The Vault : Train To Busan (2016)

Blending a thrilling zombie flick, with a surprisingly emotional storyline, Train to Busan is a riveting action/horror, which any fan of the Zombie genre should definitely track down!

The plot is pretty straight forward, Seok-woo, our protagonist, is escorting his estranged young daughter, Soo-an, on board a train from Seoul to Busan.  What should have been a mundane journey soon becomes a commute from hell, as an infected passenger manages to struggle on board, creating a chain reaction of death & the undead! As the viral outbreak spreads across the country, it’s a race against time to survive, and reach Busan, which has been fortified against the virus.

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The claustrophobic train setting works wonders for this movie, the feeling of being trapped, with literally only one way to go, ramps up the tension.  As more and more of the train slowly become infected, there is only so far our survivors can run. Combine this with rampant zombies, who are simply ravenous at the sight of any humans, creates an exhilarating cocktail.

Seeing as most of the film takes place within one setting, it’s crucial that the characters on board are worth caring for. Our hero Seok-woo slowly ditches his greedy, corporate ways, becoming the person his daughter wanted him to be. Then there’s Sang-hwa, the polar opposite of Seok-woo, caring, and light hearted, but some who can also pack a punch! His pregnant wife Seong-kyeong, also happens to be on board. Her condition alone makes you care about her survival. You also have survivors such as Yong-guk, the young student, travelling with his school baseball team, who ends up in a huge moral predicament, following the demise of his fellow friends. Any good zombie movie needs a good cast, as people will inevitably die, and it’s down to the script to create characters well enough in order for the audience to feel any emotion.

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The zombies here are the raging types, similar to the kind you would have seen in 28 Days Later. They hunt in packs, and are relentless once they have seen their prey. This offers plenty of enthralling set pieces, which see a ferocious display of panic as they all swarm together at once. Although it is a zombie flick, Train to Busan is far more of an action set piece, so expect loads of combat, but not too much slow building tension or overly gory deaths,

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Speaking of the combat, as the film is set in South Korea, the passengers don’t have guns, so the fighting is far more physical, from baseball bats, riot shields to the simple fists! A particular scene, featuring a trio of survivors, fighting through carriages filled with zombies to get to their loved ones, is magnificent! There really isn’t an antagonist per se, as the evil is the viral strain infecting the civilians, though we do have Yon-suk, a senior CEO figure, someone who only looks pout for themselves. He provides a good example to Seak-woo, on what he may became, if he does not change his ways.

The film also highlights how quickly people can turn on each other, when things to intense.  Even when there is a train filled with the ravaging undead, people still find the time to shun each other, unwilling to accept their fate, and reverting to a selfish state. Also highlighting how easy it is for people to easily fall into a mob mentality, when it suits them.

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Overall Train to Busan is a treat for anyone who has an interest in Korean cinema, or loves a good zombie flick. Though it may not be perfect, such as the inconsistencies of how our zombies work, and the plot convenient scenarios that take place, it packs one heck of a sentimental punch! Be sure to check it out!

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Rewind Review: The Shining (1980) Returns to Cinemas

Adaptations and reboots of Stephen King’s work are popular right now, what with The Dark Tower, It, and Gerald’s Game recently released and with many others in development. Plus, with it being Halloween it only makes sense to revisit one of the frequently listed scariest movies of all time.

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Heeeeere’s Johnny! 

Look up any “Scariest Movies of All Time” list and you can bet that The Shining will be floating near the top, along with many adaptations from Stephen King. Combine “the master of horror” with Kubrick’s genius, it’s really no surprise this film has such a cult following; and after seeing it for the first time just a few days ago, it did not disappoint.

Before the film, we watched  “Work and Play: a short film about The Shining (2017)” directed by Matt Wells for Park Circus. This documentary investigates the creative process and incredible efforts behind this unique movie; intense research into the horror genre, the innovative use of the newly developed “Steadicam”, and a look into the personal musings of Kubrick and his views on film-making.

