The Commuter (2018)

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A typical set up of mysterious question and the capable Irish action star come together on a plane…sorry train this time but in fact it’s not as bad as you’d think. Sure it has flaws and is something akin to what we’ve seen before but it’s a silly delight.

Serial commuter, Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is used to familiar faces and the hustle and bustle of travelling back and forth through New York but this one day sees him approached by the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who tells him there’s $25’000 hidden away, plus a further $75’000 if he works out who doesn’t belong on the train before it reaches the end of the line.

From the trailer alone; I guffawed at the typical Liam Neeson vehicle we’re now used to see him starring in. Gladly it surprised me and was a more enjoyable flick than the generic trashy kind of movie I was expecting to witness. That isn’t to say that’s a fantastically well made film that can blow your mind but it’s damn entertaining and comes with carriage loads of thrills to keep the film chugging along nicely.

Director of reasonable shark thriller ‘The Shallows’ and previous Neeson feature ‘Non-Stop’, Jaume Collet-Serra manages to keep the film from derailing for the majority of the thriller outing. There’s a neat set up in the repetitive routine of Michael’s morning and the character introductions are all well and good, nothing special but there’s enough going on to set up the oncoming mystery to be solved. It’s in the strained searching of an unnamed passenger that the film hits a nice stride, as we too attempt to uncover the missing puzzle piece.

There are some downright dumb moments, where actions taken feel forced or action set ups fill the CGI quota and big spectacle box is ticked but the unexpected pleasure is in the storytelling of what the heck is going on and who Michael is trying desperately to find. There are a few twists along the way and some are ones I didn’t see but one quite big reveal is quite an obvious one but it didn’t take away from the fun I had in watching this movie unfold.

A train full of passengers makes for a great cast of characters and it’s these many faces of possible suspects that create the best aspect of the film. Neeson himself is in a role well tailored to him by now and he has the gruff charisma that makes Michael a believable figure to lead the way. Farmiga is a fantastic actor and this possible sinister presence she carries suits her down to the zebra striped shoes she wears. Even the sound of her voice on the phone carries a mysterious air of calm and danger. Jonathan Banks, Roland Moller and Shazad Latif are interesting in their roles of possible players knowing more than they let on; in the sense they are thrust forward a lot more as people to keep an eye on. I won’t go on much more as I feel more cast chatter could spoil the reveals of the movie but it’s a ensemble that work together greatly, in a mostly single set narrative.

This shuttling train thriller has more intrigue and whodunnit suspense than last years ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Who would have thought that Neeson on a Train would be more engaging and mysterious than an Agatha Christie classic!? Not me, but it truly is a fun and exciting popcorn movie.

7/10

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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Here come the drums! Here come the drums! 22 years after the original; and a childhood favourite of mine, this sequel comes stampeding into cinemas and I was more than a little apprehensive but happily I came out the other side with a smile on my face as this jungle set action adventure is a great entertaining ride.

Whilst stuck in detention doing the most mundane task of removing staples, nerdy Spencer, social media obsessed Bethany, studious, shy Martha and football hero Fridge come across a retro games console with a Jumanji cartridge inside. Before they know it the four of them are sucked into the game and a dangerous jungle environment where they have to save the place as their pre-selected video game avatars.

Jake Kasdan directs this romp with a clear wink and nudge to the fun of the 1995 flick. The story isn’t exactly ingenious and the plot does trod along a checkpoint of expected moments but this simplicity is what keeps the movie soaring along at enjoyable breakneck speed and Kasdan realises the selling factor of his film is within his wonderful cast. Therefore he utilises on their oddball comradery and twists what could have been a run of the mill family action tale into a comedic one.

There are some nasty looking uses of CGI in places but maybe it’s some grand plan to hark back to that clunky charm of the original film. The villain isn’t exactly someone you ever fear and their story is bland and the grand climax of everything they have raced across the jungle for isn’t exactly as exciting as you’d hope, but it’s the four heroes of the narrative that drive the movie and they bring enough humour and heart to push the few negatives into your peripherals. Oh and a couple of teeny nods to the original are well placed too.

