The Meg (2018)

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Swallow a load of this monstrous shark movie, which on trailer and prior buzz alone looked to be the perfect summer popcorn flick of ridiculousness, but upon viewing it doesn’t quite reach that fabled height of silliness but comes close enough to make ‘The Meg’, a grin-inducing creature feature.

Backed by the financial might of Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), a diving team are hoping to discover an entire new layer underneath the Mariana Trench. As bad luck would have it they stumble upon the hungry jaws of Megalodon and the surface crew need to rein in the help of rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), who can hopefully stop the toothy villain from killing them and many more.

Director of the National Treasure movies, John Turteltaub sure knows how to call the shots with a rough and ready lead and provide fun thrills, so he’s a handy choice for this shark based feature. Once the film really gets kicking, then the enjoyment factor breaks through the shark cage roof but there are some moments that are, dare I say, a little slow and I wanted more blood-soaked action and some sense of silliness which the narrative set up sorely lacks.

Perhaps the 12A rating doesn’t help this movie either, if it had have been bumped up to a 15 it could have elevated the nastiness and nightmarish situation of a beastly water-dweller stalking populated waters but aside from this weakening classification and a mildly boring first act, this is a film that hints at deathly danger enough to whet the adrenaline-taste buds and survive as a dumb but fun family film.

Shark films obviously have a hard time living up to the famous dread which was sustained throughout ‘Jaws’, but as a B-movie sci-fi outing, this manages to provide two if not three sequences that are tense and have you fearing for the characters and fearing more the chomping nature of this gigantic prehistoric fish, for example, a beach swarming with happy go lucky people is a short but brilliant bite of joyful shark bait tension and features a true underdog!

Jason Statham on board is always a stonking good casting choice, if he’s knowingly setting himself up for meme culture and silly dialogue then it’s a film to revel in. Seeing The Stath taking on something, be it Cranky syndicates or the man-mountain that is Dwayne Johnson is never not a delight and in this movie he takes on something just slightly bigger than The Rock with great gruff determination.

This is a fun film that could have benefited from starting a little earlier in it’s knowledge of being a tongue-in-cheek blast, but once the fearsome creature surfaces than so does the entertaining ride.

7/10

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

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I missed this when it was on cinematic release but thanks to good ol’ Netflix, I’ve now rectified that wrong. I say it’s a wrong because I’m glad I watched this movie; it’s a breezy fun action flick that satisfied me from start to end.

Former triple A rated bodyguard is down on his luck after an unfortunate mission, but Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is still good at what he does and is called to protect former adversary Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). It happens that Kincaid is a hitman in Manchester, needing to be at the Hague in the Netherlands to testify against a possibly genocidal leader without being killed or killing his ‘protector’.

Okay okay, the film may not be a marvel or genius example of film-making but if you’re looking for some high octane comedic affair then look no further than this feature that excels thanks to the selling point of it’s leading double act. The script from Tom O’Connor never breaks the mould and it’s obvious throughout how the sequence of events will play out but in a way that makes the film more fun to follow. Also, some attempts to mix in the action and comedy with grounded politics and pearls of wisdom about their two roles in society and what they do feel a bit misplaced against the lighter charm presented.

Again, the direction by Patrick Hughes isn’t something that steps up out of the generic action staple we’re used to seeing but he shows off some neat explosive sequences with confidence and they’re some breezy action moments that don’t yawn with Michael Bay slow motion syndrome. A ‘Black Betty’ backed car chase, a fast jaunt along the canals of Amsterdam and an early Manchester based hit all do a great job in providing exciting action.

It’s easy to see why this film has scooped up a sequel; not just because it did well at the box office against a 30 million budget but it crackles and fizzles thanks to an energetic chemistry between unsuited Deadpool and extended hi-jinks from Detective P.K. Highsmith (The Other Guys). Reynolds turns down his expected Merc with the Mouth shtick and plays around with a semi-boring is best play it by the letter unromantic dude. He gets a few funnies but does a good thing in playing the straight guy hopelessly trying to rein in the balls to the wall maniac-like tactics from Jackson’s portrayal of Darius. If Samuel L. Jackson’s laugh isn’t enough to infect you then I don’t know what is because he’s clearly having a great time in this role. Gary Oldman as the Belarus PM brings effective chill to a part that other actors would have just hammed up or not tried in. Salma Hayek is underused but also seems to be having fun in a role that sees her shouting profanities and being a suitable partner for Jackson.

There are problems, mostly down to cliches and it not being an action film I’ll likely remember in 5, perhaps 2 years but for the time being it sits nicely with me as an entertaining jolt of enjoyment.

6.5/10

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

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I’ll admit now that I have never seen any of the George Clooney led ‘Ocean’s’ movies, but this stands tall by itself thanks to a sparky cast and I’d not begrudge this doing well enough to gain itself trilogy status.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent over 5 years in jail but manages to get out after a parole hearing. All that time inside got her concocting a heist to steal a diamond necklace to be worn at the annual Met Gala in New York. She enlists the help of 6 others, including former crime partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) and hopefully her plan will land them all, a lot of dollar indeed.