Featured in the documentary are: Lisa and Louise Burns (The Grady Twins), Garrett Brown (inventor and operator of the Steadicam), Diane Johnson (co-screenwriter on The Shining), Katharina Kubrick (Stanley Kubrick’s daughter) and Jan Harlan (Kubrick’s producing partner and brother-in-law).

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“It’s easy to make movie…but to make a great film is a miracle.”

If you want to watch something with tension and suspense on Halloween, then The Shining is for you. The music is really stand out for me, combining rapid high pitched strings with slow and deep brass makes you believe something terrifying is about to happen. The long Steadicam shots of corridors, the set and environment make it seem that something may jump out. The music and camera shots were eerie and surprisingly good at building suspense; I could feel myself tensing up and even jumping a little at the changes in instrumentation.

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Shelley Duvall at The Overlook Hotel

Of course, I cannot overlook the incredible acting of Jack Nicholson. His long, dead-eyed shots, creepy mannerisms, and seriously animated eyebrows, portrayed complete insanity with little to no motive or justification required. And he’s not the only one, many of the characters you meet throughout the movie are played in a seriously creepy manner.

If like me you haven’t seen this film before, the short version is Jack Nicholson plays “Jack Torrance” who gets a job as caretaker at The Overlook Hotel  over the winter months during closed season. He brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) but the isolation, and something in the hotel’s past, makes Jack lose his mind and turn on his family.

Nicholson is great at being terrifying and Lloyd is good at being terrified, but I was not completely convinced by Duvall. A few things she does seem quite smart and resourceful in a pretty hopeless situation; however, her tone seemed forced and vacant, and she seemed to have little control over her limbs as she ran aimlessly around the hotel. Also, Nicholson gets a lot of praise for this film but I also think Lloyd was very good! He’s a very young boy but plays this part with maturity and intelligence.

Ignoring what I thought of Duvall’s portrayal, which I can probably attribute to the age of the film, this is a great scary movie that will really mess with your mind and the accompanied short is very interesting. I  would highly recommend re-visiting this film this Halloween if you can, and be sure to get there in time for the short! And remember….All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy!

The Shining is in cinemas across the UK on 31 October 2017 accompanied by short film “Work and Play: A Short Film about The Shining” (Director Matt Wells).

Film credit: http://www.parkcircus.com/films/21530-the-shining.

Image credits: © 1980 Warner Bros. Inc. All Rights Reserved. Images courtesy of Park Circus/Warner Bros.

Victoria and Abdul: Beautiful and True…..Mostly

This is a story that you might find difficult to believe. Adapted from a book written by Sharabani Basu, which is based on the journals of Abdul Karim recently discovered in India; we see an unlikely friendship develop between a common Indian Muslim man, and the Empress of India and Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

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I personally don’t think there’s a cast or director out there who could have done a better job portraying this particular story. Dame Judi Dench (James Bond, Philomena, Mrs Brown) once again takes on the role of Queen Victoria, alongside Ali Fazal (Furious 7) as Abdul Karim; surrounded by other brilliant actors (Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Tim Piggot-Smith, Olivia Williams) playing the members of the court disgusted and insulted by the development of this relationship. All led by the director Stephen Frears, who was present for a Q&A after the screening, his most recent successes include The Queen with Helen Mirren, Philomena with Judi Dench, and Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep.

The film begins in India and follows Abdul’s journey to England to be involved in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee; after some actions deemed highly inappropriate by the court, the Queen decides to keep Abdul close and begins to learn much about India and Islam from the man the court repeatedly referred to as “one of the Hindus”. She confides in Abdul, revealing her more vulnerable side to the audience, regarding her feelings towards her position and life in general. Although the beginning is quite humorous with many good laughs from both Dench and Fazal throughout, the film takes a darker path as we continue to learn about the Queen’s difficult life, and the court’s ignorance and prejudice against Abdul.

