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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Blade Runner (1982)

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Forgive me Movie Community for I have sinned. Today was the 1st time I’d seen this film in almost 27 years of existence. A cult classic and movie continually hitting Top film lists and finally I have watched it…mostly in preparation for the new flick but also to try and rectify a big list of classics I’ve not yet seen.

As a group of ‘Replicants’ (extremely strong and equally intelligent synthetic humans) arrive to Earth, Deckard (Harrison Ford) takes one last job to track them down and kill them. Things don’t go so easy though as he comes across Rachael (Sean Young) and eventually comes face to face with Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

The genre of this movie is something I can wholeheartedly get behind, the slick neo-noir vision is indeed special even to this day, so I can only imagine how it may have looked back in the early 80’s. The combination of futuristic science fiction vibes with film noir is most definitely cool and provides a great backdrop for not only the look of the world being created but the rich story too.

Based off a book by Philip K. Dick, who’s adapted work is further seen currently on Channel 4 which I really want to see, this film written by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher almost effortlessly blends the sci-fi genre of fantastical worlds, gadgets and futuristic elements with the layered and more interesting aspects of noir; the femme fatale, the questionable detective hero and moody lighting and moodier characters.

Not that far into the film I began questioning the central idea of clones and the Replicant possibility within the main character. I see now that it has been a topic of controversy for years. Not helping matters are the changes in various versions of this film that have been shown, released and updated. I watched the Final Cut and I must say that I did start thinking that Rick Deckard could very well be a copy and not human but I guess that interpretation idea makes for good conversations and a thinking piece.

Another controversy is my admittance that though I enjoyed the film and see it’s very very well made, I didn’t completely get behind the hype and amazement people have built it up to have over the years. It’s acted well in places, the music from Vangelis is stellar and the plot is interesting, quite complex and provoking but it felt like a lullaby in places and didn’t keep my interest as I wished it may have done. Perhaps I misunderstood it like people did upon it’s first release but the mystery of the narrative never gripped me and the pacing was slightly irritating.

Those are my only negatives, which I know could well have me shot. Aside from that I get that this film is a superb sci-fi and the ground-breaking hybrid and intelligent story-making on show is cause for this definitive status. I back that status and would recommend the film, I just wouldn’t put it on my Top 10 or Top 20 list of films. Forgive me again Movie Community.

7/10

 

mother! (2017)

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Where do I even start with this film? The exclamation point of the title is certainly necessary and director Darren Aronofsky knew what he was doing by putting it there because this movie is one hell of an exclaiming visceral car crash.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is adamant to keep her home a neat and tidy Eden whilst her husband credited as Him (Javier Bardem) tries overcoming writers block. Their idyllic set up is swiftly interrupted by the arrival of Man and Woman (Ed Harris & Michelle Pfeiffer) who only begin to start the maddening destruction of Mother’s hopeful ordered life.

From this point onward I’ll keep quiet on the plot developments in case you haven’t heard of what crazy events take place. The religious allegorical element becomes so blatantly obvious upon reflection that the entire film feels like a try hard student project from an arrogant director thinking his feature is the Holy Grail. This is a shame and not something I expected from Aronofsky; a director whose work I had mostly enjoyed up until this point.

I guess the tight framings of almost every shot, the close ups or viewpoints stemming from Lawrence help build this frustrating level of anxiety that her character suffers throughout but it also means the film feels dreamlike and slow. It also says something that I felt queasy watching the action of the third act and that wasn’t because of the food poisoning I was already trying to stomach! It becomes, what I feel, is a truly unnecessary debauched trip of torture and an over the top display of what one man can do with a deranged take on the notion of ‘tarnishing Mother Earth’ and $30 million.

The first act is actually really well set up and this initial idea of a home being slowly intruded and torn apart makes for an intriguing and unsettling base point. The mystery of who the two strangers are and what they may end up doing was almost perfect, it felt like the basis of a tightly wound thriller but that ends up becoming bloodied and soiled by the end making me question why I even bothered committing to watching the entire film and not have more fun with my head over a toilet being sick.

Clint Mansell for the first time doesn’t team up with Aronofsky, instead the film is almost void of any music which actually does work to be fair. The sound design is on form and adds an extra layer of frustrating distress to accompany the growing torment of Mother. On another slight positive I have to say that all this press and polarising chatter does help the film because people are talking about it, the movie is getting attention which I’m sure is just what Aronofsky desired.

