parapata, Dora is sent to the city to reunite with her cousin Diego (Wahlberg) and to experience the horrors of high school. Roundly mocked by the cliques for her perkiness and odd precocious behaviour, Dora finds herself- along with her unwilling high school compadres - thrown into an adventure when she's kidnapped after her parents go missing...
Mixing a huge dollop of self-awareness, with an irritatingly winning ever-chipper performance from Moner, Dora and the Lost City of Gold will prove successful with its audience who've grown up with the animated explorer and her wily ways. But Bobin injects a degree of magicality into the film, peppering it with silly songs that are supposed to inform and entertain ("Can you say severe neurotoxicity? ", Dora says at one point) and which nods to the show's MO.
There are messages of self-belief, and of staying true to yourself which will appeal to the outsiders among the viewers, and there are moments, particularly during the final exploration, that are a bit scarier for younger ends of the audience, but which pay homage to the Indiana Jones-esque elements.
Ultimately, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a solid slice of family film - it's not too memorable in the wash, but with a winning Moner giving her all and keeping the energy up throughout, she's one explorer you're happy to tag along with for the adventure.
Life's been pressing this year, so it's unlikely there will be a best and worst of the year - and in truth, most of what the cinema has presented this year has been middling dross with highlights too far and few in between.
It's also been a year where many have concentrated on the bad rather than the good, and it falls to bucking the trend at the end of the year.
Thanks for the support of this website, its reviews, and its news and content - wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.
And if you're in need of people to lean on this festive time, reach out - don't hold back, as there's been too much of this year already - and help is always a call away.
Director Ari Aster's next project after Hereditary is a descent into a psychological freefall, rather than an out-and-out freakout fest.
The ever wonderful Florence Pugh stars as Dani and Jack Reynor stars as Christian, her feckless boyfriend. When something happens to Dani (an event best left unspoiled, thanks to the pre-titles play out of dread), the pair try to get back on track.
Invited by Christian to tag along to a trip to a commune in Sweden where he and a handful of mates are heading for research, Dani finds her uncertainty in their relationship escalating.
It's exacerbated by the pagan rituals and lifestyle of those at the Swedish midsummer festival in Hälsingland .... but there's more going on than any of them realise.
If Hereditary was psychological terror, then Midsommar is the break-up album.
A sprawling, slow-moving descent that's in no rush to unveil its hand, the film's commitment to unsettling can be interpreted in many ways.
Whether it's a take on Americans crashing European ways of life and disrupting cultural matters, or simply a feeling of off-kilter unusual behaviours, Midsommar's desire to unnerve is there from the start - and carefully telegraphed.
Artfully executed by Aster, and beautifully choreographed by DP Pawel Pogorzelski, and blessed with a turn of frailty and subtlety by Pugh as she negotiates extreme trauma, Midsommar is more about the horrors of human behaviours than the appearance of the supernatural and what it can entail.
There are lashings of humour throughout, but as the crescendo of the creepy builds, there's more a sense of uncertainty rippling through this Wicker Man / League of Gentlemen hybrid folk horror and bucolic beastliness.
The horror comes in the consequences, and the reality of what's next - and while the conclusion may infuriate some and feel derivative to others, what Aster's done is essentially cycle back to the beginning's themes.
Midsommar is less a dream, but even less a nightmare - it's a waking breathing feeling of insomnia, and it's stiflingly good because of it.
Cast: Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong
Director: Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie returns to familiar territory in The Gentlemen, a crime caper that dials up the Cockney tomfoolery and violence, but which pales in comparison to Ritchie's greatest Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
In this latest, centring around drug kingpin Mickey Pearson (an unctuous McConaughey) and his marijuana business, Ritchie spins a tale via unreliable narrator and potential blackmailer Fletcher (Grant, in a pastiche of a camp Michael Caine and tabloid editor) who tries his hand to get cash to keep Pearson's secrets.
But when Pearson wants to get rid of the dodgy dealings to spend more time with his wife Ros (Dockery, massively underused as a moll or any kind of character), it attracts the interest of the Chinese triads and their wannabe head Dry Eye (played by Crazy Rich Asians' Henry Golding)....
The Gentlemen is a film which puts the meta into the gangster genre. Or at least tries to.