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The Queen’s household united against Abdul

It is a difficult time, with Muslim-led mutinies against British rule breaking out in India, and some deceptions by Abdul does not help his case against the accusations by the court and Prince Edward or “Bertie” (Eddie Izzard). Regardless, the Queen keeps him on as her “Munshi” (teacher), she describes herself as being truly happy for the first time in a long while, and likely as an intentional provocation. Despite numerous attempts to discredit Abdul and blackmail the Queen, Abdul was in the service of the Queen for the final 15 years of her life. This, along with many incidents in the film, appear to be close to the real events that took place over 100 years ago.

I believe that the performances in this film were emotive and believable. It was quite a different kind of performance from Eddie Izzard than what we are used to, but he gave a strong and compelling portrayal of the jealous heir to the throne. One character who may not get as much notoriety is that of Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), he is the other Muslim, Indian man involved in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. However, he is not lucky enough to have captured the Queen’s attention and is kept in England against his will and in detriment to his health. Nevertheless, he remains faithful to his Indian brethren despite attempts of the court to get him to disclose information about Abdul. Of course, Dench and Fazal are touching in their representations; you laugh when they laugh and you cry when they cry. You feel as amazed as Abdul does in his new experiences, and you feel as trapped and depressed as Victoria does as monarch.

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Ali Fazal, Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Frears (Director), Eddie Izzard.

The Q&A with Stephen Frears gave an interesting insight into the making of this film. He was very blunt and to the point in his answers, extremely matter of fact. We found out that it only took 10 weeks to complete filming and it was the first production allowed to film inside Osbourne House, a former Royal residence on the Isle of Wight. He admitted he enjoys making provocative films that test the waters and opinions of the time; despite this fact, we were told the actors were professional and generally of a liberal mindset, this meant the idea of pushing any boundaries or causing controversy did not phase anyone involved.

In conclusion, I highly recommend seeing this movie; it’s fun, silly and emotional, with stellar actors who perform to a high standard. The story is simple but not one that’s been told before, and will make you want to more about this beautiful, heart warming, and unlikely friendship.

Eat Locals: Laugh Out Loud Fun

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to the premiere of the British made “Eat Locals” at FrightFest in Leicester Square. I met the director, producers and cast, and got to watch their hilarious creation.

With a low budget of just £1.6 million, you are not expecting “Tchaikovsky” as first-time director Jason Flemyng put it in our interview, you are expecting a fun piece of cinema lovingly put together by a group of friends. And that’s exactly what we got. After quite a sincere start, you soon realise that the actors are not taking themselves so seriously, creating a more laid back (and surprisingly realistic) environment than any other modern vampire movie you will have seen – until the violence commences.

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Left to right: Freema Agyman (Angel), Vincent Regan (The Duke), Charlie Cox (Henry), Eve Myles (Vanessa), Annette Crosbie (Alice)

In a quiet country farmhouse, 8 British vampire overlords have met to discuss matters of feeding quotas and territories. Following the death of one of their own, they will also decide whether to turn or kill poor, unwitting Sebastian (Billy Cook); led to the farmhouse by sexy vamp Vanessa (Eve Myles). Before they can carry out their verdict, the vampires are interrupted by a team of Elite vampire-killers sent by the Vatican and under orders from Captain Bingham (Robert Portal) and Larousse (Mackenzie Crook), chaos and blood shed ensues.

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Eve Myles as sexy cougar “Vanessa”, leading Sebastian astray. 

The dialogue in the vampire meeting is natural but quite serious (with a slightly eerie and ominous soundtrack), making reference to some current events and expressing a few opinions on such matters (from a vampire perspective of course). The conversation devolves into quite a grim scenario, but with the introduction of Sebastian humour is injected into these scenes. This is later followed by what sounds like a pretty horrific scene between the vampires and some soldiers. This variety of scenes display a contrast of character and a breadth of acting ability; they attempt to be both modern, civilised individuals, and the viscous vampires they are. Others are just viscous vampires *cough*Tony Curran*cough*.