Jennifer Lawrence has a lot to carry on her shoulders as she appears pretty much constantly through this film bringing in a range of emotions as she becomes more and more pecked and broken by the escalating carnage in her house. Javier Bardem feels like a wasted actor, not doing much of anything apart from carrying some vague sinister indifference to what happens around him. It’s Michelle Pfeiffer that stands out in a creepy way, her stares and her calculated presence being just what the film needs.

mother! is certainly a film that seems to have no middle ground, almost like Marmite in a way. I guess the intelligent comment would be to say I need to see this film again and try and see what the people who like it may be seeing but I just 100% don’t wish to watch this movie ever again!

2.5/10

2016 Top Ten

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‘We are Number One.’…and two, three and four, five and so on. It’s belated but I’ve finally found time to notch up my favourite 10 movies from last year. Surprisingly this was easier because there weren’t too many great films released in 2016! You could say most were Rotten! Ahaha…moving quickly on then to number 10….

…but quickly before that, here’s a few films that almost made the grade…The Neon Demon, Deadpool, The Witch, Moana, The Invitation, Captain America: Civil War, Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Danish Girl, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping then The Little Prince and Hush would have been on the list but didn’t gain theatrical releases so sadly, I didn’t include them.

So, in at ten –

10) GREEN ROOM…AND NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

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Enter the Green Room, a nightmarish small space in a neo-Nazi skinhead filled club. This movie brilliantly delivers on unsettling tension and dark turns as a band are menaced and killed. Full Review. Similarly, Tom Ford’s stylish Nocturnal Animals gives tension to the nth degree, the gritty story-within-a-story standing out as the best thing.

9) THE JUNGLE BOOK

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I don’t dislike the original Walt cartoon from yesteryear, but The Jungle Book isn’t my go to animation from them…so I was pleasantly surprised by this movie which looks incredible, the CGI landscape and animals are epic, Sethi as Mowgli blends into the darkly presented story very well and it zips along nicely as a well modernised tale. You wanna read my review-oo-oo? I know you do-oo-oo. Jungle Book

8) ARRIVAL

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Clever, gorgeous, intellectual, timey-wimey, language and love co-exist but with aliens. The story is always engaging, Adams’ performance is natural and affecting in her story that just happens to feature hovering space crafts and circular lingo. Arrive at my review.

7) ZOOTROPOLIS

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Fun but also incredibly on point about the very real politics of stero-typing and racial prejudice, this fluffy family flick is more in depth and smartly told than you’d think. Don’t be a sloth, quickly click on my review for Zootropolis.

6) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

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Dropped on us from nowhere, the Cloverfield world is expanded with this shift of genre as we get a claustrophobic thriller centered on relationships, mystery and danger instead of the found footage device. It was such a surprise and a fantastic film to boot. Tension kicks into overdrive, music is used so well and Goodman is a scary monster. Cloverfield

5) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

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Laika have done it again by golly! This is such a rich and awesome stop-motion fantasy that goes over some very interesting and cultural textures whilst still featuring the humour and charm you’d expect. I want to see it again to just admire the work put into making this beautiful film. Kubo.

4) VICTORIA

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I am so so…so glad that I got to see this film. It isn’t just the sheer marvelling feature of shooting the entire movie in one-take but the performances are fascinating and believable, the story is engaging and you connect to the world as Victoria becomes involved more and more.

Well….we’ve reached the golden trio, the three musketeers, the tricycle of brilliance from last year. What’s in at number 3 then??

 

3) SING STREET

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Ah, what a charming and musically gorgeous film. The coming of age story is fun in itself but added with 80’s nostalgia, humour and songs, Sing Street becomes a movie to feel happy watching. I re-watched it recently and still found myself adoring every moment.

2) HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker. A hero for the ages. This is a gem of a film with bittersweet moments, heartfelt tenderness, sharp comedy, coming of age and bonding adventures, randomness, lush locations and the ever reliable brilliance of Taika Waititi behind it all. Hunt the Wilderpeople down now…it’s so worth it if you haven’t seen it.