Grant's slimy Fletcher seems like an extension of Ritchie himself, weaving a web of potential lies and deceit (and even pitching a film to Miramax at the end with a Man from U.N.C.L.E poster in the background), and winking at gangster movie conventions while riffing (less than subtly) on how films like The Conversation are rubbish, and digital films aren't as good as actual film. It's all a bit too much in some ways, and detracts from Ritchie's original simplicity of plotting - though there's a strong case to be said for Fletcher being Ritchie and Pearson's No 2 (Hunnam) being the audience if you want to dig deeper.
Elsewhere, it's the usual mix of trickery and an extremely liberal use of foul language as the cast go warts and all into the proceedings, into the codes of elder gangsters versus younger rivals and the shaggy dog progress of the story.
In truth, Grant's Fletcher is the best thing about The Gentlemen, a louche snake of a man whose self-preservation is second only to his own debauchery and desires - and Grant has a ball playing him, with lines such as "I can feel myself engorging" being delivered with such relish - along with Paddington 2 and this, Grant delivers a strong case for a villainous after career.
The rest of the cast are fine - Hunnam is overlooked though he's the head of the firm in reality, a fixer who's apparently in out of his depth, and McConaughey just oozes charm as the wastrel boss.
But less successful are Dockery, who's sidelined with nothing more than a moll (and a questionable near-rape scene) and Golding, whose one note performance is script related rather than actor delivered.
A long debate over how to racially refer to someone also teeters on extremely unpalatable as well - leaving parts of The Gentlemen feeling grubby and unwarranted.
Ultimately, The Gentlemen has a criminal amount of slippery class, but its stylised edges pale when held upto to Ritchie's best. Sure, he's having a ball, and bringing the audience with him, but this old dog doesn't have any massively new tricks to showcase, merely a criminal caper the likes of which we've mainly seen before.
More a Freudian rumination on masculinity that's set in space, James Gray's Ad Astra takes on the vast reaches of the great beyond and delivers a stunning piece of world-building as ever there's been on a universal scale.
A restrained and almost muted Pitt is Roy McBride, the son of an accomplished astronaut Cliff McBride (Lee Jones). Constantly living in his shadow, Roy is sent to find the missing McBride senior who's presumed lost in space somewhere near Neptune, after a series of electrical surges threatens to wipe life from the solar system.
But there's ambiguity over whether McBride senior is to blame for the surges or is trying to stop them...All of which puts the father and son on a collision course both have clearly been trying to avoid their entire lives.
Gray and Pitt conjure up a world in the near future that's as believable as anything seen in the likes of Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
With vertiginous shots early on giving way to more intimate and internal moments, Gray's film ponders on what it's like to be man, how to deal with an estranged father and how to connect to others. (There's a delicious irony the space mission is about finding life outside of Earth when it's more ground-bound matters that anchor the movie.)
Pitt's muted throughout, prone to his inner monologue rather than espousing reams of dialogue; and when the break comes somewhere in the film, Pitt delivers an emotional range that's as devastating to his character as it needs to be to the audience.
Gray's space world is fascinating - and while there are moments of action set on the moon and thanks to the unease of an unexpected mayday call, the slow calculated script and delivery thereof lead to plenty of payoffs.
It's not perfect though - while the mundanities of commercial space travel are recreated with ease (fast food companies and their neon signs sit along the likes of Virgin on the Moon), some of the script fails its women. Tyler gets a thankless role as a faceless wife (though this is perhaps the point given how Pitt's character can't connect with others in his life) and Ruth Negga shines all too briefly as the conspiracy elements of the mystery are ratcheted up on Mars.
The film delivers much subtlety on male relationships, but it's also content to dispatch some rote lines such as the double-edged "We are all we've got" to satiate those less inclined to the more thoughtful leanings of what's on screen.
Ultimately, Ad Astra works best in its first two thirds - its delivery of some answers and some leaps of logic in the latter stages cause the foundations to flounder.
However, in terms of a rumination on the folly of man, it's second to none - and one of the most arrestingly visual, thoughtful and immersive well-executed experiences that 2019 has had to offer.
Appallingly xenophobic and grubby, Rambo: Last Blood is an action film that doesn't need - or deserve - to exist.