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Left to Right: Vincent Regan (The Duke), Henry (Charlie Cox), Angel (Freema Agyeman), Alice (Annette Crosbie), Thomas (Jordan Long), Peter Boniface (Tony Curran). 

 

Converse to Tony Curran’s crazy portrayal of vampire “Peter Boniface”; Charlie Cox, having been temporarily poached from Netflix and Marvel, plays a slightly softer vampire than some of the others. His character “Henry” is a vampire who refuses to feed on humans,  and tries to keep the peace between his fellow vampires and keep young Sebastian alive during the battle.  Between martial arts proficient Chen (Lukaz Leong) and sweet old Alice (Annette Crosbie) with an assault rifle, there’s plenty of action for everyone to sink their teeth into. And with Jason Statham directing the fights, it maintains a good level of ridiculousness.

You grow to seriously dislike “Captain Bingham” and “Larousse”, which is always key to making good villains and gets you rooting for the vampires; however, even though he was on their side, I liked “18” (Johnny Palmiero). He was terrified of the vampires and sympathetic to the Thatchers (Dexter Fletcher and Ruth Jones) who own the farmhouse, both of which make him smart and a good person, which I like.

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Bingham (Robert Portal)

There’s a few twists and little surprises, and many, many, MANY laughs. Everyone in the cinema was laughing along, cheering for their friends when they came on screen, and woo-ing whenever anyone did anything cool. Eve Myles was sat in front of me and believe me she was LOVING every minute of it. 

If you want something that is easy and fun to watch, and are a fan of something a little silly, you definitely need to watch this film. But ensure you begin with no expectation of this being a masterpiece of film making. The cast and crew have clearly had a fantastic time making this and we all had an awesome time watching it with them.

It’s also nice to meet people who you’ve been watching on screen for years and find out they’re genuinely nice, funny people.

And Jason, as promised, I think I’ve been pretty nice 😉

Check out the Live coverage and interviews here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYUi79fR1no

 

 

American Made: It’s Just Fine

Sure it’s based on a true story which sets some limits, but a change of pace here and there would have been much appreciated.

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This is the story of Barry Seal (played by Tom Cruise), a tired TWA pilot recruited by CIA agent ‘Schafer’ (Domhnall Gleeson) to run reconnaissance flights in Central and South America. Over the course of the movie Seal evolves into gun runner, drug smuggler for the Medellin cartel, and informant for the DEA. Through all this Barry and his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) raise a family and contribute to their community. As you can imagine, juggling so many jobs, things start to fall apart.

You’d hope that a film starring Tom Cruise and directed by Doug Liman (responsible for such action-packed flicks like The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, Fair Game, and Edge of Tomorrow) would have some excitement and good action. Especially if that movie is about a guy simultaneously working for the CIA, DEA and Escobar. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there was a lot lacking in terms of pace, excitement and much emotion of any kind. I left the cinema not really filming anything, but not quite feeling like it had been a waste of time.

The story is an interesting one and the actors play the characters well, there’s even a few decent laughs thrown in; but the film itself had no dynamics, it seemed to sit at the same level throughout. I can’t fault the actors for their portrayal, they were smart and most importantly believable; especially Sarah Wright as the wife, she was often skeptical of her husbands behaviour and was pretty vocal about it until he told her the truth.

More than likely it’s the script that has no flavour and lacks the changes in pace to make this film a little more intriguing. Unfortunately, in this case the story of Barry Seal has been narrated, but not really told.

Still better than The Mummy though….

Annabelle:Creation, A Vast Improvement

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Annabelle:Creation is the follow up to the 2014 horror, Annabelle. A spin off from The Conjuring franchise. Although Annabelle was a hit at the box office, it wasn’t well received by both fans and critics.  But as we saw last year with the Origins of Evil, an underwhelming first entry can be saved by an impressive second outing! Can Creation do the same for Annabelle?

Creation is directed by David F. Sandberg, who also directed Lights Out,  which was a fascinatingly created horror using a unique concept and managed to not fall into most of the usual horror troupes! So expectation was raised for Creation, and it’s nice to say, that Creation makes up for the lackluster original.