It’s here, Bully’s special prize. Iiiiiiin 1 –

 

 

1) THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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It had to be, as a Tarantino fan there was almost no question that this movie would hit the heights but it’d still have to be a good film and gladly it is. Three acts that all soar with incredible cinematic talent both behind and in front of the camera. Morricone on board for the score ensures the sound is perfect. Seeing it in 70mm also helped elevate the special sweeping look of this western blood soaked Quentin extravaganza. Dialogue, violence, humour and details are as crisp as ever and I loved every second. 8

Til next year…maybe…let’s see what 2017 has to give us hey?!

Passengers (2016)

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‘There’s a reason they woke up early’, so the tagline for this movie goes, as it turns out it’s not a very interesting or even great one. The only great thing the film has going for it is the fun chemistry between its leads and a superbly glossy style for the ship where the action takes place.

Avalon; a spaceship, is travelling to Homestead II, a planet for people to live on. The course will take 90 years but suddenly passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakes from his hibernation pod and finds himself alone. Preston’s only company is a barman android named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Later down the line, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is awoken and with Jim they try to solve the ship’s mystery whilst also falling for each other.

For the positives of this movie, the spaceship has a cool and incredibly sleek design. It’s clear the makers of the film have taken time to think about how certain rooms and items should appear. Avalon is a rotating craft and on the inside, modern technology is advanced with rooms aboard boasting entertainment to rival cruise liners. The connection between Jim and Aurora grows nicely and is believable consistently as they spend more time together. Gravity falls, machines fail and threat does come into play for moments which is good to see but that doesn’t outweigh the rubbish plot.

It’s a shame the story increases in it’s ridiculousness because for the portions of the movie where Pratt is by himself the movie is strong. It of course never reaches that amazing solitary ‘Moon’ vibe of Rockwell/Jones but it gets close and has a neat cold vibe about it as we see him struggle. Sadly as the sci-fi dwindles and the romance takes over it feels like ‘Titanic’ in space, also plot points that create dramatic changes are executed in the most expositional way.

Not only these moments annoyed me in how the writers got the story to move forwards but there were no twists which I expected and the actual thing that caused early rising from hibernation was nowhere near a revelation as it could…should have been. That could have been a clever and possibly dark idea played with but they never tread down that path, even ‘Wall-E’ is a darker comment on society than this is.

Chris Pratt is engaging and manages to submerge his usual Pratt shtick as the cabin-fever sets in. Jennifer Lawrence is a glowing presence as she steps into the story and breaks down with suitable emotion upon realising why she’s there. Together as a couple of love struck space travellers they work well and a spark is clear. Michael Sheen plays a near emotionless character to convincing standards with ever present glossy eyes and almost creepy smile adding to his role.

This film gets more dumb as it continues and makes you forget the nice intense moments that it started with. Aside from a captivating pairing of actors this is a creepily played out love story that doesn’t know how to stop.

5.5/10

 

Snowden (2016)

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With a neat common theme of modern like gloss layered over this political drama it’s hard not to feel some moments are heightened for cinematic effect, but the true life and accounts its portraying are truly interesting, thrilling and I liked the film quite a lot.

After being ruled out of the U.S Army, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explores his passion for computers and joins the CIA impressing Corbin (Rhys Ifans). At the same time, Snowden is developing a connection with photographer and liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As his roles develop, Edward Snowden questions the ideas of these huge government groups and winds up releasing date about American security reviling him as the notorious whistleblower.

I do find that with these type of films, there is never a running jump as to who the director wants to place their chips with, leaving us to walk out mulling over our own thoughts. That for me is something annoying and at least here, director Oliver Stone makes it clear that he’s on Snowden’s side. Of course that gives this movie an obvious bias but he’s having the confidence to put his foot down and direct his own mind.

Edward Snowden was someone I’d always heard of, knew of the whistle blowing status and what he had done to a small degree, but this movie explores a lot more which is great. I liked what the whole feature had to say, as it doesn’t just shed light on this man and how not only his work changed his decisions and therefore life but gives us enough to make an opinion even if Stone is leaning us to the fact that what he did was a necessary thing to kick-start a change in American surveillance.

I too will stake my place and agree that what Snowden was for the benefit of a hopeful world, with big countries needing to be more open about their spying on everyday people. The opposite side is agreeable too, concerning how he definitely threatened pivotal date to possible terrorists and stole information but then this is why I liked the film because there’s a huge meaty conversation starter to be had about the actions of an ethical and technological 29 year old.

