Searching (2018)

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‘Searching’ is the first big Hollywood thriller to be led by an Asian actor; the wonderful John Cho and in Aneesh Chaganty’s debut full-length feature we are presented with a technology based run of hints and danger with near-perfect execution.

After Margot Kim (Michelle La) doesn’t return home after a supposed study session round her friends, her dad David (Cho) begins to worry as this isn’t how she normally behaves. As her days gone missing go by, he learns he doesn’t know as much as he thought about his child and with the help of officers from the California South Bay police force he hopes to understand what’s happened to Margot.

It wasn’t too long ago that a similar-but-not-sequel of ‘Unfriended’ was out and showed us the dark side of the web. This thriller, again provides audiences with the same stylistic methods of the 2014/18 horrors but puts across its unfolding dark side through the drastic clue quest taken by David and the possible warning signals of people around Margot. ‘Searching’ also fares a lot better than the computer-screen heavy visuals of the ‘Unfriended’ movies by better realising its concept and creating an engaging watch from start to almost finish.

The ending is slightly underwhelming, just in the sense I found it to unravel what was an excellently taut story with a fairly ridiculous and sentimental conclusion. The plot does also rely on bordering on silly camera placements and websites to keep the online, onscreen narrative going along. Aside from this, the film is a riveting thriller boosted by Torin Borrowdale’s work, his score has hints of dark tension which add to the slow-burning stakes and with the eventual revelations this adds up to a dynamic, chilling movie.

What do you really know about your children? This suspenseful success at the box office proves that it’s not always that much. Truths get uncovered, mysteries are juicily served up and a visual representation of a detective-esque Crazy Board on a desktop scattered with files speaks volumes for the strained search a father goes on to hopefully find his girl. This film works well because it has you guessing along, as if playing a cinematic game of Cluedo. That sense of intrigue is like catnip for many people and seeing this story play out via live news broadcasts, mobile chats and social media stalking has us invested in a gripping turn of events.

John Cho is great in this movie, whether up for judgement in pixelated zoom or seen through countless FaceTime conversations he really does sell us the panicked, doting father with flaws that help round him out as an interesting character who forgets what is important to both him and his daughter Margot.

There may have been a smidge of expected moments come the wrapping up of this movie but by and large, ‘Searching’ is an expertly organised thriller that may utilise a gimmicky premise but plays on an effective story to quickly overshadow that feeling.

8/10

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Christopher Robin (2018)

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The stories from A.A Milne have always proved popular with families so it’s no surprise that another iteration of Christopher Robin and friends is out, not long after the more factual release starring Domhnall Gleeson, Disney are back on the Hundred Acre Wood trail and ensure their magical touch runs through this movie.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has left his childhood and woodland playmates behind for a grey adult life working at a luggage company. He’s losing grip on fun, his daughter Madeline and wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) who just wants him to focus on family and being less stuffy again which is where the stuffed Pooh bear comes in to hopefully get Robin to help him find himself once more.

This film works better for the more innocent eyes, the honey sweetness of the story is thick and sickly that children will undoubtedly lap up. That isn’t to say this child friendly approach to the movie is a negative, it has problems of a befuddling plot and is slightly weird as we’re meant to believe the characters bounding into the city are real. It might just be me but I was hoping that they were just toys and Christopher had a playful imagination that he’d hand down to his daughter but the fact they were actually alive, being seen by London folk was odd.

Pooh is a bear of very big heart and this is a film of very big emotional manipulation. In the final stages the movie especially tries to make the audience well up and gosh darn it they almost succeed, not because the film is sad but because the filmmakers utilise strings in their music and every other cliche expected to force that emotive pang. This is a harsh statement though because aside from that the movie is exceptionally charming.

Winnie’s little doddering walk and his pearls of silly wisdom are cute, Tigger’s colours may be as muted as some of the less sparky earlier moments in the film but his bounce brings a spark into the movie and the funny bone is tickled on occasion by moments like Pooh loving his Pennywise balloon, playing games on a train and Eeyore frankly stealing the show with his unyielding pessimistic attitude of which I relate!

