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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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

Rogue One (2016)

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Jumping into hyperspace is this Star Wars story, slotting before ‘A New Hope’, it’s a fantastically expansive kick-start to the Lucasfilm and Disney anthology series, with the overall feel of this operatic space blockbuster being somewhat different to what has come before.

After being freed by Rebel Alliance officer Cassian (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) comes to realise her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been building a powerful weapon for the Imperial Army. Hoping to find some plans to destroy the Death Star, Jyn leads a troop of fighters to do just that and avoid the evil grasp of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

A film such as this is obviously going to arrive with trumpets tooting and hype at an all time peak, so it’s always a task to live up to expectations. Mostly, this movie does succeed if not having a few minor weaknesses. The detail and visual splendour of every planet alone is enough to delight and even more so when seen on the IMAX screen. The new characters are engaging enough to take us on this rebel journey and they’re written with that classic Star Wars code of either bad or good to fit this standalone story snugly with the other movies.

What works so nicely and what I liked the most wasn’t just the impressive scale of the hero’s mission but the attempt at a different tone set up here. It’s not exactly darker but threat is certainly on the line and with everyone’s favourite masked baddie back again it’s clear that the good guys need to watch out. The narrative we receive is unique enough in not tripping fully down nostalgia lane and it has us thrown into a murkier spy-like sci-fi with lives very much on the line.

It’s a simple focused story which is why it’s easy to follow this film and immerse yourself amongst the new creatures, wonderful Michael Giacchino score and fan pleasing links to the Star Wars galaxy. Gareth Edwards directs confidently and with his team the structure of the movie is sound, it all works well, maybe too well because there’s times when the movie feels safe even when it’s treading down an unexplored road of danger and rebellion.

For me at least, the ending is orchestrated greatly, sky fights and ground battles combine in harmony but there comes a time when casualties of war become commonplace and drastically lose impact. Also a near end deus ex machina is totally cliched and felt lazy. Everything just comes to a head, it’s like they tried set up but it didn’t quite work and thinking on it the simple story is non-daring and tightropes the line of being not Star Wars but yet a thoroughly Star Wars picture.

Felicity Jones is brilliant in this, she portrays a gritty determination and hopeful look for a better Empire. The wavering teary eyes give great character emotion and then she can do steely Lara Croft action or engaging empathising smiles to round Jyn Erso as a cool addition to the Wars World. Ben Mendelsohn does a fine job in almost stealing the show, snarls and calm villainous stares make him a marvellous antagonist. Forest Whitaker is a believable guardian yet with a shaky moral core being good yet having a mean streak for intruders. Diego Luna pairs nicely with Jones, the writing of an affection is lame but he’s a rough and ready soldier and a capable male lead. It’s great to hear James Earl Jones voicing Vader once more and trust me, Darth does force choke his way to bad-assery during the film.

Mostly, Rogue One is an entertaining change to the galaxy we know, as it tries to conjure up something a bit different which is almost 100% successful and aside from a couple of near-end niggles, this is a movie to excite all ages and comfort you whilst blasting you with new faces and new worlds.

7.5/10

Headhunters (2011)

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Unquestionably slick and even more undeniable is the bloodiness involved in this Norwegian-Danish film. There’s a sure ride to bolt yourself into as you hurtle through the thrills of watching the lead character try and outdo a capable tracker and ex special forces guy.

Intelligent headhunter Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) may have the job and wife of a rich man but his finances are more troubling, which is why he frequently pals up with a friend to steal art and sell it on. At the opening of his wife Diana’s (Synnove Macody Lund) gallery, Brown meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who wants to work for the company Brown represents, he also happens to own a valuable painting, which leads Roger down a slippery and very dangerous slope.

Based on a successful novel by Jo Nesbo, this is an exhilarating screenplay by Ulf Ryberg and Lars Gudmestad who ensure the pace is kept sharp and fast and even with a couple of far-fetched moments we still buy into the narrative. It says something that a character I began not liking ended up being one I rooted for simply down to that struggle that universally gets audiences on board. Characters are great when they have flaws but Roger and his ways outside of the coupling with Diana make you less than sympathetic when she does the same thing, so it doesn’t hit as strongly, like if he’d never been with another woman.