The sequel tells the story a group on orphans, who are moving in with the Mullins family, who have kindly offered to take in the children following their eviction. The Mullins however are still dealing with the loss of their young daughter, following a car accident, a daughter that they are unwilling to let go off. It’s not long before the orphans realize not everything is as it seems in their lonely, isolated home out in the middle of nowhere….

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Janice (Talitha Bateman) & Linda (Lulu Wilson) are two of the orphans, who the film follows throughout the movie. It’s this friendship that they have that makes the movie feel a lot more immersive than random no name characters who are simply there to be killed off! Janice, who suffers from polio, causing her to require crutches for walking, was a different way to add tension.  The moment it’s revealed she has a condition, the entire theater reacted all the same, she will be the poor girl who gets the unwanted attention of our demon!  Lulu Wilson also appeared in Origins of Evil, and is already making a promising career in the horror genre. Both young actors do a strong job with their roles.

The film is very much a game of two halves. The first half is very much at a serene pace, all about the fear the girls are going through, and the presence of the Mullins, especially Mrs Mullins (Miranda Otto), who happens to never leave her room, and is never seen by the girls, or the nun looking after the girls. Whereas Mr Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) appears to be a stoic person, who displays very little affection towards the children. The movie does a great job in building up the suspense, and there are always something happening in the background! So pay attention! Personally I preferred this part of the film more, as the Annabelle doll really did a wonderful job of being disturbing, irregardless of the fact it never actually moves!! The scenes involving the tea party and Linda firing her toy gun into the darkness, are very unnerving!

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The entire tone of the film changes as soon as the reveal of the demon is made, and it starts going on a rampage! The demon looks pretty generic, and it does talk, which really does take away some of it’s mystique. But, as a horror movie, the intense panic of the 2nd half is required, and it does a fairly good job. It does get surprisingly graphic at times,  considering the subtle tones of the earlier scenes, it does feel slightly out of left field! But the characters are rather well made, and you do root for their survival, rather than hoping they just die for their stupid decisions.

The film still suffers some inconsistent details. Considering the main group of orphans are all young girls, they really don’t act like a young child facing a demonic presence, yes there are some screams and terror at points, but some other parts, they act rather calm, considering the situation they are in! There are also scenes where things feel like you have to just accept the moment.  Considering the home is filled with various other children, the Mullins, and Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the home does feel very empty at times suiting the moment!  There are scenes were both Linda & Janice would most likely call for help, rather than just going it alone for the sake of the drama!

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Overall, the positives do outweigh the negatives. Creation gives us a solid horror movie, with intriguing characters, and some genuinely creepy moments! It also give us a look into fan favorite Valak, who will have it’s own spin off soon! If you enjoyed Origins of Evil, you will definitely want to give this a watch too!

 

Atomic Blonde goes Nuclear

Atomic Blonde has the espionage of Bond and the action of John Wick; with Charlize Theron portraying the stone cold, cool-as-ice, and stunningly sexy agent Lorraine Broughton.

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Set during the fall of the Berlin War in 1989, though not related to this historic event whatsoever, we follow MI6 Agent Lorraine Broughton in her journey to Berlin to investigate the murder of fellow agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) and to locate “The List”. As in many Cold War spy thrillers, “The List” is a piece of microfilm containing the names of all allied field agents active in the Soviet Union and, in true Bond style, the microfilm is hidden in a wristwatch. Unfortunately, things start going wrong for Lorraine as soon as the her killer heels touch the ground, but people soon find out she is a force to be reckoned with. Lorraine’s contact in Berlin is MI6 agent and station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) who seems to have adapted to his environment a little too well, being described in the film as “feral”, and has his own rules and motives.

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Friend or foe?

The narrative is a re-telling of the events that took place in Berlin by Lorraine in an debriefing led by MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). Throughout the film we are thrown, both seamlessly and abruptly, between Berlin and the London interrogation room, the questions posed to Lorraine driving the story forward and building doubt and suspicion regarding everyone’s intentions.