It’s quite a run of the mill Ewan McGregor performance, he’s good but doesn’t really show off major acting chops. He acts opposite the fuzzy CG pals nicely but they do act him off the screen. Jim Cummings vocals for both Winnie and Tigger are exquisite, he’s perfect in giving this cuddly creatures personality and an infectious quality, you can’t help smiling when they’re on screen. Nick Mohammed is Piglet but something about his voice work for the acorn loving pig is askew. There’s also some brilliant cameos from a trio of British comedic talent as a policeman, taxi driver and street salesman.

Disney seem like they’re hoping to echo the ‘Paddington’ success but the saccharine element is too much and there are no stylistic flourishes. Also the story is massively predictable but it’s a gentile watch that does no harm and is a sweet humorous watch.

6/10

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

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He’s scaled the world’s tallest building in Dubai, climbed a rock face in Utah and broken his ankle during the shoot of the latest instalment for the ever fun and always stunt heavy Mission: Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise is an action messiah and ‘Fallout‘ further proves this statement of mine.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) receives a message that a terrorist ring have their hands on 3 plutonium cores which they intend to use in creating maximum destruction for ‘peace’. He teams up with Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), but after an unexpected dilemma, Hunt is shadowed by CIA operative Walker (Henry Cavill) as their mission takes them to Paris and an old adversary.

Christopher McQuarrie is back in the directors chair and with his fantastically engrossing screenplay, he ensures to keep quality control on a narrative that essentially boils down to a seek and locate motivated globe-trot and a heart palpitating countdown themed finale. The M:I series has always been a fun one and this is no exception but they’ve definitely been getting better and more finely written.

Obviously the set-pieces are as amazingly coordinated as ever, each and every insane stunt moment making you take a breath and fear you won’t regain it by the end of the sequence. This sixth outing rockets from a HALO jump over France to a phenomenal helicopter chase, with everything from motorbike collisions and a London run in between. This film boasts such an impressive cinematic run of stunts with the optimum motivation to boost adrenaline into you, I certainly sat back, mouth agape loving it all. Side note: stunt teams and performers truly deserve more recognition and the Academy should step up and honour films that put great care and work into creating high-octane thrills like this movie offers.

This isn’t to say the stunts overshadow the film. There’s a meaty story that ticks away with great waves of tension, the usual shadiness of who can be trusted is utilised nicely and along rests of humour there’s some welcome light shed on Hunt and his back story with Michelle Monaghan’s Julia, who gets some crucial screen-time, showcasing her skills as an actor and also being a vital character that makes Ethan more than an unbreakable force but an emotional human too.

The ever reliable, action movie star credentials of Cruise are back in full swing and he’s supported by a returning cast. The light-hearted quips from Pegg’s gadget savvy character are always well delivered but he’s on the field more and becomes caught up amongst the threats and action. Rhames is as great as usual and shows a touch of real softness when speaking about his longtime buddy Hunt. It’s great to see Rebecca Ferguson back too, she makes Ilsa a complicated and strong individual to stand toe to toe with Cruise. They’re joined by franchise newbie Cavill who sports ‘that’ moustache and pumps his arms as ferociously as his character is, also fresh to the scene is Vanessa Kirby who is a riveting complex character, that could have had more screen time but eats up the screen with a femme fatale like edge.

What this movie is to watch is nothing short of spectacular. You thought it’d be impossible to top the last one but again the crew and stars have succeeded in their mission to provide us with fast paced excitement and tension like no other. One of the best action films I’ve seen. You can choose to accept that or not, it’s a fact.

9/10

Hotel Artemis (2018)

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It pays to get care in this directorial debut from ‘Iron Man 3’ writer Drew Pearce, but did I really care that much about the film? Well, it certainly boasts a talented line up and story potential but it doesn’t break free from being a generic and an almost online streaming kind of movie.

After a botched robbery, the criminals led by Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) head to a members only location in Los Angeles. Hotel Artemis is a hotel and hospital establishment run by Jean (Jodie Foster), that is specifically designed to cater only the crooks of society, to keep them away from police attention. However, LA kingpin The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is on route and one of the members have something that belongs to him.

For a start, that aspect of the story also featured in the trailer never seems to come to anything, the King of Wolves never really gets to grips with that missing item because he has his own problems to deal with. The plot itself also from Drew Pearce finds itself located at a cool starting point, what with a dystopian LA of 2028 providing futuristic visuals and an underground means of operation that’s quite interesting. Sadly, the film doesn’t become as engrossing as it could have been and feels like a fun watch, but a forgettable one.