The script by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch is the weakest player in the game. There’s not enough twisty turns to keep the hustle flowing and one of the swerves it does throw at you, I guessed before even seeing the film, thanks to the trailers, promotional imagery and the name of the film itself. If you overlook the quite formulaic narrative then you’ll be faced with an enjoyable flick.

Anything that reminds me of the cool swindling found in BBC’s ‘Hustle’ makes me happy and the production quality in certain places of ‘Ocean’s 8’ is stylishly pulled off. There’s a sort of revelry to be had in watching guilty folk being tricked which Mickey, Danny and his television chums did all the time. This film retains some of that but doesn’t quite justify Debbie’s actions as she does it because it’s what she’s good at and for revenge; another showcase of the plot not being as strong or dynamic as it could have been.

I enjoyed little character moments of small scams and the planning aspect has some entertaining quirks, if not slightly stretching in places. Luckily the first Monday in May sequence hits and the ladies do their thing as the Met gets well and truly in the swing of things. This big plan is directed well; bursting with well dressed celebrities, slick editing and just a pinch of light tension. This sequence, like the majority of the movie, is a glamorous joy to sit back and watch.

Bullock and Blanchett are a formiddable duo and are on top form playing the intelligent and crafty leaders. The scheme being no major sweat off their brow is utterly believable, as is Helena Bonham Carter playing failing, scatty Irish fashion designer Rose who is on the brink of ruin. Rihanna gleefully plays tech smart Nine Ball and her reactions are priceless as she sells her character enjoying every second of the work she’s been hired into. Sarah Paulson is great in everything and here as Tammy, she plays equal measure of business confidence and mumsy warmth nicely. I’m not a fan of either Anne Hathaway or James Corden but I have to say that the former is clearly lapping up the fun of her egocentric turn as Daphne Kluger. The latter….well, for once he’s well cast as an annoying, smarmy insurance guy who can get in the way.

‘Ocean’s 8’ is harmless fun and the con work may not be groundbreaking but there’s a ball to be had spotting cameos, admiring dresses and feeling the effortless cinematic chemistry of the eight females on show.

6.5/10

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

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

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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Cue magical music and the Warner Brothers logo in the clouds and rejoice because we’re back into the wizarding world of Harry Potter. This time we’re across the pond and in the jazzy 20’s as J.K Rowling steps up for her first screenplay and David Yates is back to kick start another series of fantastical fantasies.

Hufflepuff member and Hogwarts alumni Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is in New York with a suitcase filled with interesting and exotic creatures. Unluckily some escape and with the help of non magical aka No-Maj Jacob (Dan Fogler) he tries tracking them down and evading the attention of Graves (Colin Farrell) who is a director for Magical Congress in America. Whilst they find beasts, humans are rising against the fear of witches and one group may harbour something more powerful than they know.

Managing to avoid spoilers myself I will refrain from any hint of ruin for people that may read this and not have yet seen the film. I can 100% say though that the dazzling effects and wide-spread world conjured up by the amazing Rowling is on form. As soon as the movie begins you cannot help but feel that Potter nostalgia wash over but gladly it starts moving away and feels tonally different as we enter the busy streets of the Big Apple.

It’s the mythology and attention to detail that truly sells this film and makes it the enjoyable spectacle it is. The moment we follow Newt stepping into his suitcase is a brilliant sight to behold and a great scene to watch. The landscapes and animals contained in his travelling pack like the TARDIS-esque tents from ‘Goblet of Fire’ are incredible and it’s the earlier fun segment of the movie that is better than the latter portion.

J.K Rowling takes her small Comic Relief funding book and transports it to the big screen with what feels like ease. Newt and his love of beasties is believable and the 1920’s American set era helps lift the story, giving it an intriguing edge. This newness lets us see the expanding world of magic and how our trans-Atlantic cousins deal with wizards amongst the towering scenery.

Another highlight in the film is when we see a speak-easy and I was happy to hear some 20’s inspired music, though that’s all we get. The scene flows nicely and though it’s small it features a new character that screams perfect 20’s NYC. Yates returns as director and though he doesn’t provide anything wholly special or creatively outstanding, he brings the audience back into that comforting mould we like from the previous HP outings.

On the whole I really found myself wrapped up in this film and liking it; I only have three complaints. One was probably down to me because I guessed a twist from literally 2-3 minutes in. Secondly the latter half as mentioned nearly lets down the more adventurous gleeful first half, as we drift into the reveal of a dark force rattling through the city. All this wreckage with swirling smoke and black fire is quite messy and feels like too much, like a stitched on story to compete and fail with the better Newt journals of finding beasts and clearing his name. Thirdly, the end seemed to drag out and for me should have came before the last tiny scene which felt tacky.

I know that looks like a big paragraph but trust me, I enjoyed the move a lot. Positives totally outweigh the negatives and the cash cow is mooing heartily I’m excited for the announced sequels to come. This new look into the wizarding world with a great Redmayne had me mostly under their spell and is very entertaining.

7.5/10

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10