Stallone lumbers on as John Rambo, 10 years after he was last seen, a Vietnam vet who doesn't want to kill and who now lives on a horse ranch in Arizona. Looking after his daughter's daughter Gabriella, Rambo is thrust into a quest for revenge when Gabriella goes to Mexico, is kidnapped by a cartel and traded as a sex slave.
And all when she's about to leave for a bright prosperous future in college...
Needless to say revenge follows.
Rambo: Last Blood paints a dangerous picture of Mexico in these current climes.
It villainises everyone who's seen south of the border thanks to one note characterisation and stereotyping to the max. Everyone is a horrendous caricature, aimed at fuelling the fire that is the tension between America and Mexico that has been exacerbated by the current US President Donald Trump. Rapists, criminals, corrupt police - they're all here for the potential political rallies, and there's even a scene of the wire wall between the two countries being ridden rough shod over.
The majority of the problem of Rambo: Last Blood is the lack of characterisation around Rambo - the film exists solely to deal out various forms of despatching the bad guys in the final act. And while the tunnel-set finale works reasonably brutally and well, there's little to no joy seeing the bad guys go down as they are so one-note and exist only to be killed off.
Stallone exudes something earlier on as a calm and peaceful Rambo, who is rocked by PTSD and haunted by those he couldn't save. But as the odds stack up, thanks to a rote sense of direction Adrian Grunberg brings to the table, there's little sense of Stallone's Rambo overcoming the odds, more that it will happen and that's it. Even the two women who star in the film (Vega and Montreal) are given little to do except be victims - neither get chance to exact their revenge; only the men can do it.
Lacking hardly any redeeming features, Rambo: Last Blood is a film nobody wanted to see for this four decade old hero. A final montage of cuts from Rambo films from the decades prior only serves to show what a mess the film has made of the legacy and why some things should be left alone.
Ken Loach's latest piece of socially shocking miserabilism in the UK is a savage indictment of how the everyday family is being beaten down by those abusing the system.
And yet, in among the blood-boiling moments of Sorry We Missed You, Loach displays elements of everyday love and compassion along with humour that helps you along the 100 minutes of what plays out.
Kris Hitchen plays Rikki, the head of a family who is scrabbling day to day to make ends meet. Taking the chance to become a franchisee of a delivery company, Rikki finds himself part of a contract that serves the masters better than it does the servants.
Coupled with the fact his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood) is working 14 hours a day as a carer, the pair is left hardly any time for their two children.
Stretched as thinly as it will go, something is likely to snap in Rikki and Abby's lives...
Clothed in savage condemnation of the zero hours' slavery, Loach's film promotes a growing sense of depression, as well as a sense of latent activism in the audience.
But it's the realism here, and the intimate relatability that gives Loach his power in this film - a growing sense of desperation from both Hitchen and Honeywood creates an aching, gnawing sense of disillusionment as events threaten to swallow them up.
There's nothing here that's played for easy drama, merely a growing sense of a maelstrom about to encompass the everyday family. And because of that it's even more horrifying to behold.
There's an anger in Sorry We Missed You, but Loach is restrained enough a director to realise that simply playing out events will get the required results in the audience. It's horrifically affective and affecting - ultimately, Sorry We Missed You is one social drama not ignore - both on screen and off it.
To celebrate the release of Bombshell, in cinemas January 16, thanks to StudioCanal New Zealand, you can win a double pass. About Bombshell Based on the real scandal, BOMBSHELL is a revealing look inside the most powerful and controversial media empire of all time; and the explosive story of the women who brought down the infamous man who created it.
Starring Academy Award® winner Charlize Theron, Academy Award® winner Nicole Kidman, and Academy Award® nominee Margot Robbie. Bombshell is in cinemas January 16 All you have to do is email your details and the word BOMBSHELL! Email now to email@example.com Or CLICK HERE NOW
Win a family pass to see Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon
To celebrate the release of Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon in cinemas January 9, 2020, thanks to Studio Canal New Zealand, you can win a family pass. About Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon
Strange lights over the quiet town of Mossingham herald the arrival of a mystery visitor from far across the galaxy…
For Shaun the Sheep’s second feature-length movie, the follow-up to 2015’s smash hit SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE, A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON takes the world’s favourite woolly hero and plunges him into an hilarious intergalactic adventure he will need to use all of his cheekiness and heart to work his way out of.