I wasn’t expecting to grin like a buffoon and in fact laugh so much, but I did. This is a film that is playful in its tone and keeps up that light-hearted manner with the idea of these teens trapped in older more restricted video game character moulds of strength and weaknesses. The weakness of Fridge aka Moose Finbar is a particular outlandish but hilarious highlight. Also the teachings of urinating standing up and sexy dance fighting become genuinely funny sequences.

Dwayne Johnson as the epically titled Dr. Smolder Bravestone is the same old pumped up cool presence he’s come to play in literally every other movie but he gets to play around a touch with the fear of his nerdy self inside. Jack Black steals the show, strutting around like the Insta-model girl he still feels he is. The pep talk he gives at one point is excellent and his role is also. Karen Gillan is kick-ass playing fighting expert Ruby Roundhouse, she sells the dominant action style and her charm fills the screen when trying to be more confident as the nervous Martha. Kevin Hart is zany and full of energy as the backpack wielding zoologist Finbar, he riffs off almost everyone with believable ease.

The jungle is a crazy, fun place to explore and as an audience there’s plenty of joy to be had in sitting back and watching the charm of the foursome do their thing. Sure it’s nothing special but it’s a damn good way guilty pleasure to end the year on.

7.5/10

Justice League (2017)

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They’re finally united after what feels like a well earned age…hang on a sec…nope…just over one year later. DC and it’s universe has the League team up big style and through some horrendous and expected barrage of CGI and more weak story I can surprisingly say it’s not a bad film. It’s not good…but not bad either.

With the world mourning the passing of Superman (Henry Cavill), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is trying to piece together a mystery. He hopes to bring a team together and with the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), they manage to create a league for justice with The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to try and stop the havoc of an alien army leader.

In comparison to ‘Dawn of Justice’; this movie is fantastic but then that’s not exactly saying much because 2016’s setting up of the League was incredibly dull and dire. One of the main issues in this DCEU outing is the dialogue. In some places the writing by Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio is clunky and overly on the nose. They try to mix in lighter moments and you can tell former Marvel hand Whedon is behind this, but with the odd balance of gruff moodiness in the DC films with the quips, it just doesn’t quite work.

It isn’t solely the dialogue aspect, it’s within the story itself where there are next to zero stakes raised. There’s no gripping factor of worry to be had watching these characters do battle. Everyone in the league becomes so right for the fight they’re partaking in, that at no point did I feel that anyone would ever lose. It just becomes painfully convenient how characters fare to tackle the obstacles. The plot shuffles along from one moment to another as is the case with Zack Snyder films and it doesn’t sink in to really let tensions rise. Threat levels are at an all time low even though apparently it warrants Bruce needing to call a super-powered team together, the dispensing of villains throughout always seemed on the cards and more than anything, every way out was achieved in an easy manner.

The scene on Themyscira was one of the stand out moments and a couple of cool sequences can be found seeing The Flash with his electrically charged bursts, they’re entertaining but not as neatly executed as Quicksilver’s similarly slowed down scenes. Wonder Woman is my MVP and even though Snyder’s direction and the different writers thin her out and set her up for more male gaze than her standalone feature, she carries a great charisma and believable care for justice in this movie.

Amongst some slight hits and clear misses, this film and the DC franchise as whole seems obsessed in CGI. That’s not always a problem if handled correctly but they always go overboard and this movie has an abundance of chaotic computer generated imagery taking precedence. It looks OK in places but on the whole it’s cheap looking and everywhere, including the less than believable wonky face of Steppenwolf. Also battles are back lit like a Michael Bay special with excessive explosions and slow motion.

Affleck is alright again in his turn as the bulkier and moodier caped crusader. Gadot as mentioned brings a needed charm and likeability to the action and her guitar riffing moments of bad-assery are as cool as ever. Cavill does show up, I’m not calling that a spoiler because obviously he’d be there and he’s less boring than usual and in fact is the most interesting part of the film behind Gadot. Miller is clearly set up by the writers as the comedic relief and he delivers the majority in a convincing and funny way but it doesn’t always hit the mark. Momoa seems shady but two dimensional as the protector of the seas even if the CGI water worlds looked awful, hopefully his feature will look visually stunning unlike here. Fisher as the enhancing Cyborg is the Ultron of the pack just handily updating when the script calls for it. J.K. Simmons is hardly involved which could be a blessing. Amy Adams is in it more than I expected and gladly brings a human touch to the events even if she takes a back seat as the continuously boring Lois Lane.