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In stark contrast to the seriousness of other cold war and general spy thrillers, and even the background and plot of this film, David Leitch has used a combination of very stylistic components to create an entertaining, anarchistic and glam rock atmosphere. The garish neon lights, spray paint screen annotations, breaking the fourth wall, a steamy lesbian affair, a new wave score, and bold outfits give a lighter edge to this violent and bloody thriller. This style is reminiscent of films made in the ’90s depicting anarchy, disregard for rules or an anti-establishment message.

The contrast extends down to the counterculture depicted on both sides of the Berlin wall. In the West, everyone is free to dress and drink as they please, whereas, in the East, we see youths being punished for partying, the inevitable rebellion and revolution. This is reflected in Lorraine’s image as well as the atmosphere; in the West her dress and make-up is bold, provocative and punk, in the East she switches the sheer blonde for brunette and dresses plainly with minimal make-up.

The soundtrack is as killer as Theron; tracks from the likes of David Bowie, Kanye West, The Clash, Queen, Public Enemy, Health and New Order give the film power and emotion. What is particularly interesting is the use of the original song, plus a reprisal using a cover in a later scene with a very different mood. At some points this reinforced the direction of the plot, descents into chaos, loss of control and stings of emotion. With the help of composer and music supervisor Tyler Bates (composer for John Wick), Leitch has put together a playlist that compliments the non-verbal storytelling occurring in much of the film and reflects the environment and rebellion of the period.

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Yes, that’s a hose and a saucepan

As well as a killer soundtrack, this film has absolutely brutal action sequences. David Leitch’s stunt background explains the satisfaction I got from watching those scenes; he has been stunt man, double, coordinator and co-director for a number of action-heavy films (Fight Club, 300, Bourne films, Matrix films, John Wick, and the upcoming Deadpool 2). The realism Leitch has injected here is impressive and effective; Theron insisted that she do as many of the stunts as legally permitted, training for months on her strength, wrestling and Muay Thai, and even getting a couple of sparring sessions in with Keanu Reeves!! Her style is what you would expect for a woman fighting men two to three times her size, the participants get tired as you would expect when you’re getting your ass kicked that hard, and people get horrific injuries, including Lorraine. We even see her emerge from an ice bath, battered, bloody and bruised, and no make-up to hide the swollen, blackened eye she received during the course of her Berlin antics. These are the consequences of her profession and entering heavy hand-to-hand combat. One of these scenes is around 7 minutes long and actually shot in continuity, this means no time to alter make-up, re-adjust wigs, or apply any extra effects, which is why I expect the characters look so exhausted and a complete mess by the end; but all this just augments the realism of the scene.

The supporting roles around Lorraine help to reveal distinct attributes of her character; with Gray, Kurzfeld and Percival she is cold and steely, she does not trust anyone and does not play nice. Even with the stasi officer, code name “Spyglass” (Eddie Marsan), Lorraine has to protect and escort out East Berlin, she remains icy and emotionless in order to properly do her job. Conversely, the young and innocent French intelligence agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) brings out a more honest vulnerable side to Lorraine. Originally, the french agent was male in the graphic novel “The Coldest City” that Atomic Blonde is based on, Leitch agreed that the gender flip was a good move and makes the story a little more provocative which he describes as integral for his vision for his solo directorial debut.

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Still gorgeous

Overall this movie is a hit for me; with exciting action, bold fashion and music, great comedic timing and funny quips. It’s true that the storyline is a little generic and you do have to pay attention to make sure you understand what is going on and who’s betraying who, but it’s clear that Leitch’s focus was the style of the retelling. In his own words, he wanted to be fresh, provocative and reinvent the “stuffy” cold war spy movie. It sounds like Theron really enjoyed this role, saying that it was her perfect female protagonist, regardless of how many times she puked in training or how many teeth she cracked. She owned this part and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her kick-ass.