Morten Tyldum of last year’s ‘The Imitation Game’ fame and nominated glory was on it way before Sherlock Holmes dealt with codes and sexuality (which sounds like Sherlock anyway!). He directs in a way that’s almost break neck after the twenty minute mark, it’s like a muddy Bourne as the action follows a singular male in ever dangerous scenarios forever being tracked down. There’s a slick touch throughout but that doesn’t mean that Tyldum doesn’t forego on the grittier bloody side of things, including a moment that’s literally full of s**t.

You kind of never know what to expect, even if the ending is always something you see coming, you aren’t 100% sure of how the movie will reach that point. That of course is a mark of good directing and story-telling. The thrills are strong and brutal imagery is not something you’ll avoid watching this movie, a dog being a great if not sad example of that. In a strange way this movie has elements of black humour and also comes across like a ‘Hustle’ episode in the way it feels like people are being conned or double-bluffed, the ending and how the police will report everything is dealt with in a way that Tony Jordan of BBC notoriety would have enjoyed with his own gang led by Mickey Bricks.

Coster-Waldau has that usual charm we now all know and mostly love thanks to ‘Game of Thrones’, but he adds to it with a mysterious threat and hit-man edge that keeps him motivated and solely focused on getting Roger. Lund plays Diana in a way that makes you feel at first that she could be a boring typical wife role, but then the film develops and so does your view on just who she is and what to make of her which is acted well by her. Hennie is the star and goes through hell and high blood from suited rich man to stripped and shaved victim, for the price of stealing art.

I really don’t want Hollywood to remake this, even though they’re planning on it. Why? Well because this is so well made, gory, strange and exciting that trying to replicate it will be terrible. A thriller that ticks all the boxes and adds new ones too.

7.5/10

 

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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A surprise film of this year, for when the trailer was unexpectedly dropped, I and I could imagine, many other people were taken aback by this secret project. Gladly the trails spoil nothing and therefore make this thriller even more special. It’s a fantastically dark exploration of confinement for a 12A rating and monster movie fans of the first film still get their kicks.

Clothes designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) ends up in an accident and then finds herself in a fully equipped fallout bunker. She’s looked after and/or terrorised by Howard (John Goodman) who has also brought in Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) in hope that the three of them can avoid his fears of the contaminated world outside.

I really don’t want to go any further than that for what happens as knowing little makes the movie a much more engaging mysterious experience. Clearly there’s some predictions to be placed at it comes in the same universe as ‘Cloverfield’ from 2008, so you will be seeing monsters but the fantastic quality about this spiritual tangent to the original handy-cam film is that it’s so different in tone and look.

Dan Trachtenberg directs with a knowing craft of the thriller genre and truly gives this movie an unnerving build-up. The constant close-ups add weight to the claustrophobic location, the little flourishes of Howard’s décor in the bunker add character and unease to what may happen. Things that go wrong never become tiresome but do their part in racking up the sweats as you hope Michelle can find her way out of the problem. As a director he shows how a monster movie can be more subdued and with a mostly 3 cast line up, this gives hope to a new future in dramatic storytelling.

From producer J.J Abrams we get that gnawing sense of trouble because of what we know from the ’08 movie. Though the monster moments in this are thrilling and work for the growing female power of Michelle, I must say I preferred all the elements of everything that came before. The music, the set, the conversations and comic moments from guessing games that tingle with sinister connotations to strained bondings, everything feels deeper and full of fear.

This is no ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ bunk up, the film is effortlessly tense and darker than you may think it could be. Of course I won’t say what happens but lots of wonderfully scripted sequences flash out of the gates, rattling you back into your seats and making you stumble to catch your breath. You, if you like the film that is, do root for Michelle as the lead and in a way, you buy into the other characters as well, whether they’re bad or good, you can believe their goals.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a brilliant final girl in films we’ve seen before and she comes along with aspects of that stereotype but is a much stronger and smarter heroine which is great to watch. Her designer background plays a part and her wiles keep her going all the way through, impeccably delivered by a capable actress. John Goodman is monstrously magnificent from start to finish, he plays both sides of the field so well that you don’t ever know for sure until near the end what kind of guy he is. John Gallagher, Jr. plays the guy in the middle really well, more than just a spare part, his presence gets put in the spotlight and he gives a needed comic lightness to one of the characters embroiled in the bunker. The trio bounce off each other superbly.