There a mass of flaws within the ‘Justice League’ but saying this, I actually think it’s an entertaining film and enjoyable in a number of places. I also like, perhaps their self retaliation against #MarthaGate by having Motherboxes, as if alluding to that atrocious moment before.

5/10

Train to Busan (2016)

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One of the most exhilarating films I’ve ever seen, bloody and yet beautiful, this is a zombie film with thrills and skills that I wish I’d got to see on the big screen but damn am I happy I’ve seen it anyway…finally!

As a mysterious virus breaks out, workaholic and not so parental father Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) concedes to his daughters birthday wish to go to Busan to see her mother. A host of other passengers board at Seoul but unfortunately an infected woman also joins them leaving their train journey to become a fight for survival.

Honestly, this is probably the best zombie movie I’ve seen in a long time, the rage like virus shoots up the film with a crazed adrenaline which is hugely entertaining to watch but more than this and thus why the film is so good, is that there’s a heartfelt emotion and believable set of characters along for the ride too. Zombie killing and frantic running aside, this is something that grips you because of the relationships between the passengers, how they act and the choices they make create a truly thrilling and emotive story.

Yeon Sang-ho directs this with such care and attention, there’s a skill to making this chaotic zombie outbreak feel less than chaos. It has an artistry and skilled choreographed quality that ‘World War Z’ could only dream to achieve. There are numerous moments in this Park Joo-suk scripted delight that captures you and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s the rooted developing bond between father and daughter that is special and come the end of the movie leaves you really bound to the film almost teary eyed.

Jang Young-gyu’s music for the movie is a rip-roaring wonder, it’s a score that manages to excite and keep up great tension in places then simmer down for more nuanced moments of tenderness. The confined claustrophobia of setting a majority of this story on a train is shot really well, from shuttling tracking shots to scary overhead shots crammed with the white-eyed undead. Pretty much everything in this film is masterfully set up and executed leaving the audience to watch a dramatically non-stop zombie genre outing that actually feels realistic.

Gong Yoo is a great presence as this obsessive funds manager who gets a well realised character arc that makes him a likable guy. Ma Dong-seok plays a hench father to be that gives the film some aspect of humour and plenty of bad-assery. Kim Su-an is the little daughter Soo-an who gets many a chance to shine and demonstrate wonderful acting skills, more impressive considering she was 10 at the time of acting. Kim Eui-sung gifts the film its human villain, he performs convincingly that you want to punch him in the face.

The characters and the story are top notch stuff, making this a zombie feature like nothing else before. I’d highly recommend this to everyone; it’s tense, engaging and remarkable.

8.5/10

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Number 17 in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and after two vaguely entertaining but wildly average Thor outings, I wasn’t entirely driven to see this third Asgardian centred feature but upon seeing the trailer and learning of Taika Waititi’s involvement I swiftly changed my mind.

With this comic book movie, we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) unsuccessful in his Infinity Stones quest and he returns to Asgard. Unluckily for him and the planets’ people, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) reveals that a power seeking goddess of death named Hela (Cate Blanchett) will arrive imminently to take over the throne of Asgard. Thor needs to stop her but first has to overcome imprisonment on a trash filled planet where green Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) now thrives.

The tone of this ‘Thor’ adventure is vastly different to the previous two, at times his riffing and the comedic style feels misplaced because the muscled God isn’t someone we’ve been used to seeing cracking wise. Yet the film overcomes this and becomes the funniest Marvel flick behind ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’. By now, I and I’d imagine plenty of others are growing tired of that MCU one liner shtick but ‘Thor 3’ is more than this, the humour is dry and unexpected.

Having Kiwi born Waititi on board was a stroke of genius. I love love both ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and that zany kind of style/comedy is evident once more. He also almost steals the show voicing a silicon/rock based creature called Korg. The dialogue he comes out with are brilliant. Waititi doesn’t just focus on making this film a fun fest though, in fact it comes with the usual CGI action but some dark moments too.