When a visitor from beyond the stars – an impish and adorable alien called LU-LA – crash-lands near Mossy Bottom Farm, Shaun soon sees an opportunity for alien-powered fun and adventure, and sets off on a mission to shepherd LU-LA back to her home.
It's hard to exactly pinpoint why Tom Hooper's take on the eternally popular musical by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber fails to connect with anyone watching.
Is it the fact the film launches straight into the Jellicle world expecting you to either know or appreciate what's going on, dives into a series of scene-setting musical numbers that are just confused and confusing or is it that the CGI nature of what plays out is so distracting as to take you out of the moment and smash you over the head with it?
In truth, it's probably all of these things - and more so, it's also the case that the narrative is so flimsy on the screen, it's lacking a necessary coherence.
When a cat called Victoria (Hayward) is dumped on the streets, she joins the Jellicle world of cats who ready themselves for the Jellicle ball, where one of their number will be chosen as the Jellicle choice and who ascend to a greater life. However, the evil Macavity (Elba) is determined he will be the chosen one....
There's a nagging feeling that Cats is destined for guilty pleasure territory, and for similar treatment afforded Showgirls.
But the oddly staged, weird sets and mix of some impressive musical moments don't hang together, feels slight, and appears simply to be about the cameos - there's no logic or coherence to what transpires, and with the uncanny valley CGI, self moving ears and occasionally erect tails, there's too much to confuse the brain.
Jennifer Hudson's Memories sequence is stunning, the emotional connect the film needs, swathed as it is in sadness - and distracting as it is in her being covered in snot and what appears to be offcuts from other cats' furs. Ray Winstone's Cockney heavy is also comical - but mainly because of who the audience knows him to be.
That's the folly of Cats though - it never quite reaches the grand folly of what it could be, nor does it try to change it for a more impressive cinematic experience. Granted, it may appeal to the fans of the musical desperate to see the likes of Taylor Swift put in a cameo and a sultry jazzy song.
But for fans of furries wanting to see their idols in tabby attire, the film has nothing for it except its aesthetics. It's insane, challenging (not in a good way) and generally quite hard to process - what does emerge from the finality of Cats is the fact that it's not destined for the pantheon of great cinema musicals - if there's any kind of justice.
This is what the Cats dragged in - and much like a feline licking its own hindquarters, it's too self-obsessed to think about anyone in the audience. It's purr-fect alright - a purr-fect disaster of a Christmas treat that's more a trick than anything else.
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams
Director: JJ Abrams
That the latest Star Wars can't be all things to all fans and non-fans is - and should be - no surprise to any.
But director JJ Abrams has tried his best to neatly tie all the loose ends started with The Force Awakens, reset some decisions from The Last Jedi and provide closure after some 42 years to a saga which started a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
This time around, Poe (Isaac) and the rest of the Resistance find a new threat - the oldest one around - lurking in a hidden corner. With the possibility of the Final Order arising once and for all, and with an old nemesis pulling the strings, it's one last desperate push for the Rebellion to try and save the day.
But elsewhere, Rey (Ridley, shouldering a lot of the story, and doing so admirably after so much unnecessary criticism was fired her way) has to put the final pieces together to complete her Jedi journey and the mystery of her lineage.
The film starts with a breakneck pace, smashing out plot and exposition at greater than light speed levels before settling into a more relaxed mode. However, the stop/start nature of the start of The Rise Of Skywalker means the choppiness takes a little to get into.
Once it does though, the wave of nostalgia sweeps over, as Abrams brings back the past and swathes it in what you'd want for the grand finale. Evcn if it doesn't stick a landing 42 years in the making.
There are some impressive battle sequences, some patented moments of deliberate fan service and some elements of Abrams' MacGuffins and nonsense babble to service the plot where it's needed.
And while moments like the digital insertion of the late Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa seem awkward and stilted, in truth they're there as a series of generic pieces of dialogue to service a plot and be retrofitted to help with an at times exposition heavy plot.
