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

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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

 

The Hateful Eight (2016)

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This is a proper film’s film, the way it sounds to how you breathe in the richness of the scenes makes you marvel at the way a movie can still be fun yet creative, dark and most of all; a reel substance that pulls you back into a time where films were over the top, part of studio systems and genre specific.

On route to Red Rock is infamous John Ruth the Hangman (Kurt Russell) shackled to his prisoner in the form of Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their carriage is slowed by an oncoming blizzard and unpredictable bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). It becomes apparent at halfway stopoff Minnie’s Haberdashery that five new faces may be in league with Daisy to spare her life and kill anyone that gets in the way.

I had the awesome pleasure of seeing this film as intended by the visionary mind of Quentin Tarantino. Leicester Square was projecting the feature in glorious 70mm and it truly was a glorious sight to behold. It adds such a stunning texture and cinematic experience to the story that needs to be seen if you’re any fan of movie-making or Tarantino. The overture sets up the mood with goosebumps and then flickers over the first frame thrust us into that incredible touch of classic film quality. The 12 minute intermission arrives at a perfect point and by the credits I felt like I had taken part in a roadshow experience.

Tarantino shows off as many tricks in the book, for our pleasure and of course his too as you just know he laps up the idea of film and movie history and this movie effortlessly portrays that. The way each scene is carefully set up to linger on characters not only in the foreground but ones doing their business in the background adds the unease and mystery of the narrative. Tarantino also has barrels of fun as we shift into the uncovering aspect of the plot as barrels of fun and blood…lots of blood, spill into action to make us laugh, possibly wince but most of all; realise we’re watching a film that’s all about being entertaining.

Quentin Tarantino as we all know writes his directorial gigs and this screenplay is a marvel to behold. The characters are so well drawn out that even if we don’t ever connect to them we can understand them. They flit in and out of each other’s own backgrounds with interesting purpose and the balls out courage to shoot most of a story in one location really helps the drive of this film as eight untrusting folk get cooped up together knowing death may be around the corner.

As mentioned it’s a proper filmy film, with over the top violence, chapters, narration and slow-motion snippets packaging it as a near perfect Western movie to watch and not take seriously. Yet there are some serious moments amongst the madness and these scenes are executed with gripping tension that gleefully pull us into the plot before stunning us back into reality with a hilarious piece of dialogue or splatterings of deep red blood.

It also looks marvellous, even when we’re panning or cutting back and forth in the haberdashery, there’s a magical and enriched vision to the setting. The details of every corner in this shop/cabin are stuffed full that cry out for repeat viewings so you can not only try and look over characters but the items in the shot too. When we do get outside we get treated to snowy landscapes wonderfully captured by Robert Richardson who gives this harsh wintry environment a breathtaking touch that you don’t want to move away from. I said it over and over last night but the opening shot that slowly moves around and pulls back from a detailed carving of Christ on the cross is one of the most hair-rising and exciting pieces of imagery I’ve witnessed in the cinema for a long time.

Adding with this beautiful curtain raiser and cast/crew credits is a strong and gripping score from big Western composer Ennio Morricone who comes back to the genre for the first time in over 30 years and wow is it worth the wait as every note of the soundtrack tingles with suspense and something looming whilst being playful and true of the Western tropes at the same time. It deserved every inch of the Golden Globe it picked up last night as this film drips with intrigue and only more so because of Morricone’s sublime score.

Samuel L. Jackson eats up the scenes with a comedic character layered with vengeance and race motivated anger, his delivery of QT lines are always smacking the bullseye and it helps give the film zip and zany feelings along the way. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a fascinating watch as she is subjected to cruel words and actions but still demonstrates power as she holds a secret over the room and therefore us watching. She’s funny also but driven and a scene with her, a guitar and a song is greatly placed. Kurt Russell displays fine walrus facial hair and gritty performance playing this gruff hangman who wants to keep to his own alive not dead rule, Russell with Jason Leigh are like a handcuffed married couple that bicker and fight adding a weird sense of mutual hatred yet harmony as they suss each other out and act like children at points. Tim Roth is the man who for me got the best laughs and engagement, I loved his spiffingly top notch turn as Oswaldo Mobray. Walton Goggins starts off annoying but soon becomes a priceless addition as his stab at playing a sheriff becomes more and more interesting. Michael Madsen is the character you may want more from but his gravely voice and brutish cowboy silence slot so well into this ensemble piece.

It’s what you’d expect from Tarantino, indulgent, over the top, brilliantly sharp in writing and class in direction, fun and violent and with this there’s an extra bonus of a murder mystery and single setting to satisfy your cinema taste-buds.

8.5/10