There’s dialogue within this movie that sounds like it’s come straight out of the Roger Moore era of Bond, with sign off lines that are cheesier than a cheddar block. Thanks to the designated rules listed by the Artemis, any promise of action is left til the dying moments, which does make the film somewhat less exciting to get through. Thanks to the cast though and some blasts of poppy music and a thankfully engaging score from Cliff Martinez, this film doesn’t fail too badly.

Jodie Foster is on top form as the nurse of the joint, she totters around and as the main centrepiece she’s a brilliant presence. She brings her character a sweet anxiety and a nice homely if not shady level of care. Sterling K. Brown is a fine actor and a charismatic chap but he doesn’t get much to do in this and he’s just an uninteresting character to follow. Dave Bautista destroys any rule breakers with great ease but shows he’s more than muscle, acting nicely opposite Foster and providing his orderly character touches of compassion. Charlie Day does more of his usual shouty stuff and Goldblum is underused. Sofia Boutella plays Nice, a for hire killer and she’s seriously bad ass, showcasing awesome skills of chopping bad guys down and cloaked in her thigh high sliced dress she looks like an Electra or Red Sonja and she’s a talented, fierce actor that deserves a leading role like that.

If anything, ‘Hotel Artemis’ tries throwing a bit too much of everything into the mix and becomes overcooked. There’s flashes of something special but it never checks in to those heights.

6/10

The Incredibles 2 (2018)

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After almost 14 years, the supers are back! It’s the one Pixar movie that everyone (well definitely I) thought deserved a sequel but was it worth the mega-wait or should they hang up their masks for good?

Kicking off where the last film ended, we see the Parr family aka The Incredibles try and put a halt to the fiendish plans of the Underminer. The consequences of their actions put more strain on the legal battle of super-powered individuals but Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) who works in telecommunications, is keen to get heroes back in the spotlight for good and starts this idea by getting Helen aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to prove that supers shouldn’t be hiding in the shadows.

It was always going to be interesting to see how the animation heads of Pixar would fare creating a follow-up to their beloved 2004 feature, more so because of the comic-book movie saturation that is filling up cinemas. Brad Bird does a spectacular job in directing an animated superhero adventure that feels fresh. It’s a hugely exciting film to watch and it zips along with such breakneck speed as if you’re taking an adrenaline shot.

Bird also writes the story for the next phase in the Incredibles ongoing journey and though they’re still at the same age, the family has certainly got plenty on its plate to keep the film from feeling repetitive. Admittedly the progression of the plot is fairly predictable, in terms of the big baddie reveal being no surprise but that does little to put a dampener on a truly colourful and enjoyable movie.

Elements of how the world is today; our obsession with technology becomes ripe for the picking and the plot plays with this screen-happy culture very well. The constant tug of war with the legality of the superheroes’ presence is explored further and makes for a deeper thread running in and out of the family dramas and Elastigirl led antics. It’s refreshing to see Helen be front and centre and show off her skills in the field. The house bound tribulations of Bob trying to juggle stresses of homework, an adolescent girl and a baby developing jittery powers are a perfect balancing act with the awesome action set pieces featuring their mum.

Michael Giacchino’s score is a triumph and hands every sequence a perfectly energetic buzz or sounds trickling with notes of spy intrigue. That theme tune of his is as glorious as ever and gave me goosebumps, it’s like some jazzy fanfare that makes you feel indestructible. I have to comment on the lighting within this film also, gorgeous scenery with orange/red skies are stunning to look at, a literally flashy fight sequence in an electric cage is dazzling and generally the movie is an impressive work of art.

It’s no surprise that has the prize of having the best debut for an animation film because this is a supremely fantastic, fun, engaging and super superhero family movie. Here’s hoping the Parr family come back a bit sooner next time.

8.5/10

The Secret of Marrowbone (2018)

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Produced by J.A. Bayona; this ghostly tale sees the writer of ‘The Orphanage’ step forward as a first time director and on the most part, Sergio G. Sanchez does a good job in bringing a level of intrigue to the forefront, but the characters and any horror scares get slightly pushed aside.

At a house in the middle of nowhere live a family called the Marrowbone’s. There’s some dangerous past that they’ve run away from and Jack (George MacKay), the eldest does his best to protect his sister and two brothers. After becoming friends with Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), the children think life is just grand but a tragedy swiftly arrives and their home seems to harbour a menacing spirit.