There are confused moments in the story which ground The Rise of Skywalker in ways which should not have been - but for every one of those (of which there are sadly many) there are equally as many moments of joy, from the return of Billy Dee Williams' Lando to the crescendo of John Williams' iconic score. (Though depressingly Keri Russell is sidelined and Kelly Marie Tran gets a disgraceful short shrift here).
While the Force may not be narratively as strong with this closing chapter as we'd all hoped, it's pointless to waver on the resistance.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may not offer all the answers, and may worryingly leave a lot for other filmmakers to rhapsodise on (either on the big or small screen), as well as landing somewhere in the middle of expectation and delivery - but it does prove an entertainment force to be reckoned with - like it or not given how apathetic you may be to the ending.
A free-wheeling Russian spy story, Anna dances to the Eurobeat of Luc Besson.
Returning to the genre which scored him such big hits as La Femme Nikita and The Professional, Anna stars Sasha Luss as the eponymous Anna, who's recruited into the spy world via the KGB and ends up as a model in Europe to do their bidding.
To say more would be to deprive Anna of the narrative twists that Besson, who wrote and directed this, clearly wants for his audience.
Needless to say, the twists come thick and fast, but under the cover of a framing device that relies on the film stop-starting as it goes back and forth in time to reveal what's going on.
The first few times, the narrative replay is a clever move; but Besson deploys it far too often, giving this less a feeling of Run Lola Run's multiplicity and more a distinct impression that you're not quite clear whether the filmmaker and writer simply wanted to throw as many pieces up in the air and see what fits.
And yet, there's a wackadoodle appeal to Anna, which helps with the occasional sag in the 2 hour run time.
All of Besson's trademarks are there - from pulsing European music beats to taut chase sequences, and one brilliantly employed INXS song and montage, there are enough moments to make you feel the hoary old spy genre has something new to offer.
But these are coupled with an almost Austin Powers style adherence to modelling sequences which veer wildly into parody and some occasionally wooden acting from the lead, who's saddled with some silly dialogue.
Yet, as demonstrated in a wonderfully choreographed restaurant fight, there's a grit and inventiveness to Anna that keeps you watching (even if you've seen elements of it before in Jennifer Lawrence's Red Sparrow).
Finally, mention is needed for Helen Mirren, who under big glasses and hunched poise, cigarette in hand, brings much to the table as Anna's KGB handler. Her no-nonsense approach, coupled with Mirren's gusto for the role, is a welcome touch to Anna.
Ultimately, the film's narrative structure lets it down, and Besson's adherence to his own vision is both a good and bad thing - but in terms of the spy genre, it very occasionally kicks ass and presents a solid case for being.
To celebrate the release of Little Women in cinemas January 2nd, 2020, thanks to Sony Pictures, you can win a double pass. About Little Women
Writer-director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) has crafted a LittleWomen that draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, and unfolds as the author’s alter ego, Jo March, reflects back and forth on her fictional life.
In Gerwig’s take, the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on her own terms -- is both timeless and timely.
Portraying Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth March, the film stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, with Timothée Chalamet as their neighbor Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.
Cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Troy Quane, Nick Bruno
If the thought of Will Smith playing a talking pigeon in a spy movie repels you, this is still utterly the film for you.
A veritable cinematic cartoon blast of pacy fun, Spies in Disguise gets 2020 off to a great start in ways you could never imagine.
Smith is Lance Sterling, a smooth go-it-alone spy, who's framed for a theft of a drone. Holland plays Walter, a socially inept tech genius who finds himself in the middle of the conspiracy when Sterling decides he has no one to trust...
So far, so Odd Couple, and so not really re-inventing the wheel - yet Spies in Disguise respects the spy genre and the mismatched buddy trope with absolute aplomb.
Packing in spy stunts and heart before the Bond-riffing titles even begin, it's clear that Spies in Disguise knows and respects its target market, as well as the history of what's gone before for the respective genres.
What emerges is a whipsmart film that's aimed at the kids but keeps the adults (and the young at heart) firmly in its grip too - puns riff of Fifty Shades of Grey in one moment, another involving Glitter and Kittens is rolled out to great effect.