And as Theron’s costume designer Cindy Evans rightly said: “Yeah, because Bond could never do it—so you have to”.

Spidey Spins A Web of Laughs

One of the surprises in Captain America: Civil War last year was the addition of Spiderman in the superhero melee, following the character being lost in the corporate purgatory between Sony and Marvel. Fans were finally treated to seeing the webslinger make his long awaited debut in the MCU, and now, we have his first solo MCU outing, Spiderman: Homecoming.

Spiderman has seen several reincarnations within the last decade or so! So comparisons will be made, will it live up to the charming Sam Raimi trilogy (well first two anyway, the less said about 3!) or will Homecoming be more like the divisive Amazing reboots of the early 2010’s?

As the title suggests, Homecoming is set during high school, and the run up to homecoming dance (spoiler alert!). There is no origin story in this film, which is great, every Spidey fan knows about that, and it would be wasted time. We really don’t need to see Uncle Ben die for a third time! The film picks up pretty much right after his antics in Civil War (with his own personal videos from his travels to Germany!), we follow Peter Parker, as he gets to grasp with his entire new found suit and his social struggles at home & school.

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Homecoming thankfully is another fine notch in the ever-growing MCU repertoire. Homecoming gives the audience a plucky young Peter to root for, supported by a mentoring Tony Stark (and Happy Hogan!), and for the first time in a long while, a villain which feels fleshed out and threatening. This makes a nice change from the villains who are bad because……….they are bad.

Tom Holland is excellent as Peter, as well as Tobey Maguire & Andrew Garfield were, they were both well into their 20s when playing the role. So it always felt a bit awkward seeing them play high schoolers. Holland is 21, so looks far more convincing as a young teen, and has the acting chops to pull it off too. The appearance of Ironman has been well publicized in this film, and Robert Downey Jr. is as always awesome in the scenes that he has. I was a bit worried beforehand that the film may have too much Ironman in it, taking away Spidey’s time to shine, but luckily it’s not overdone. The moments that he does appear, are pretty much already revealed in the trailers, which is a shame.

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The real stars of the supporting cast are Ned (Jacob Batalon), Parker’s best friend, the enthusiastic best man, who is more than happy to just be involved with Spiderman and be ‘the guy in the chair’, and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), the long standing right hand man of Tony Stark (his been there since the very start!) who has to reluctantly be the chaperone of the eager Parker. Both are always a welcoming presence to any scene they are in.

Michael Keaton as The Vulture is superb as a character, you understand his motivations for his actions, and he isn’t simply a maniacal villain. He is conflicted by his actions, but well aware he has to do it for personal reasons. He also has wonderfully intense scene with Peter in the final act, which was great to watch! It also has a nice tie in to the events following Avengers Assemble.

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The film is downright hilarious. Peter’s interactions with Ned & Happy always bring a few laughs. The fact the new Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is attractive is mentioned on numerous occasions throughout the film.  Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), Peter’s rival at school, who was the type cast cocky jock, is now more of a smug rich kid. His smugness while annoying, works well at gaining sympathy for Parker, while also having a chuckle on both their behalves!  Michelle (Zandaya), one of Peter’s reclusive and enigmatic classmates randomly pops up every now and again, to drop a sarcastic one liner, which could have been cheesy, but actually fits in rather well. There’s also an appearance from actor/rapper/funny guy Donald Glover, fans of his work will revel in his cameo! Peter also has some witty exchanges with his suits AI, who he names Karen. One of the jokes the film makes at itself is regarding what happens when there aren’t any high rises for Spidey to swing between? Well, he just has to run on foot!

The movie has it’s fair share of action set pieces. with the highlight being the ferry scene. This does though feel like a very poor imitation of the train scene in Spiderman 2, and just doesn’t feel as momentous. The scenes in the Washington Monument may be a little less chaotic, but feels far more fresh and original.