These darker notes are in the threat of the pristine marvellous Asgard, deaths of some characters and the possibility of a super powerful thunder god failing. They do just enough to balance out the wacky flavour running throughout; what with Jeff Goldblum’s stellar campy Grandmaster, the work-mate jokes of Hulk and Thor and the Loki/Thor relationship too.

Hela as a character may be one of the strongest villains yet, which is something the Marvel franchise have struggled to get right for pretty much every film. She’s powerful, dynamic and has a root to the Asgardian lore that gives her character motive enough to buy into her evil fuelled plans. In an almost Guardians way, this bright space set movie has plenty of out there characters and they team up to create a cosmic delight.

Musically speaking, this score screams of synth and ‘Stranger Things’ like sounds. It once again makes the whole space set vibe feel more prominent. On top of this there’s a fantastic use of a Led Zeppelin song that punches through the speakers with awesome power, accompanied by stunning slow motion visuals and graphic novel looking battle poses.

Chris Hemsworth is on point, adding more to his mythological based hero in the way of great comedy timing and yes he can still wield a hammer like a pro and punch monstrous swarms like the best of ’em. Tom Hiddleston inhabits the sneaky mischief maker like only he can once again, though I still feel like I’d rather he take a back seat in the Thor films. Cate Blanchett is a dominant presence, her spiky headdress accentuating her sharp features and cold stares. Karl Urban plays Skurge and gets some funny moments early on, but he has a path to go on and Urban portrays this journey well. Tessa Thompson is bad ass and holds her own against the might of Thor. She’s someone I look forward to seeing again in the MCU. Oh yeah, enjoy some sweet cameos in a Shakespearean-esque play on Asgard!

This stunningly out there film may not completely break the mould or formula for the Marvel world but it’s damn good fun, damn entertaining and packed with visual flair, comedic gold and enough action adventure to be a feast for the eyes.

8/10

Baby Driver (2017)

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4 years since the pub crawling finale to the Cornetto Trilogy, Edgar Wright returns with an adrenaline soaked beauty.

Wright is back with his signature stylish/comic aptitude and this time applies his directorial genius to a project with bigger action and bigger thrills. Atlanta becomes a playground for him as he shows off a satisfying masterful handle on the genre of heists, car chases and Bonnie and Clyde-esque dramatics.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a smooth, superstar getaway driver who’s tied to working for shady Doc (Kevin Spacey) who brings together differing personalities to carry out robberies. It happens that Baby is permanently listening to music winding up the likes of Bats (Jamie Foxx) and others but this trait of his is no weakness and also helps him strike up conversations with waitress Debora (Lily James) who could end up in danger the closer she gets to the mysterious music man.

Usually I leave the music chat til later on and focus in on plot and style, but this movie isn’t anything (or much of note) without the music it offers. The soundtrack is one of pure delight and boosts the movie an incredible amount of energy. The effortless car choreography is amped up further thanks to the loud and proud songs throughout. It’s no lie to say that every escape moment whether on foot or behind the wheel made me sit up and smile like a buffoon because they’re just so fun to watch with a finesse that’s hard to ignore.

That’s not to say that if the songs were wiped off then the movie would be terrible, it would just be mediocre and quite possibly forgettable. It’s the choice of the iPod playing such excellent music that this film is the stylish marvel it is. The editing too must be mentioned because it’s like every motion is clipped and fitted to coincide with the change of artists from T.Rex to Queen.

Detail is everything in Edgar Wright movies, he displayed that in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ with comic book styling adding a zany and cartoonish look to almost every frame. This is the case again, for example, the opening credits feature Baby on route to fetch coffees and the song lyrics playing in his buds litter the backdrop from posters to graffiti in such a cool way. The look of the film is very retro America, from the locations and fashion. The characters are outlandish and cartoony but also provide a very real sense of threat when the movie needs to shift to the necessary air of tension and drama.