For any ‘Cloverfield’ fans or lovers of neatly packaged thrillers then I recommend you to get straight out and witness this slick and suspenseful feature. You’re always guessing, always worrying and always always enjoying the well directed and acted moments that come flying round the corner.

8/10

The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

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Blistering with stylish 60’s sounds and fashions, this movie based on an American TV show, is energetic, fun and sky high with a sizzling over the top series of set pieces. If anything can be taken from this film is that it’s an example of style over substance, but when it looks this damn good then I’m happy with it.

CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is tasked with helping Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape East Berlin from the Russians including super human-like KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Solo and Kuryakin soon find out they’re being paired up in a battle against the arms race to find important data and stop beautiful and deadly Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) from utilising bomb technology.

Guy Ritchie directs with his trademark of barmy violence and fast paced madness. The style of period set locations aids the visuals of the action also. Ritchie seems to revel in shadowy scenes and this film is no different, with darkness playing a key trait in both look and tension of character drama in Russia versus America. He likes his almost indestructible characters too with KGB Illya standing out as the clear winner of that prize. It’s a feast of quick set pieces and 60’s lush style to whet the appetite and Guy Ritchie gifts the movie a glitzy yet gritty touch.

I’ll go with the action first of all which is the style of the movie, from hand to hand combat, boat dramas and dune buggy/motorbike chases, this film just about has it all. It’s shot well and Ritchie’s influence of top speed photography for the explosive moments never shies away. It’s topped off with brilliant split screen sections that ramps the pace even higher and darts your eyes all over the shop which can be distracting but forgiven for working in building up the sense of urgent action.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is exquisite, rising to peaks for the aforementioned action sequences and trickling to a gentile set of sounds for the softer moments in between the mad house cinematic thrills and spills. His score is rounded off with a gorgeous soundtrack of music from the time that helps the film sound truly fantastic and places the audience as if you’re in that decade.

The story itself may not be wholly outstanding, it’s gripping to a degree and has a couple of slightly good twists but it’s a script that unravels and gets lost as it goes on. It’s far from weak, it’s just not strong. I guess it’s a hard juggle between style and substance and this film almost neglects the latter with the plot being quite basic and just there to give an excuse for fun banter, high octane action and 60’s pizzazz.

Production crew, mostly aiming here at the lovely team of costume designers should take a bow or two for their work. The suave suits of Solo made my face tinge with envy, the shadiness of Illya worked from just the cap alone. Victoria’s sass is on point as she jangles with jewelry and sashays in extravagant fashionable dresses. Gabby’s wardrobe is ever changing but chic and relevant to the period with a cool funky and elegant aura about what she wears. As you can most likely tell, I’m not used to writing about the costuming of movies.

Armie Hammer had to my ears an unshakable Russian twang and a brick-house persona to match his mysterious angry KGB background. Henry Cavill is much more interesting here than his dull Clark Kent routine. Solo is smooth but arrogant and Cavill responds to the brilliant back and forth of the script really well, his and Hammer’s attempts at bettering one another are sublime. Alicia Vikander can do no wrong, jumping firmly into one of my favourite actresses, she is enigmatic as Gabby with her full brown eyes drawing you in and leaving you wondering what she’s all about. Elizabeth Debicki is sheer bliss as the calculating yet fun femme fatale villain, I only wish she had a bit more to do. Hugh Grant appears and does enough with some comedic lines but can’t hide from it being a Hugh Grant type of role.

Like a Matthew Vaughn film, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E is bright and breezy with plenty of action and style to enjoy. The story is somewhat blurred over or scripted simply but I won’t complain because it’s a treat with no expectations.

7/10