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What did let the film down for me was the frankly generic final showdown. It becomes somewhat of a CGI mess, involving a chaotic battle outside a plane, then a flaming beach. It feels somewhat numbing and just too much is happening to really take it in properly. It doesn’t help the scenes take place at night! The main love interest Liz (Laura Harrier), is also particularly bland, her only characteristic is being one of the popular girls at school and a plot device. Another bugbear in the run up to this movie was the sheer amount of material released in the trailers and other clips in the run up. I was already aware of several key scenes. A franchise like Spiderman doesn’t need to release so much material to get the anticipation up, just a personal annoyance, but that’s more to do with the marketing and studios, and not the movie itself!

Homecoming spins a web of fun, and if you’re a fan of the hero, or just enjoy an enjoyable superhero film, will love the characters, cast and humour.  Personally, I still believe Spiderman 2 is still the most best movie out of the collection, but Homecoming does a stellar job is reintroducing the character and getting him entwined in the Avengers saga! Though I still can’t forgive Marvel for that horrendous Homecoming poster with near every character thrown onto it! :/

 

 

Passengers : Style over Substance

Fortunately, we have seen a revival of good space ferrying films, some of my favorites of recent years have been Interstellar and The Martian, so I was highly anticipating watching Passengers with the cross genre between Romance and Science Fiction.

Set on the self-navigated spaceship Avalon, 5000 people are travelling in hibernation pods to start a new life on the colony Homebound 2. The trip should take 120 years but due to an unexplained jolt in space, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and then Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are awoken 30 years too early. The story revolves around Jim and Aurora accepting their 90-year journey together forming a deep and meaningful bond. However, not all is quite what is seems when a series of supposed malfunctions put the lives of the 5000 unconscious human beings under threat, and it’s up to the only human passengers, Jim and Aurora to save the day. There is a short guest appearance from Laurence Fishburne which keeps the film ticking along, but the most notable performance goes to the Android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen).

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The overall premise of the film is compelling, but the first 30 minutes of the film is a disappointment mostly due to Chris Pratt’s lacklustre performance, as he tries desperately to illustrate the highs and lows of living alone. From waking from his chamber, Jim tries to make the most of his unfortunate circumstances and turns his attention to the delights of the ship including holographic dance offs to indoor space basketball. This quickly dissipates into Jim becoming depressed knowing he would never speak to another human being again. It reminded me a little of the loneliness portrayed by Tom Hanks in Castaway, a forlorn soul longing for human contact becoming more disheveled in appearance as the days go on. However, Chris Pratt is no Tom Hanks nor can he shine in stand alone scenes.

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The story becomes a lot more watchable when Aurora steps into the picture. Jennifer Lawrence stuns in every film, not only visually, but her wit, charisma and has a good backstory to her character. As a writer, Aurora start to narrate the story of her life on board the starship, telling the viewers she wanted to travel to Homebound 2 to be the only writer  on ‘overrated Earth’ to share the experiences of colonist life. Her character has purpose, momentum and sass, in stark comparison to Jim’s weak performance and lack of character development. There is some chemistry between the two main leads, but you quickly feel that the plot was designed to showcase two beautiful individuals on screen together.

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The saving grace of this film is the android bartender Arthur. Michael Sheen effortlessly conveys a witty and heartfelt performance still maintaining mechanical expressions, which is a difficult feat in itself. Even Michael Sheen said it was hard to ’make drinks and not look down’. I especially loved how Arthur had a human body and electronic legs to remind the audience that Arthur is a part of the Ship and Jim and Aurora are really alone.  The film also uses Arthur as prop to become a sounding board to the main characters, which allows the film to explore the depths and questionable ethics the characters must face, being the only conscious human beings in space.

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Overall this film fails to be a cutting edge science fiction debut or memorable romantic comedy. I think the film’s greatest strength was the notion that perhaps one day that we will be able to travel in space cryogenic-ally frozen, but for now as the film likes to remind us, that we are simply passengers on this journey, and its far better to be happy to accept our surrounding than long for a life that’s unobtainable. Would I see this film again, no, but if you want to sit and watch two beautiful stars for 2 hours then by all means watch this film.

 

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