Based on animated short, Pigeon: Impossible, Spies in Disguise's strength is that it keeps the pace up, knows the dynamic is where the fun lies, and knows its animation isn't groundbreaking but showcases it to dazzling effect.
Sure there are messages about accepting being weird, and teamwork over loner behaviour, but Spies in Disguise is smart enough not to ram them down throats and concentrate on the goofy edges above all else. But it also knows that the smart thing to do is not dwell on one element above all else, and as a result, the coherency is compelling.
Spies in Disguise deserves to be a hit - fresh, funny and frantic, it's animation at its most basic - there to entertain from beginning to end.
Melissa McCarthy digs deep once again from the well of seriousness which served her so well and nabbed her an Academy Award nomination.
McCarthy stars as Kathy, the wife of an Irish mobster in Hells Kitchen in New York in the 70s. When Kathy's husband, along with his two co-conspirators, are jailed, Kathy, along with her friends Ruby and Claire (Haddish and Handmaid's Tale's Moss respectively) decide enough's enough and look to take over business.
But their desire to do the right thing and also make some money on the side puts them in the eyeline of the police and the Mafia.
The Kitchen's approach to drama is piecemeal at best.
Whereas Widows had dramatic heft, emotional bite and weight, The Kitchen flounders in comparison.
Sadly, by dipping in and dipping out of the characters, and even with a restrained McCarthy trying to build on Can You Ever Forgive Me, The Kitchen doesn't hit any of the straps it wants to.
Opening with James Brown's It's A Man's World over shots of NYC, as well as mobsters, it's clear that this is a male perspective and those in charge are determined to smash it. But underwriting, as well as scenes that fly by quicker than they should, those involved really don't know how to construct a drama that has tension and suspense.
Shouting stereotypes and with dialogue that's ham-fisted as the characters' so-called intentions, this attempt at gender-flipping falls massively short.
Humorous moments that are supposed to be dark and gallows are delivered with such heavy-handedness they fall flatter than they should or deserve to. There's a lack of nerve, and even moments of violence, brief as they are in their brutality, fail to deliver the punch they could have.
IT's almost as if The Kitchen were too afraid to go as dark as it could, to deeply enrich its characters and to blur the moral lines that the best gangster films do - because of that, it ends up feeling inconsequential, a waste of the talents within and a flight of empowerment that's grounded before it even begins.
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlan, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep
Director: Greta Gerwig
The latest adaptation of Little Women is a delightful and emotionally devastating, engaging affair that sees director Greta Gerwig reteaming with her Lady Bird star to create a contemporary take on a timeless novel.
Ronan is Jo March in this tale which loops back and forth to weave a linear tale of the March sisters and their lives that many will be familiar with (it is, after all, the eighth outing for the 1868 novel).
But this story, set as it is in the aftermath of the American Civil War in the 1860s in New England, feels more contemporary than any other revival put on screen.
Largely due to the trifecta of Greta Gerwig's scripting and staging, Saoirse Ronan's wonderfully understated and weighty performance, and Florence Pugh's multi-dimensional turn.
However, where Little Women excels is in its pace, and its zipping about in storyline; it's not that anything here feels rushed, or skated over, more that it delivers with a generosity of spirit to make it one of the year's best.
It ducks between the delightful courtship of Laurie (Chalamet) and Jo with aplomb, turns Pugh's Amy's petulance into something truly moving and generally gifts everyone with a moment or two to shine. Its only error is in its denouement, a sequence that feels unearned and a little too emotionally flat. (And in honesty, it could stand to lose 20 minutes of its run time).
It's hard to single out any of the players, but both Ronan and Pugh deserve some form of accolade for their work within; both send very familiar characters on very familiar arcs but deliver in fresh and enticing ways for a story that's nigh on 160 years old - something which is no mean feat.
"People want to be amused and not preached at," an editor decries early on, as Jo presents her latest book in the aftermath of the civil war. The duality of the meaning's not lost, given some could view this as feminist cinema - but Little Women has no time for such inane trivialities as this.
A breath of cinematic fresh air to cleanse the cynical pallet, Gerwig's Little Women deserves to be shouted about from the heights; it's alluring, enticing, thrilling, emotional and unconventionally unstuffy - in short, it's a delight you can't afford not to see.