Strangely, amongst all the skids, sirens and shots fired in this killer feature, there is a sweetness to be found in the central relationship between Baby and Debora. It does admittedly feel left out sometimes and grows to a love before you know it but it softens up the film nicely and Lily James helps give a radiant glow amongst the sharper carnage of every other character. Hell, there’s sweetness to be found with Baby and his foster father.

The only teeny critiques I have with the film is there were a couple of times it lulled. The ending was perhaps twee and could have ended a slight nudge earlier and it is mostly the music that makes this film. It’s no five star baller but it’s so damn close.

Elgort is a tip toe away from arrogance that you don’t like him but there’s enough charm and intelligence to his character that you keep on his side. James as mentioned gives the movie a romantic and soft touch, the scene with her and Baby in a laundromat is another creative and stylish moment that stands out and sets up their connection nicely. Foxx is cool but clearly unhinged and provides the narrative its more tense moments. Spacey flits between good and bad and heck if you know what his motives are as only Spacey could in such a confident manner. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez are a perfect crazed Romeo and Juliet of weaponry and love. Everyone has a moment to shine with a script by Wright that is funny and fierce.

Go see this because it’s truly something you won’t be seeing anything like for the rest of the year. It’s a jacked up joy ride and one you’ll enjoy being in the backseat for. Hold on tight!

8.5/10

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

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Wow….oh dear oh dear. I have left this little blog of mine neglected for quite a long while. I’ve promised myself now, that with a change in my job patterns, I will get back into a writing rhythm again and that will start by returning to this site and reviewing movies as much as possible. So let’s roll right along with the recent release of the Kingsman sequel. You can find my thoughts of the 1st one here.

Just over 2 years ago Matthew Vaughn delivered cinema audiences a fast and fun action spy movie that was more a Bond film than the actual Bond films are. To say I was looking forward to this film would play down my anticipation but I didn’t want to fall into that ‘over-hype’ trap so I just let the film arrive without overplaying trailers or talking about it a lot. Even without the over-hype this film deserves no hype, it’s fizzled out in comparison and trying too hard.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now living with the Swedish princess from, yes that scene at the end of the first film. After the Kingsman brand is hacked and attacked, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) travel to Kentucky to meet the Statesman; an American organisation of spies. The two groups must work together to try and stop the mysterious rise of the Golden Circle led by deranged company leader Poppy (Julianne Moore).

Even with all of the flaws that come with this one, I cannot deny that there is still a bundle of fun to be had with it and as long as you flick that ol’ brain off then you’ll enjoy most of it. The super fast sequences, pacy backing music and silly yet brilliantly gimmicky gadgets all combine to create a crazy time.

I must say that the biggest and most serious crime of this film is not the annoying and frenzied camera work nor the muddling mess of new and old characters but the run-time, coming in at 141 minutes this film with all its whizz and spectacle actually begins to tire and by the end I must admit I was growing bored. Back to the first comment of frenziness, what made Secret Service so delightfully entertaining to watch was the energetic way they presented fight scenes, such as that awesome massacre in the church but here most battles are with more than 2 people or cut against other fights so you end up losing the focused choreography and instead begin getting a headache.

The story isn’t much of a change either, instead of Valentine trying to wipe out a huge percentage of the world with technology we get Poppy trying to wipe out a huge percentage of the world with addiction and the idea of legalisation. It starts off as an interesting premise and Poppy’s whole jungle like 50’s ghost town is a cool location but the plot becomes less creative and more stupid.

Egerton is back on form as the almost cocky yet charming and confident street lad turned suave. Strong gets more time on screen but mostly to sing Country Roads which becomes a quite sad note to be honest. Moore is a wonderful watch as the pretend sweet American housewife type with an insane and evil streak. Channing Tatum rocks up and does little more than his Tatum best then there’s Pedro Pascal who almost runs away with the whole film as the whip-cracking lasso wielding Whiskey. Colin Firth gets a mildly interesting arc to play upon his return which I won’t spoil of course.

This is a disappointing film to tell the truth without the creative flair and brutal nature of the first, it feels more like a kiddified rush with no brains and just lots of spare energy to burn up. It does have some funny moments and a few rewarding set pieces but with this golden circle scratch away the layer and you’re left with a cheap knock-off.

Oh….Elton John steals the show!

5/10