Widows (2018)

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Steve McQueen is certainly an influential figure, his tiny collection of works being as powerful as a director with numerous features. This 2018 release sees the British director slightly move away from drama as he presents audiences with a smart heist thriller.

After Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his crew end up dead following an attempt to steal millions of dollars, their widows are left facing a dangerous choice. Harry’s wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is threatened by the man whose money was lost and she has a month to pay that cash back. Instead of sitting by, she stands up for the count and receives help from two of the other women, as they plan their own score.

With McQueen and novelist Gillian Flynn behind the screenplay you’d be correct in expecting a slick thriller with turns and the pair of them do incorporate some riveting unexpected curves into the narrative. That is not the be all and end all though, they’re not going down the easier route of just creating a twisty thriller for the sake of it, it’s 100% clear that Flynn and McQueen are interested in the characters and their motivations.

On reflection, there are times when you wonder why the three other ladies are sticking with Veronica but this is just a mere fraction of a niggle that is swiftly lost once the plan takes shape. As the latter stages of the film arrive and their heist takes flight, then you’re in for one hell of a ride; a brilliant burst of tense thriller perfection that latches on and won’t let go.

The characters are what keep the tension ticking, even if Veronica feels like the most fleshed out. The other three widows and a driver are less focused on but they provide a good dose of feminine smarts, will, vulnerability and engrossing power to keep us connected to their predicaments. It could be that I was expecting more, but the story amongst the character work, isn’t as magnetic as I’d hoped but there is plenty of style to make for a worthy movie.

Veronica Rawlins is so damn captivating and that’s down in most part to the dominating talents of Viola Davis. She is formidable as this broken yet unbreakable female force. Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez are strong too but aspects of their characters feel off, down to the development in the plot not their acting. There a couple of brilliantly heated scenes between the reliable Colin Farrell and the great Robert Duvall. Daniel Kaluuya is incredible as a wholly mean, unpredictable presence, he sells this vicious streak with masterful skill, making Jatemme Manning someone to truly fear.

‘Widows’ is perhaps not as tight knit all the way through as it could have been but the final parts are filled with adrenaline and dynamic tension. Women are in it together and they definitely have the balls to pull off a watchable thriller.

7/10

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Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

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All roads lead here, the poster states and this is a road I’d been eagerly travelling down as I looked forward to its release. The trailer captured a perfect sense of mystery, doom and humour which are all wonderfully present throughout the entire feature. ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ is a mixed bag but never a bad movie.

The El Royale is a bi-state hotel situated between Nevada and California; a place that used to be hustlin’ and bustlin’ but is now a cheap stopover for random drifters. The film sees four people staying and each have their own reasons to why they’ve ended up there.

This is a film of two halves and you can really feel when the film switches up and becomes almost a very different product. A shady figure appears dripping from the rain and that’s when you could almost check out of this thriller. It’s a shame because all the subplots are captivating tales but this one spills over into the main event and lessens what had come before. It’s almost as if the movie somewhat loses its grip on the hotel as a character.

The El Royale most certainly is an interesting character and it’s glorious production design give it a great stamp of dated period visuals. The red line streaking through the middle as it splits up the pair of states is a fun starting point for this film to create a business with odd quirks. The mystery of what the hotel management may really be up to and the secrets it possesses are vaguely lost as the aforementioned subplot takes precedence.

You can definitely tell that the director and co-writer of ‘The Cabin in the Woods‘ is behind this, as he plays around with tropes of the thriller genre with gleeful skill as he did with comedy and horror in that 2012 flick. Drew Goddard doesn’t go as extreme with this movie and perhaps this is what the film lacks because there isn’t quite the desired oomph to the later stages of this feature. Goddard’s script kind of paces out in the last forty minutes very nearly making the film feel like a wasted opportunity.

All the customer interactions are ace though and the initial set up of this dual state establishment is solid. There’s a remarkable mysterious tone swirling around who these people might be and why they are there. Chapter title cards signalling the character subplots provide the film a TV serial identity and keeps the audience easily tracking the criss-cross narrative of these characters as their paths unite.

‘Bad Times’ is a great ensemble piece and a whole host of talented actors enjoy running amok in this bold story. Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo and Chris Hemsworth are just a few of the names that round out a top tier cast. In the film there’s a nice tender moment between Bridges’ Father Flynn and Miles played by Lewis Pullman, the latter is really something throughout this film, he quivers with a knowing dissatisfaction to what the hotel can mean for people who enter. Jon Hamm is a hammy salesman with great comic delivery but he owns a serious side as his motives become clear and then there’s Erivo who has stunning vocals and balances her singing prowess with emotion and a resilient force to survive.

A thick layer of atmosphere and drip-feeding of mystery help this film feel positively original and a series of delectable performances keeps the investment at a high but ‘Bad Times’ cannot quite keep up momentum and becomes an almost vacant space.

7/10

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

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