It would be a disservice to call this film a horror because in terms of that genre this is not a very scary movie in the slightest. It’s way more effective as a paranormal thriller, one of those almost alarming psychological yarns that spin around in your mind and get you reeling. It takes a while to get there but when the events of what happened six months ago are shown, this story comes crackling alive. It’s also one of those films that once the secret is revealed I kicked myself for not realising the truth earlier. ‘The Secret of Marrowbone’ progresses in a clever way, drip-feeding clippings of the past to distract you from what every minute detail of the secret could be.

The house of Marrowbone itself is a neat character, the blackened ceilings, covered mirrors and locked doors all combine to make the building feel like a foreboding presence throughout the movie. Though there weren’t many times that the film provides scares and if it did they were through the cliche of jump-scares, I must admit that the most frightening points involve shadowy nooks and crannies.

I’m still thinking on the aftermath of the movie now and I probably still shall be in a couple of days time. It definitely is a ghoulish mind-f**k of an ending and I would compare the narrative and twist to another film but I won’t because that will spoil the drama. It’s a story from Sanchez that I’m not sure if I fully liked, it’s mysterious but also confusing and with deep thought would likely sway to the side of negativity because the melodramatic family angle feels like it doesn’t make sense as to what the ending shows.

The cast of home-dwelling siblings are good on the most part. Mia Goth has elements of the screaming Shelley Duvall about her but in the quieter moments her performance is quite stunted but gets better. Matthew Stagg plays the young lad and as all horrors utilise, he captures that creepy kid aspect well. Charlie Heaton possesses a lonely angst but doesn’t get to explore his turn as Billy that much. The true star is MacKay who deals with a lot as the leader of the pack and his acting progresses in more ways than one.

‘The Secret of Marrowbone’ will sit with me for a while and for now I can say I liked what it was going for, the characters may not be as interesting as the curvature of the narrative but for the last 20-30 minutes alone, this is a chilling feature that plays on shocks and family connections.

6.5/10

Sicario 2: Soldado (2018)

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After taking a breath and realising what a fantastically dark ride 2015’s ‘Sicario’ was, I never expected a follow up. It didn’t set one up and people weren’t calling for a sequel but here we are; without supremo director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Roger Deakins. Does that weaken the horrendously titled Day of the Soldado or is there merit to be found?

In light of some bombers reaching American soil, the US Government employs Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to get dirty and stop the Mexican cartels; who they believe are smuggling terrorists across the border. Matt hires black ops guy Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to start a war between the cartel groups.

Three years ago we were presented with this boiling pot of tension and a strained political tug of war, with Emily Blunt thrust into the dangerous landscape. Now with director Stefano Sollima on board and Blunt’s Kate Macer out, the story is a different kettle of fish. What worked for the first film was Taylor Sheridan’s script, we were on side with Kate, not knowing why they needed her and her gradual understanding of the shady tactics being utilised was an interesting narrative arc. This film’s plot isn’t as neatly focused and it becomes a wider exploit on Mexico and the US Government, it’s also an odd feeling to be along for the ride with Matt and Alejandro; who weren’t exactly characters to like or trust the first time around.

In ‘Sicario’ there were indeed bloody moments but these suited Kate’s worrying immersion into a world painted as a grey area. For me I couldn’t get past the idea that a good proportion of ‘Soldado’ was bloodier and violent for the sake of violence, plus the trigger blasting sight of del Toro firing like a maniac took me right of the film because it just looks dumb. The violence generally unnerved me and felt like a visceral jolt but there wasn’t great reason behind it, mirroring the sense of this sequel being made.

On the plus side, I still think this was a good movie. There was more tension coursing through the veins of the drama compared to before, if that’s somehow possible. Hildur Guonadottir’s score picked up on the familiar sounds of the late, great Johann Johannsson and added further swells of palpable unease. A stand out sequence with a dust road convoy is expertly executed and later stages with Gillick and his journey are nicely unexpected.

There’s still a chilling aura on show, thanks to Sheridan’s handle on the returning characters and it’s clearly a film identifiable as part of the gritty, bleak ‘Sicario’ brand, but it’s let down by a looser, disappointing story and perhaps too much brutality. They’re obviously eager for a 3rd film and though I didn’t really want ‘Soldado’, I’m more than happy to see what the trilogy could end like.

6/10