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

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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

Tomb Raider (2018)

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Stepping into the shoes of Lara Croft, after Angelina Jolie’s early noughties outings, is Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, who I think is a great choice for this gritty, updated take on the archaeologist character from a 2013 video game of the same name.

Bicycle courier Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is told to take her father’s inheritance, as he’s been missing for 7 years, but as she’s about to, she discovers a clue from Richard Croft (Dominic West) which leads her to Hong Kong to trace what her father had been investigating. On a (nearly) impossible to reach island is Vogel (Walton Goggins) who is keen to uncover a secret tomb on Yamatai.

I’m not someone who played my console a lot growing up and I definitely wasn’t ever a ‘gamer’, and I still am not, but a Tomb Raider game I had was great fun and the adventurous puzzles were ones I enjoyed tackling, so to hear that, after the poor and definitely two silly movies starring Jolie, there would be a new spin on the action explorer was interesting news, to see if they could get Lara and a video game adaptation right for once.

On the whole I think that Vikander, director Roar Uthaug and the writers have managed to do a good job. It’s by no means a brilliant or consistently entertaining film but there’s great action sequences to be watched; which are shot and edited with a visceral and explosive speed which help throw you alongside the adventures of the courageous and capable raider of tombs.

As mentioned, I enjoyed puzzle solving in the game I owned and there is an aspect of that within this movie, which is a cool thing to involve but I just wish there was more of it and when the cryptic moment is achieved, it’s done so in a quick and vague manner to rush the film along to the next big action sequence. The film is also fairly predictable and a final moment is one I saw a mile off but unlike the deeply boring film, ‘The Mummy’, this is a film that feels darker, it has moments of trepidation and on the edge danger which kept me engaged.

It is damn cool to see another woman lead the screen with great confidence, smarts and kick-ass attitude, one that hopefully will get a sequel green-lit, because aside from the less than stellar story, this is a barnstorming action adventure that gives Lara an arc from down on her luck/money roots to finding herself and her place as a Croft. This fierce approach that she has is slightly let down I thought, by a battle scene that she deserved to have won in her own right, not because of some help from a character out of the duel.

Alicia Vikander dives right in as the titular character and ensures that Lara is looked on as a brave and bold heroine. She certainly goes through the ringer, making each punch or fall feel totally real. She also brings a necessary charm alongside her muscled gusto, which helps the ridiculous sequences less so, as long as you also suspend your disbelief. She practically fills the big screen with believable strength and I’m sure she could give Bolt a literal run for his money! Walton Goggins is alright but he never soars as a villain that could have been more interesting or ferocious. Nick Frost and Jaime Winstone appear briefly as the clear comic relief and they are funny, but out of place.

This is a good, grounded take on the booted and braided video game character, with a turn from Vikander that is emotive and on point. The issue is that it’s a film without much fun and fully excitable drive.

6.5/10

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

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