Structurally the movie is done as you’d imagine, starting at the most recent point in his timeline as he’s about to leak the information before jumping back every now and then with the the newest 2013 scenes interspersed from time to time. It’s never confusing or muddled and sometimes the scenes blend nicely together. There are some beautiful little touches, for example the kaleidoscope hotel corridor as Snowden walks along, almost a visual parallel to the different stands of his career.

What hit me most is when we watch him use a program that hops from a tracked person if interest and links him/her to contacts they have, then contacts those people have and so on and so on. That was an alarming realisation that I’d just ignorantly never thought to think about and it really demonstrates how mostly innocent people are being watched constantly. It’s all cleverly awash with a neon blue and ends on a graphic circle melding into a shot of Snowden’s eye before pulling out and seeing Edward watch that program unfold.

Gordon-Levitt is great, the change to his voice matches the sound of Snowden very well and he looks remarkably like him as the stubble appears. Woodley is radiant as the antithesis to her partner, she acts playfully but shows emotion too as his commitment to work affects their relationship. Rhys Ifans is a sort of formidable character, on the brink of villainy because of what he knows, this characteristic is illuminated further as his faces looms over Snowden on a screen through a Facetime call. Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson aren’t in it too much but do enough to become believable intrepid allies to the cause and likewise Nicolas Cage has little screen-time but is a friendly if typically Cage-like role helping Edward out.

The very biased construction of the film, shining Snowden in a radiant light might be off-putting to some, but he is an icon whichever way you look at him. There’s plenty to think about after seeing this and for me that just outweighs the idealistic siding they’ve taken to their own hero.

7/10

Victoria (2016)

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Hurrah, I have finally got around to seeing this film and by golly it didn’t disappoint after a near 8 month wait. The technical achievement itself is enough to love the movie but then you get an engaging story and deep performances to solidify this as a brilliant complex drama.

Leaving a club in Berlin is Victoria (Laia Costa) who winds up cycling home with a group of loud and rule-breaking men. There’s an immediate connection between her and Sonne (Frederick Lau) and a fun escapade onto an apartment roof furthers her unique night. However, Victoria ends up spending her time in a much more dangerous manner than she could expect as Sonne and his mates need to do something for a man named Andi.

Just having the idea of a continuous shot for an entire movie is brave but then to not only carry it out but do it very well is an astonishing feat. The one take movement of the movie certainly does a lot to help you step into the world of the film and become a voyeuristic character as the plot unfolds.

Sebastian Schipper directs with a confident touch, the way he commands for scenes to stay still and the camera rest as dialogue spills out are great moments to sit back, honestly after watching the whole thing it feels like you’ve been on a night out because you get so wrapped up in the story and Schipper ensures that the careful placements and movements of the camera aids this interesting immersive story. Obviously Sturla Brandth Grovlen deserves a continuous standing ovation for his stunning work on the continuous take.

Also, the lighting is incredible, whether strobe pulses in the club or natural lampposts at night, the wash of blues and yellows over a majority of scenes gives this film an impressive look that works over the gradually growing grittiness of the thriller narrative. The music too is well selected, drowning out diegetic sounds with a piano melody that raises chills and also connects nicely to the instrumental talents of Victoria.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and felt like I was there every step of the way. The one-take is masterful and it’s just so good that the writing of the story matched the clever way of telling it. My heart was sat in my mouth at one moment as Victoria tries starting a car, an empty car park filled with weapon wielding men is a kick-starter of tension and a soft lighted scene in a cafe is actually very romantic, cute and believably funny between a pair suddenly attracted to one another.

Laia Costa is a perfect vehicle to lead us around the unwinding plot. She delivers a wonderfully infectious smile but counter balances her energetic nature with a raw emotion that overflows with tears as she gets caught up in the world of Sonne and the others. Frederick Lau is so great, the way he tos and fros trying to be confident and then having nervous stalls in his mannerisms or speech is wonderful and together with Costa they run with the story like a new Bonnie and Clyde.

The one-take execution is phenomenal but you do forget that and become one with a detailed and impacting drama thriller which grips you by the collar and won’t shake you loose until the camera finally cuts to black.

8.5/10